Stephan Siegrist

Professional Alpinist

Eiger Live: The “Eiger live” TV spectacular


In the year between the two “La vida” ascents an event took place that had important consequences for Stephan Siegrist’s career: the TV show “Eiger live” on the Swiss Television network, when in September 1999 for the first time a TV camera accompanied two teams up the North Face of the Eiger on the 1938 route. The request to climb the North Face of the Eiger on camera did not reach Stephan Siegrist directly. During the first phase of the project he was coaching the group of climbers consisting of Evelyne Binsack, Bettina Sulliger, Hansruedi Gertsch and Ralf Dujmovits. His responsibility was to co-ordinate and evaluate their training, accompany them on routes and observe their formation as a team. He took up this unusual task with enthusiasm, and the four top alpinists accepted him as a non-participating observer and trainer.

After the TV adventure had to be postponed because of the bad weather from 1998 to 1999, there were changes made in the personnel involved. For one thing, the Binsack/Sulliger team did not prove to be an optimum arrangement. For another, Bettina Sulliger felt herself too hemmed in by the 100% focus on the forthcoming event, and didn’t want to neglect her own personal projects for such a long time. For these reasons she decided to withdraw from the “Eiger live” project. The search for her replacement was a relatively short affair. The producers discussed whether it was necessary to keep the gender balance and look for another female climber. But in view of the extremely low number of top women climbers, the idea was considered unrealistic. For this reason the choice quickly fell on Stephan Siegrist.

Now all at once the portents of his participation in the “Eiger live” project changed dramatically. A change of role – from an escort in the background to a climber in front of the live cameras – had consequences for the attention given to him by the media. As he was now inevitably thrust into the spotlight owing to his new role, he wanted to carefully consider the framework conditions. It finally boiled down to three critical points to which he would like to give special attention, in dialogue with the responsible people of Swiss Television.

The first point was that at the moment it was planned that the climbers would be flown down by helicopter after their successful climb. Stephan found that this was unethical. The summit is only half of an ascent, as he and his mountain guide colleagues never tire of preaching to their clients. For this reason he wanted to go down again on foot and not have himself picked up by a taxi. Secondly, Stephan did not want any intermediate bolts or additional conveniences to be installed for the climbers; the climb should be as authentic as possible. And thirdly, after the filming, all the TV camera ledges installed on the wall must be completely dismantled. The event must not leave any visible traces behind.

eiger-live-2  Archiv Stephan Siegrist
Archiv Stephan Siegrist

Stephan Siegrist was well aware that “Eiger live” would trigger off a big echo in the media, and that it could be the start of his professional career. On the other hand, he was not certain how other professional alpinists would judge the broadcast. At the moment, opinions were divided. Some climbers (above all those directly involved) were enthusiastic, while certain others complained about what they thought would be a headline-grabbing media event. After some intensive conversations with his friend and mentor Ueli Bula, Stephan Siegrist decided to participate fully in the “Eiger live” project. He did not want to pass up this chance, which could be decisive for the further progress of his career.

The date and starting time of the telecast was a gag, but regarded as a good omen: it was 9/9/99, at 9.09 in the morning, when Stephan Siegrist, Evelyne Binsack, Hansruedi Gertsch and Ralf Dujmovits started at the foot of the Eiger North Face, climbing via the classic 1938 route. From this point on, for two full days they were continuously watched live by the TV audience. More than a dozen cameras, including the ball-point pen-sized camera sticks on the climbers’ helmets, provided breathtaking views of the vertical arena. Never before could the steps, grips and slips be so closely followed as in this progra,. Even their overnight bivouac was broadcast live.

Without exaggerating, it could be said that Stephan and Evelyne knew each other well. In fact, they had been a couple for two and a half years, but at the time of the televised climb their intimate relationship had already come mosphere was relaxed, and the spectator had the impression that they were at ease. The presence of the TV cameras did not seem to disturb the climbers, including Hansruedi and Ralf; on the contrary, with the familiar voices of the director and the moderator in their ears they felt very well, and there were often remarks heard which made the live show a great pleasure to watch. Only Evelyn’s fall, in which she suffered an elbow injury, caused a delay. The incident was a shock to everybody involved: of course during the entire preparation period, which had lasted for a total of over three years, it had been continually discussed what should be done in such cases. Detailed scenarios were prepared, and every participant knew what was to be done, should such an unforeseen accident occur. The fact that a slip occurred, in spite of all the safety precautions taken, the rigorously closely defined wall conditions and the weather, despite the high level of skill and great experience of the climbers, proved that with the North face of the Eiger you can never, ever take things for granted.

With the exception of this incident, ultimately all targets of the TV show were 100% fulfilled, time-wise and content-wise. In the early afternoon of 10 September the four TV climbers stood on the summit. “Eiger live” became the media event of the year, and Stephan Siegrist thereby laid the foundation for his further career as a top alpinist.