re-sized north face of the Eiger

Europe’s greatest mountain challenges

The great challenge which had preoccupied European mountaineers for decades was to conquer Europe’s great north faced mountains – namely the Eiger, Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses, Petit Dru, Piz Badile, Cima Grande di Lavaredo. First accomplished by the Frenchman Gaston Rebuffat in the early 1950s it is the first three which are the most technically challenging but if you are setting your sights high here is a brief synopsis of all six.


The north face of Eiger
Eiger (Switzerland)
Elevation3,970 metres (13,025 ft)
RangeBernese Alps
Prominence356 m
Coordinates46°34′39″N 8°0′19″E / 46.5775, 8.00528Coordinates: 46°34′39″N 8°0′19″E / 46.5775, 8.00528
First ascentAugust 11, 1858
Easiest routebasic rock/snow/ice climb

The Eiger: rising to an elevation of 3,970 m (13,025 ft.) it is the easternmost peak of a ridge-crest that extends to the Monach at 4,107 m (13,474 ft.), and across the Jungfraujoch to the Jungfrauat 4,158 m (13,641 ft.). The first ascent of the Eiger was made by 2 Swiss – Christian Almer and Peter Bohren and an Irishman Charles Barrington who climbed the west flank on August 11 1858. But it is the Nordwand, or North Wall which is the greatest challenge. It was first conquered in July 1938 by an Austrian/German team.

Subsequently the face has been climbed many times, and today is regarded as a formidable challenge more because of the increased rockfall and diminishing ice-fields than because of its technical difficulties, which are not at the highest level of difficulty in modern alpinism. In summer the face is often unclimbable because of rockfall, and climbers are increasingly electing to climb it in winter, when the crumbling face is strengthened by the hard ice present.

Since 1935, sixty climbers have died attempting the north face, earning it the German nickname, Mordwand, or “murder wall”.

North Face routes:

1938 route: ED2 (G14) V – , AO, 60 degrees, 1800m, 1 to 3 or more days

Northeast face, Lauper – ED (G12) with V, mostly IV+ and III, 50- 55 degrees, 1700m, 15 to 18 hours

Mittellegi Ridge – D(G5) with IV & fixed ropes, 4 to 8 hours

South Ridge – AD, rock to III, 7 to 9 hours ascent, 6 to 7 hours descent

Matterhorn – Cervino

The Matterhorn, seen from Stafelalp
Elevation4,478 metres (14,692 ft)
Location Italy / Switzerland
RangePennine Alps
Prominence1,029 m (3,376 ft)[1]
Coordinates45°58′35″N 7°39′30″E / 45.97639, 7.65833Coordinates: 45°58′35″N 7°39′30″E / 45.97639, 7.65833
First ascent14 July 1865 by Edward Whymper and party
Easiest routeHörnli ridge (AD, rock/mixed climb)

The Matterhorn: is 4,478 metres (14,692 ft) high, lying on the border between Switzerland and Italy, it is one of the highest peaks in the Alps and its 1,200 metres (3,937 ft) north face is one of the greatest challenges in the Alps. First climbed by a seven man team in July 1865, some of whom met with tragedy on the descent.

There are over 25 routes and variations on the Matterhorn. Most ascents are via the Hörnligrat or Liongrat with the Zmuttgrat a distant third. Not because the Zmutt is not a great route, but because it is frequently out of condition due to its north facing aspect. In fact because it is more difficult and not equipped with any fixed ropes, the Zmuttgrat is a preferable route for many.

Listed below are the more popular and famous routes. Note that the difficulty assigned to the routes varies slightly from guidebook to guidebook. See guidebooks, the attached SP route pages and the external links for more details. Searches on the Internet bring up many pages.

Hörnligrat: Normal Route from the Swiss side. Difficulty: AD- with places of III- (up to IV+ near the fixed ropes if they are not used)

Liongrat: Normal Route from the Italian side. Difficulty: AD with places of III (up to IV if fixed ropes not used).
Zmuttgrat: Classic route with no fixed ropes.
Difficulty: D mixed climbing with place of IV- and ice to 50 degrees.
Furggengrat: The most difficult of the ridges.
Difficulty: D+ / TD with places up to V+ or VI depending on the finish
North Face Schmid: One of the Classic North Face routes of the Alps.
Difficulty: TD with steep ice and rock up to IV or V.


North face of the Grandes Jorasses and the Leschaux Glacier (September 2000)
Elevation4,208 metres (13,806 feet)
Location France / Italy
RangeGraian Alps
Prominence841 m
Coordinates45°52′N 6°59′E / 45.867, 6.983
First ascentHorace Walker, Melchior Anderegg, Johann Jaun and Julien Grange, 30 June 1868
Easiest routePointe Walker, south-west face, AD-, II, 1400m, to 45 degrees – a glacier climb

Grandes Jorasses: is 4,208 metres (13,802 feet) is in the Mont Blanc range and was first ascended in June 1868. Located on the French side of the mountain.

