1936 Eiger north face climbing disaster

Last updated

On the Hinterstoisser traverse Hinterstoisserquergang.JPG
On the Hinterstoisser traverse

The 1936 Eiger north face disaster, which began on 18 July 1936, resulted in the death of five climbers during the 1936 climbing season on the north face of the Eiger.

After a deadly and unsuccessful German attempt [1] in 1935, ten climbers from Austria and Germany travelled to the still-unclimbed north face of the Eiger in 1936, but, before serious summit attempts could get underway, one climber was killed during a training climb. The weather was so bad that after waiting for a change and seeing none on the way, several climbers gave up. Only four remained: two Bavarians, Andreas Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz, the youngest of the party, and two Austrians, Willy Angerer and Edi Rainer.

The weather improved and they made preliminary explorations of the lowest part of the face. Hinterstoisser fell 37 metres (121 ft) but was not injured. A few days later the four men began ascending the north face. They climbed quickly, but on the second day, the weather changed; clouds came down and allowed observers on the ground only intermittent visibility to the climbers on the face. On the second day the party was bombarded by rockfall, a notorious problem on the north face route. Angerer was hit just below the shoulder blade and injured, though it is said that he tried to continue climbing. He certainly did not call for a retreat at the time.

They did not resume climbing until the following day, when, during a break in the clouds, the party was observed descending. Later, it would be learned that the group had no choice but to retreat, since Angerer had suffered more serious injuries from the falling rock than at first thought. The party became stuck on the face when they could not recross the very technical and difficult Hinterstoisser Traverse, from which they had pulled the rope during their ascent. Exhausted on their third day of climbing, with two days of bad weather, it is said that Hinterstoisser still tried for hours to cross the traverse, but it was impossible in the poor conditions. Hinterstoisser had used a technique called a "tension traverse", where a rope is fixed and kept taut, allowing the lead climber to "lean" on it for balance. This technique was not possible descending though. The bad weather would have also meant wet and / or icy rock compared to dry conditions on the ascent.

The group decided to abseil down the vertical face (the great rock barrier) to the base of the mountain. [2] Contact was made with a railway guard at the Eigerwand railway station halfway down the descent. During their exchange the climbers amazingly said that everything was all right (perhaps out of pride and knowledge that they were very close to safety). However, as Hinterstoisser set up the last abseil of the descent, an avalanche came down the mountain, taking Hinterstoisser, who had unclipped from the group, with it. He was found at the bottom of the mountain days later. Willy Angerer fell and was killed by the impact of his body against the rock face, and Edi Rainer quickly asphyxiated from the weight of the rope around his diaphragm. Only Kurz survived the avalanche, hanging on the rope with his dead comrades. [3]

Late on the third day three Swiss guides started a rescue attempt from the Eigerwand Station. They failed to reach Kurz but came within shouting distance and learned what had happened. Kurz explained the fate of his companions: one had fallen down the face, another was frozen above him, and the third had fractured his skull in falling and was hanging on the rope below him. [4]

In the morning the three guides returned, traversing the face again from a hole near the Eigerwand Station despite avalanche-prone conditions. Toni Kurz was still alive but almost helpless. After four nights exposed to the elements, one of his hands and his arm was completely frozen. Kurz hauled himself back to the mountain face after cutting loose Angerer below him. The guides were not able to pass an unclimbable overhang that separated them from Kurz, but they managed to get a rope long enough to reach Kurz by tying two ropes together. While abseiling, however, Kurz could not get the knot that joined the two ropes to pass through his carabiner. He tried for hours to reach his rescuers, who were just a few metres below him, desperately trying to move himself past the knot, but in vain. He then began to lose consciousness. One of the guides, climbing on another's shoulders, was able to touch the tip of Kurz's crampons with the head of his ice-axe but could not reach higher. [4] Faced with the futility of his situation, he famously said only "Ich kann nicht mehr" ("I can't [go on] anymore") and then died. [5] [6]

His body was later recovered by a German team.

See also

Related Research Articles

Eiger Mountain in the Bernese Alps, Switzerland

The Eiger is a 3,967-metre (13,015 ft) mountain of the Bernese Alps, overlooking Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland, just north of the main watershed and border with Valais. It is the easternmost peak of a ridge crest that extends across the Mönch to the Jungfrau at 4,158 m (13,642 ft), constituting one of the most emblematic sights of the Swiss Alps. While the northern side of the mountain rises more than 3,000 m (10,000 ft) above the two valleys of Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen, the southern side faces the large glaciers of the Jungfrau-Aletsch area, the most glaciated region in the Alps. The most notable feature of the Eiger is its nearly 1,800-metre-high (5,900 ft) north face of rock and ice, named Eiger-Nordwand, Eigerwand or just Nordwand, which is the biggest north face in the Alps. This huge face towers over the resort of Kleine Scheidegg at its base, on the homonymous pass connecting the two valleys.

