‘Ready?’ asked Roger as the Eiger came into view. We faced each other in the train carriage and our eyes met. It was too late to say no, too presumptuous to say yes, so I just stared back at him and smiled.
Forty years ago this month Roger Mear and I climbed the North Face of the Eiger. During the week-long ascent Roger turned thirty and I, ten years younger than him, failed to grow any visible facial hair. He was the steady-handed master and I was the over-zealous apprentice, and between us there was a kind of magical levitation as we swung leads for sixty pitches up iron-hard ice and snow-plastered rock, and shivered through seven nights while hanging from slings inside an envelope of canvas. For both of us, it was the climb of our lives.
My memories of the Eiger are so vivid that it’s hard to believe that forty years have passed since then. I can still feel the fear and the excitement, the pinch of the cold on fingers and toes, the ache of the hands and the scream of the calves, the rasp of the rope against the nose as it pushes through the tightly drawn hood of the sleeping bag like a snorkel, and Roger yelling for a tight rope when I can barely hold on. Those forty years were nearly lost to oblivion.
To commemorate our ascent, I will write a description of each day on its fortieth anniversary, from 10 – 18 February, and post it here with a photo taken on the day of the climb.
The ascent starts on 10 February. Are you ready?