Stephan Siegrist

Professional Alpinist

Eiger Retro: Climbing the Eiger North Face like the pioneers

Climbing the Eiger North Face with equipment from back in the day.

In the summer of 2002, the Eiger North Face was climbed in an exceptional manner: On August 17th and 18th, two mountaineers climbed the face with equipment from back in the day. They climbed the same route first ascended in 1938 on the famous North Face.

A film documentary of the climb was made on behalf of Swiss television SF DRS and the French/German channel arte. The team consisted of the professional climber and mountain guide Stephan Siegrist, well known through the TV show “ The Eiger North Face – live” in 1999, as well as the outstanding alpinist Michal Pitelka. Both live in Interlaken at the foot of the Eiger and know the North Face inside and out – Pitelka solo climbed the face in January 1992 in a record-breaking time of 8 ½ hours without any media hype whatsoever, whereas Siegrist had previously climbed the Heckmair route three times in addition to another eleven routes on the face. Thomas Ulrich, who was belayed by friends, also accompanied the two.

Just getting hold of, fitting and testing the equipment from the 1930s – hobnailed shoes, special crampons, linen clothing, hemp ropes, rock and ice pitons, woolen hats etc. – took up a great amount of time and preparation. They also visited and went through film footage with the German and Austrian mountaineers, Anderl Heckmair and Heinrich Harrer who were part of the first climbing team in 1938. Their companions, Ludwig Vörg and Fritz Kasparek, have deceased. The nimbus of the mountain had always sparked Thomas Ulrich’s interest; before the first ascent in 1938, many climbers had failed or perished on the Eiger.

Although he initiated the project “ In the footsteps of Heckmair” in 1999, it would take some time until the project was realized, due to unfavorable conditions on the face. First film and photo takes however, showed the amenity of the ambitious project: traditional equipment seen through the perspective of modern photography rendered a special homage to the pioneers of 1938.

The intent of our project was to honor Heckmairs’ and his companions tremendous effort by way of film and capturing black and white images of our endeavor.
Thomas Ulrich