Abseiling Rope-controlled descent of a vertical surface

Abseiling, also known as rappelling, is a controlled descent off a vertical drop, such as a rock face, by descending a fixed rope.

<i>The White Spider</i>

The White Spider is a book written by Heinrich Harrer that describes the first successful ascent of the Eiger Nordwand, a mountain in the Berner Oberland of the Swiss Alps with sections devoted to the history of mountaineering in the area.

Jean-Christophe Lafaille

Jean-Christophe Lafaille was a French mountaineer noted for a number of difficult ascents in the Alps and Himalaya, and for what has been described as "perhaps the finest self-rescue ever performed in the Himalaya", when he was forced to descend the mile-high south face of Annapurna alone with a broken arm, after his climbing partner had been killed in a fall. He climbed eleven of the fourteen eight-thousand-metre peaks, many of them alone or by previously unclimbed routes, but disappeared during a solo attempt to make the first winter ascent of Makalu, the world's fifth highest mountain.

<i>The Eiger Sanction</i> (film) 1975 film by Clint Eastwood

The Eiger Sanction is a 1975 American action thriller film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. Based on the 1972 novel of the same name by Trevanian, the film is about an art history professor, mountain climber, and former assassin once employed by a secret United States government agency, who is blackmailed into returning to his deadly profession and do one more "sanction", a euphemism for killing. He agrees to join an international climbing team in Switzerland planning an ascent of the Eiger north face to complete a second sanction to avenge the murder of an old friend. The film was produced by Robert Daley for Eastwood's Malpaso Company, with Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown as executive producers, and co-starred George Kennedy, Vonetta McGee, and Jack Cassidy.

Toni Kurz

Toni Kurz was a German mountain climber active in the 1930s. He died during an attempt to climb the Eiger north face with his partner Andreas Hinterstoisser.

Mount Hood climbing accidents

Mount Hood climbing accidents are mountain climbing- or hiking-related incidents on Oregon's Mount Hood. As of 2007, about 10,000 people attempt to climb Mount Hood each year. As of May 2002, more than 130 people have died climbing Mount Hood since records have been kept. One of the worst climbing accidents occurred in 1986, when seven teenagers and two school teachers froze to death while attempting to retreat from a storm.

Andreas Hinterstoisser

Andreas Hinterstoisser was a German mountain climber active in the 1930s. He died during an attempt to climb the Eiger north face with his partner Toni Kurz. A section of the north face was later named the "Hinterstoisser Traverse" in his honor. The 2008 film North Face was based on his experience climbing the Eiger.

Ludwig 'Wiggerl' Vörg was a notable German mountaineer. With Heinrich Harrer, Fritz Kasparek, and Anderl Heckmair, he successfully climbed the north face of the Eiger in 1938, which was regarded as unclimbable at the time. He also made the first ascent of the West Face of Ushba in the Caucasus. Vörg was killed in action on the first day of Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.

2008 K2 disaster Mountaineering expedition disaster on K2 in Pakistan

The 2008 K2 disaster occurred on 1 August 2008, when 11 mountaineers from international expeditions died on K2, the second-highest mountain on Earth. Three others were seriously injured. The series of deaths, over the course of the Friday ascent and Saturday descent, was the worst single accident in the history of K2 mountaineering. Some of the specific details remain uncertain, with different plausible scenarios having been given about different climbers' timing and actions, when reported later via survivors' eyewitness accounts or via radio communications of climbers who died later in the course of events on K2 that day.

<i>North Face</i> (film)

North Face is a 2008 German historical fiction film directed by Philipp Stölzl and starring Benno Fürmann, Florian Lukas, Johanna Wokalek, and Ulrich Tukur. Based on the famous 1936 attempt to climb the Eiger north face, the film is about two German climbers involved in a competition to climb the most dangerous rock face in the Alps.

