The White Spider

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Nordwand (north face) of the Eiger, with a diagram showing the route established during the events written about in The White Spider. The Spider ice-field is located on the peak's upper left. Eiger north face diagram.jpg
Nordwand (north face) of the Eiger, with a diagram showing the route established during the events written about in The White Spider. The Spider ice-field is located on the peak's upper left.

The White Spider (1959; with chapters added in 1964; original title: Die Weisse Spinne) is a book written by Heinrich Harrer that describes the first successful ascent of the Eiger Nordwand (Eiger north face), a mountain in the Berner Oberland of the Swiss Alps with sections devoted to the history of mountaineering in the area.

Contents

Overview

The White Spider tells the story of the first attempts to ascend the Eiger's north face (called the Mordwand (death wall) as it is similar to Nordwand (north face) and tragedies happened there), beginning with Max Sedlmeyer's and Karl Mehringer's disastrous try in 1935 and continuing to the successful ascent by Kurt Diemberger and Wolfgang Stefan in July 1958. [1]

After his successful summit of the mountain, Heinrich Harrer received many letters from mountain climbers, which he sifted through with climber and author Kurt Maix to become the contents of The White Spider. In particular, Harrer describes the tragedy of the 1936 attempt by Edi Rainer, Willy Angerer, Andreas Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz in which all died. Harrer's own climb, the strenuous climb of Hermann Buhl, Gaston Rébuffat and their seven partners (1952), and the catastrophe of 1957, when the two Italians Stefano Longhi and Claudio Corti joined the Germans Günther Nothdurft and Franz Mayer – which resulted in eight bivouac nights on the wall of the mountain for the Italians and the death of all but Corti. Harrer's account of the tragedy was the subject of considerable controversy and is no longer considered historically accurate. [2]

The "white spider" on the Eiger's north face Weisse Spinne.jpg
The "white spider" on the Eiger's north face

In the book, Heinrich Harrer describes the media frenzy that ensued after all tragedies because the whole of the mountain's Nordwand can be watched by telescope from nearby Kleine Scheidegg.

Book title

The title of the book is derived from a spider-shaped ice field high on the north face of the mountain, towering above the town of Grindelwald. As Harrer describes, and the climbers discovered, the White Spider is the key to a successful ascent of the Nordwand. Although physically exhausted by the time they reach that point, climbers must navigate the steep ice-field to reach the peak's summit. The White Spider acts as a funnel, with rock and ice slides channelled through the ice field, putting the climbers in great danger while on the field.

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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.

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Karl Mehringer was a German mountaineer and climber. Notable for being part of the first team to attempt to climb the Eiger Nordwand or North Face in 1935. He and Max Sedlmeyer climbed as far as the top of the "Flat Iron" feature where they were overtaken by a storm and died. His body was found in 1962 on the second icefield by a German rope team.

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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.

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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.

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.

References

  1. Note: Diemberger and Stefan were later awarded the 14th successful climb of the Eiger Nordwand when the bodies of Günther Nothdurft and Franz Mayer had been found on the descent route. At the time of writing, Harrer did not know this.
  2. (in English) Article "Claudio Corti (1928-2010) : A Life in the Shadow of the Eiger"

Sources

Further reading