  • The North face. An immense wall (one of the most famous in the entire history of alpinism), not the highest but definitely the biggest of the entire Mt. Blanc massif. It has a slight trapezoidal form, 1200m high at the tallest points (the Walker spur) and little more than 500 at the smallest (the Pt. Young spur), and almost 2km wide at the base. Can be divided in seven separate sectors:
    • Linceul or NE face. The triangle formed by the Walker spur and the Hirondelles ridge has at its centre an icefield of vaguely arachnid appearance, called “Le Linceul” (the Shroud). To the right of the Shroud, the left corner of the Walker spur has a definite NE orientation, and sees little sun. The general quality of the rock is quite mixed.
    • Walker spur. The most famous feature the North Face, it’s in fact a series of successive towers linked by a system of slabs. The lower and the upper part are somehow broken, but most of the spur is made of excellent rock.
    • Central Couloir. Another famous feature of the wall, this is a deep couloir (actually, a system of couloirs located into a bending of the wall), that’s both cold and icy. The deepest of the ice couloirs (the one where the Japanese route pass) is more or less permanent, while the others have been reported to have partially disappeared in the recent, hotter summers.
    • Whymper rib. More than a spur, this is a face into the face, with again a slight NE orientation. This sector can be divided vertically in two – a lower 55° to 70° icefield 400m tall, and on the top of this the true “rib”, 650m high. It’s the steepest feature of the entire wall, often severely overhanging (there are several huge roofs). The rock here is often very compact, with scarce crack systems, but some sections have been recently reported as quite precarious. It’s also notoriously wet! The area between the Whymper rib and the Croz spur is extremely broken.
    • Croz spur. While the Walker spur is the most prominent, the Croz spur is actually the largest and more complex of the two. It’s also less steep, and more exposed to stonefall. The two successive icefield have a moderate angle (50°-55°). In the lowest part the spur becomes almost a ridge, with a system of marked couloirs in the right (NW) side (looking towards the Periades).
    • Marguerite-Helene ribs. Another face in the face, with a complex system of goulottes, ribs, pillars and snowfields, following a curve going up progressively steeper. The lower part is a mixed slope, while the upper part is mostly rock. The area of the wall with the poorest rock quality.
    • Pt. Young spur. This little spur is accessible from the Col De Grandes Jorasses, and is (surprisingly) made of very sound rock.At the feet of the North face, on the opposite bank of the Leschaux glacier, it’s built the Leschaux hut. (2431m).
  • Aiguille du Dru

    The west and south-west faces of the Aiguille du Dru (May, 2006)
    Elevation3,754 metres (12,316 ft)
    Location France
    RangeGraian Alps
    Coordinates45°55′58″N 6°57′23″E / 45.93278, 6.95639Coordinates: 45°55′58″N 6°57′23″E / 45.93278, 6.95639
    First ascent12 September 1878 by Clinton Thomas Dent, James Walker Hartley, Alex­ander Burgener and K. Maurer
    Easiest routeAD

    Petit Dru:

    The mountain has two summits: the Grande Aiguille du Dru or the Grand Dru at 3,754 metres (12,316 feet) is the higher of the two summits but it is the Petite Aiguille du Dru or the Petit Dru at 3,733 metres (12,247 feet) whose north face is included in Europe’s top six challenges.

    The Grand Dru was first climbed in September 1878 and it was the following year, in August 1879 that the Petit Dru was conquered.

    Until 1952, the West Face of the Dru remained unclimbed; unviolated. Its massiveness and the smoothness of its features; its jutting overhangs appeared to offer no hope of a way upwards. It embodied the the dream of many brilliant climbers of the day. Finally the West face was summitted when Marcel Laine, Adrien Dagory, Luien Barardini and Guido Magnone finally climbed the face in two parts in July 1952.

    Here are the routes:

    -Grand Dru,Normal route, difficulty AD, 6 h
    -Grand Dru, South face, Contamine route, difficulty TD, 7 h
    -Grand Dru, South face, Trident pillar, difficulty TD, 12 h
    -Grand Dru, South face, Stembert pillar, difficulty TD
    -Petit Dru, Normal route, dificulty D-, 6 h 30 m
    -Petit Dru, South west Pillar, Bonatti Pillar, difficulty ED+(free),
    10 to 18 h
    -Petit Dru, West face, French directissime, difficulty ED+
    -Petit Dru, West face, American directissime, difficulty EX
    -Petit Dru, West face, American direct, difficulty ED-/ED, 13 to
    19 h
    -Petit Dru, North face, Allain-Leininger route, difficulty TD-/TD+,
    8 to 10 h
    -North east great couloir, difficulty TD+, ice up to 80°, 10 to 18 h
    -Traverse of Petit and Grand Dru, difficulty D, 10 h

