Eiger Direct: The epic battle on the North Face

Vertebrate Publishing
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The North Face of the Eiger was long notorious as the most dangerous climb in the Swiss Alps, one that had claimed the lives of numerous mountaineers. In February 1966, two teams – one German, the other British–American – aimed to climb it by a new direct route. Astonishingly, the two teams knew almost nothing about each other’s attempt until both arrived at the foot of the face. The race was on.

John Harlin led the four-man British–American team and intended to make an Alpine-style dash for the summit as soon as weather conditions allowed. The Germans, with an eight-man team, planned a relentless Himalayan-style ascent, whatever the weather.

The authors were key participants as the dramatic events unfolded. Award-winning writer Peter Gillman, then twenty-three, was reporting for the Telegraph, talking to the climbers by radio and watching their monumental struggles from telescopes at the Kleine Scheidegg hotel. Renowned Scottish climber Dougal Haston was a member of Harlin’s team, forging the way up crucial pitches on the storm-battered mountain. Chris Bonington began as official photographer but then played a vital role in the ascent.

Eiger Direct, first published in 1966, is a story of risk and resilience as the climbers face storms, frostbite and tragedy in their quest to reach the summit.

This edition features a new introduction by Peter Gillman.

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About the author

Peter Gillman is an award-winning author and journalist. He was born in London in 1942 and edited Isis while at Oxford. He joined the Weekend Telegraph as a feature writer in 1965 and, a climber himself, covered the 1966 Eiger Direct for the Telegraph group, which sponsored the British–American team. He later spent twelve years as a feature writer and investigative reporter at the Sunday Times. He has written numerous books, including The Wildest Dream, a biography of George Mallory co-authored with his wife Leni, which won the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature in 2000. His writing has appeared throughout the national and specialist press, and he has won a record seven awards from the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild, some jointly with Leni, including one for their book Extreme Eiger, first published in 2015. He was elected chair of the OWPG in 2016. He also works as a trainer in journalism and writing and has presented workshops at the annual Byline journalism festival.

Dougal Haston was born in Currie, near Edinburgh, in 1940. He was one of Britain's leading mountaineers and a compelling figure in climbing history. After landmark winter ascents in Scotland, he made attempts on the original 1938 route on the North Face of the Eiger in 1960 and 1962, finally succeeding with Rusty Baillie in 1963, so making the second British ascent. He first climbed with John Harlin in 1964. Following the Eiger Direct in 1966, Haston achieved international fame through ascents of Annapurna in 1970 and Everest in 1975, when he and Doug Scott became the first two British climbers to reach the summit. Away from climbing, he was a controversial figure known for his rock-and-roll lifestyle. He was director of the International School of Mountaineering in Leysin, Switzerland from 1967 until his death in 1977 in an avalanche while skiing. The day before his death he had finished writing a novel, Calculated Risk, which now appears like a death foretold. It was published in 1979.

Chris Bonington – mountaineer, writer, photographer and lecturer – was born in London in 1934. He first climbed in Snowdonia at the age of sixteen and has since become one of the pre-eminent figures in British mountaineering. He made the first British ascent of the North Face of the Eiger by the original route in 1962, and led the expeditions that made the first ascents of the South Face of Annapurna in 1970 and the South-West Face of Everest in 1975. He reached the summit of Everest himself with a Norwegian expedition in 1985. He has written numerous books, fronted television programmes, and lectured to the public and corporate audiences all over the world. He was awarded a knighthood in 1996 for services to mountaineering.

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Vertebrate Publishing
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Published on
Jan 23, 2020
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Biography & Autobiography / Adventurers & Explorers
Biography & Autobiography / Sports
History / Expeditions & Discoveries
Sports & Recreation / Mountaineering
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•The classic story of a notorious climb, now revised, updated, and expanded by the original author with new information
•Literally a race to ascend Europe’s most formidable mountain wall—Brits and Americans versus Germans

The North Face of the Eiger was long renowned as the most dangerous climb in the Swiss Alps, one that had cost the lives of numerous skilled mountaineers. In February 1966, two teams—one German, the other British/American—aimed to climb it in a straight line from bottom to top. Astonishingly, the two teams knew almost nothing about each other's attempt until both arrived at the foot of the face. The race was on.

The Anglo-American team of John Harlin, Layton Kor, and Dougal Haston intended to make a dash to the summit when conditions were right. The Germans, with an eight-man team and a mass of equipment, planned a slow, relentless ascent. Watching all was a young journalist, Peter Gillman. Now, fifty years later, Gillman recalls the dramatic events on the North Face, and assesses their effect on those who took part. The charismatic and controversial American climber John Harlin was killed before the summit was reached, while others were permanently injured through frostbite. For British photographer Chris Bonington, who was sucked into the action, it opened a path to a career and reputation as Britain's foremost mountaineer.

“It was incredibly challenging and probably some of the hardest climbing done in the Alps to that time,” remembers Bonington. “Being involved was absolutely fantastic. There’s never been anything like it for me, before or since.”

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