A spectacular walk below the North Wall of the Eiger
Along the northern rim of the Bernese Oberland, where the white peaks of the High Alps finally make their drop off down to the wooded green foothills and valleys of the Swiss lowlands, stand in a row 3 mountains.
Each over 13000 feet tall, the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau are some of the best known mountains of the Alps and though not the highest, the best known of the 3 is the Eiger. The reason for its fame or rather infamy, is the towering North Wall. Over a vertical mile of almost sheer rock face, the upper half almost permanently plastered with ice and snow and the lower raked by deadly stone falls. As if this isn't enough, these mountains are home to some of Europe's most inhospitable weather conditions.
Fear not however, for our route does not lie up this fearsome wall, but across the slopes at its base from Eigergletscher station down to Alpiglen. The route can be done in either direction and my reason for doing it this way round was because I had just descended from Jungfraujoch so finding myself at Eigergletscher.
The guidebook writer Kev Reynolds says that the route is well worth repeating so that you've done it in both directions and I very much agree. It's a fine route and I have since done the Eiger Trail again from Alpiglen walking back up to Eigergletscher.
My return from the Arctic conditions on the Monchsjoch and Jungfraujoch some 4000 feet above had brought about a change in the weather from drifting snow to merely an overcast day of occasional blustery rain showers.
I finished my meal of Schnitzel at the Eigergletscher Station restaurant and, shouldering my rucksack once again, ventured back outside. It was cool and breezy but the rain seemed to have stopped so I crossed the railway line by the tunnel entrance and followed the sign for the Eiger Trail.
The way led up a little past the hostel, giving the opportunity to go up onto the ridge crest itself where the original Mitteleggi Hut had been placed since the new hut was built on the Mitteleggi ridge on the far side of the summit. The tiny hut was locked up but I could look inside to see the layout. It was something of a museum piece and quite fascinating. A grand spot too with views across the Lauterbrunnen valley around over Kleine Scheidegg and down to Grindelwald on the other side. I was at about 7700 feet here so it was warmer than it had been on the Monchsjoch but the wind, if anything was stronger, the gusts threatening to blow me from the ridge. I wasn't going to attempt to go much further up anyway, the way being barred by a huge rock pillar rising up towards the top of the Eiger.
After taking a few photos I went back down past the hut and joined the trail winding down to the right towards Grindelwald and the Wetterhorn. It was a clear well prepared and marked path leading at first below cliffs on the right and then past a cavern-like tunnel in the rock before heading down at a fairly easy angle across the screes below the North Face.
Descending all the time, the track led across a vast stone filled hollow. Down on the leftwere the meadows below Kleine Scheidegg with glimpses of the railway running through the trees beneath a long scree slope. Above on the other side, the slope rose to the base of grey cliffs which seemed to rise up forever, their tops hidden in the swirling cloud above.
As I neared the bottom of the stony hollow, there appeared a large number of small cairns on the hillside. I can only assume they were memorials to those climbers who lost their lives climbing the face. It was however, a strangely peaceful spot, the view over the valley tempering the harsh rugged scene. I was reminded of the dangers by a distant crashing above., rock fall, one of the main dangers of climbing here.
The way led up slightly before heading more steeply downhill. Here were 3 people coming up the other way, the first people I'd seen on the route. I said "Hi" as I heard they were speaking English but the 2 blokes were too engrossed in a heated discussion about where they were. The girl behind them gave me a despairing look. At least it was more or less impossible to get lost on this route, they'd reach the station soon then they'd know where they were!
Still arguing, they continued on up the trail completely missing the small group of mountain goats grazing a shelf of rough pasture above us. I was reminded of a misty day at Esk Hause on Scafell Pike when this guy in a group of about 6 had been telling his fellow walkers the way back to Langdale in a voice that could probably be heard there. I'd had to politely put him right before he led his group off into the wilds of Upper Eskdale!
Anyway, the route continued down towards Grindelwald with a great view to the Wetterhorn beyond. The path was now over grassy pastures rather than stones and dipped down steeply a couple of times to cross small rivers cascading down from the face.
The rain had started again but was only light as the route began to traverse a wide ledge onto a rocky section below the Mittellegi Ridge. There were good views down to the valley from this bit and below an impressive waterfall the path veered off down to the left zig zagging steeply down. There were no difficulties however and I finally crossed a small footbridge over a mini gorgeworn in the limestone by the river. The path I was on now joined another which crossed the hillside lower down.
For Alpiglen, I now followed this to the left, the other way leading towards Pfingstegg, doubling back below the route I had just descended. A short fixed handrail section over a steep bit and I was down into the pine forest before crossing a meadow to Alpiglen station.
The rain had just started up again as I boarded the train which was full of people returning from Jungfraujoch and Kleine Scheidegg. I managed to find a seat where I was duly entertained by a Japanese girl's efforts to photograph a dog on the other side of the compartment!
Pete Buckley September 2006
Please note - these photos shown of the Eiger Trail were taken on a subsequent day when the weather was better!