    Piz Badile

    The north-east face and north ridge of Piz Badile
    Piz Badile (Switzerland)
    Elevation3,308 metres (10,853 ft)
    Location Italy / Switzerland
    Coordinates46°17′41″N 9°35′10″E / 46.29472, 9.58611Coordinates: 46°17′41″N 9°35′10″E / 46.29472, 9.58611
    First ascentW. A. B. Coolidge with guides F. and H. Dévouassoud on 27 July 1867
    Easiest routeSouth Ridge (Couloir Route) PD

    Piz Badile: at 3,308 metres (10,852 feet) is located on the Swiss/Italian border. It was first climbed in July 1867 via the south ridge. The mountain takes its name from its appearance as a spade or shovel when viewed from Val Bregaglia.

    The two classic routes on Piz Badile are the north ridge and the Cassin Route on the north-east face. The north ridge – the Badilekante – was first prospected by the Swiss guide Christian Klucker in 1892. After several unsuccessful attempts by Italian parties in 1911, the ridge (IV, one pitch of V-) finally fell to Alfred Zürcher with the guide Walter Risch in August 1923.

    The most popular route on the north-east face is the Cassin Route (V+/A0 or VI+), so-called after the first summiteer Riccardo Cassin, who climbed it with V. Ratti and G. Esposito, together with the Como team of Mario Molteni and Giuseppe Valsecchi in July 1937. Molteni and Valsecchi were already on the face when Cassin and his party started out, but the climbers subsequently joined forces. It was an ascent which had a fatal ending as Molteni died of exhaustion and exposure on the summit and Valsecchi died on the descent by the south ridge just before reaching the hut.

    The North Ridge of the Piz Badile has been called the finest rock route of its grade (about 5.6) in the Alps. This very long climb follows a pure, clean line 3000 feet to the summit, on beautiful rock the whole way, an amazing climb.The departure point for this climb is the Sasc Furä hut, a 3 or 4 hour walk up from the little town of Bondo. The hut is situated on a large prow of rock, which, as it rises to form the amazing North Ridge of the Piz Badile. The descent can either be back down the ridge in a rather large number of rappels, or down the south side of the peak, into Italy.

    here are the routes:

    – South Face: WS, places of III

    – North Ridge (Nordkante): S- with places of IV+

    – SE Face via Molteni: S+ with places of V and V+

    NE Face via Cassin: SS with places of VI

    – NW Face (Pfeiler des Wassertrophens): SS+ with places of VI & A1

    – ENE Face Bruder Route: SS+ with places of V+ & A1 / A2

    – E Face English Route: AS- with places of VI & A1 / A2

    Tre Cime di Lavaredo

    View of the northern walls.
    Elevation2,999 metres (9,839 ft)
    RangeSesto Dolomites, Alps
    Coordinates46°37′7″N 12°18′20″E / 46.61861, 12.30556
    First ascentAugust 21, 1869 by Paul Grohmann with guides Franz Innerkofler and Peter Salcher from south
    TranslationThree peaks of Lavaredo (Italian

    Cima Grande di Lavaredo: the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, or three peaks of Lavaredo, are found in the Dolomites in north east Italy and have a distinctive three pronged shape, each of which presents a mountaineer with a significant challenge.

    The largest of the peaks has an elevation of 2,999 metres (9,839 ft). It stands between the small peakto the east which is 2,857 metres (9,373 ft), and the western peak with an elevation of 2,973 metres (9,754 ft).

    The first ascent of the largest peak, Cima Grande di Lavaredo, was made in August 1869 by the Austrian Paul Grohmann with two guides. The western peak was first ascended exactly ten years later in August 1879 by Michel Innerkofler and G. Ploner. The small peak, the last to be climbed, was climbed in July 1881 by Michel and Hans Innerkofler. The routes of these three first ascents are still the normal ascent routes.

    Here are the routes of Cima Grande di Lavaredo:

    South face ordinary route – 200 m of UIAA II (YDS 5.2 ish), 2.5 hrs.

    Mosca Chimney – From Lavaredo hut 40 min to start. 200m of climbing UIAA III (5.4) 2.5 hours.
    NE Ridge, Spigola Dibona – 550m UIAA IV (YDS 5.5 ish) 4 hrs.

    West Face – 350 m UIAA V (YDS 5.8+) 3.5 hrs.

    North Face, Comici route – This is a popular and classic climb. 500m UIAA VII or VI/A1. 8 hrs.
    North Face Direct, Brandler-Hasse route – 500 VI/A3 12 hrs.

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