First ascent of the Matterhorn

The first ascent of the Matterhorn was made by Edward Whymper, Lord Francis Douglas, Charles Hudson, Douglas Hadow, Michel Croz, and two Zermatt guides, Peter Taugwalder and his son of the same name, on 14 July 1865. Douglas, Hudson, Hadow and Croz were killed on the descent when Hadow slipped and pulled the other three with him down the north face. Whymper and the Taugwalder guides, who survived, were later accused of having cut the rope below to ensure that they were not dragged down with the others, but the subsequent inquiry found no evidence of this and they were acquitted.

Stewart Fulton

Stewart Fulton was a mountaineer from Scotland who climbed in the heyday of the "wild ones" in the sixties. This group was credited with putting up many new routes in the Alps during that time, most significantly the first ascent of the south face of the Aiguille Du Fou a smooth wall of sheer rock long deemed to be unclimbable.

Ueli Steck

Ueli Steck was a Swiss rock climber and mountaineer. He was the first to climb Annapurna solo via its South Face, and set speed records on the North Face trilogy in the Alps. He won two Piolet d'Or awards, in 2009 and 2014. Having previously summitted Mount Everest, Steck died on 30 April 2017 after falling during an acclimatizing climb for an attempt on the Hornbein route on the West Ridge of Everest without supplemental oxygen.

David Lama

David Lama was an Austrian sport climber and mountaineer. He won the European Championship in bouldering in 2007 and the European Championship in lead climbing in 2006. He is known for his first free ascent of the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre. In 2018, in a solo expedition, he was the first to reach the summit of Lunag Ri in the Himalayas. In 2019, he was posthumously honoured with a Piolet d'Or for this first ascent.

1975 British Mount Everest Southwest Face expedition Himalayan ascent requiring rock climbing techniques

The 1975 British Mount Everest Southwest Face expedition was the first to successfully climb Mount Everest by ascending one of its faces. In the post-monsoon season Chris Bonington led the expedition which used rock climbing techniques to put fixed ropes up the face from the Western Cwm to just below the South Summit. A key aspect of the success of the climb was the scaling of the cliffs of the Rock Band at about 8,200 metres (27,000 ft) by Nick Estcourt and Tut Braithwaite. Two teams then climbed to the South Summit and followed the Southeast Ridge to the main summit – Dougal Haston with Doug Scott on 24 September 1975, who at the South Summit made the highest ever bivouac for that time, and Peter Boardman with Pertemba two days later. It is thought that Mick Burke fell to his death shortly after he had also reached the top. British climbers reached the summit of Everest for the first time in an event that has been described as "the apotheosis of the big, military-style expeditions".

Willy Angerer

Willy Angerer was an Austrian mountaineer. He was one of four mountaineers who died in the 1936 Eiger north face climbing disaster, along with Toni Kurz, Andreas Hinterstoisser and Eduard Rainer. At twenty-seven Angerer was the oldest of the four climbers who died.

1970 British Annapurna South Face expedition First ascent of Himalayan mountain face using rock climbing techniques

The 1970 British Annapurna South Face expedition was a Himalayan climb that was the first to take a deliberately difficult route up the face of an 8,000-metre mountain. On 27 May 1970 Don Whillans and Dougal Haston reached the summit of Annapurna I which at 26,545 feet (8,091 m) is the highest peak in the Annapurna Massif in Nepal. Chris Bonington led the expedition which approached up a glacier from the Annapurna Sanctuary and then used rock climbing techniques to put fixed ropes up the steep South Face. Although the plan had been to use supplementary oxygen, in the event it was not possible to carry any cylinders high enough for the lead climbers to use on their summit bid.

Eduard Rainer

Eduard Rainer was an Austrian mountaineer. He was one of the four climbers who died in the 1936 Eiger north face climbing disaster, along with Toni Kurz, Andreas Hinterstoisser and Willy Angerer.


  1. Eiger#1935
  2. Gilbert, Dave (3 September 2001). "Eiger's grim reputation". BBC News. Archived from the original on 4 February 2008. Retrieved 23 December 2007.
  3. "The Hinterstoisser Traverse". The North Face of the Eiger. Mountain Zone. Archived from the original on 2 December 2008. Retrieved 14 November 2008.
  4. 1 2 The north face of the Eiger mountainzone.com. Retrieved on 2010-03-04
  5. Gilbert, Dave (3 September 2001). "Eiger's grim reputation". BBC News . Retrieved 28 October 2019.
  6. Cooper, Kate (May 2008). "The Eiger Nordwand Revealed: Rainer Rettner Interview". UK Climbing. Retrieved 8 January 2013.