Review: Eiger Direct by Peter Gillman & Dougal Haston. Published by Vertebrate Publishing. £12.99

THE North Face of the Eiger was long notorious as the most dangerous climb in the Swiss Alps, one that had claimed the lives of numerous mountaineers. In February 1966, two teams – one German, the other British-American aimed to climb it by a new direct route that hadn’t been conquered before. Astonishingly, the two teams knew nothing about each other’s attempt until they both arrived at the foot of the face. The race was on.

John Harlin led the British-American team and intended to make an Alpine-style dash for the summit as soon as weather conditions allowed. The Germans, with an eight-man team, planned a relentless Himalayan-style ascent, whatever the weather.

The two authors of this book were key participants as the dramatic events unfolded. Award winning writer Peter Gillman, then aged twenty-three, was reporting for the Telegraph, talking to the climbers by radio and watching their monumental struggles from telescopes in the Kleine Scheidegg hotel. Renowned Scottish climber Dougal Haston, aged twenty-five at the time, was a member of Harlin’s team, forging their way up crucial pitches on the storm battered mountain. Chris Bonington began as official photographer for the climb but then played a vital role in the ascent.

Eiger Direct is a story of risk and resilience as the climbers face storms, frostbite and tragedy in their quest to reach the summit. The North Wall of the Eiger is the greatest face in the Alps. Like a giant gaunt tooth, it rises a sheer 6,000 feet from the meadows of the Alpiglen. At its base it is a mile wide.

The book of this classic first direct ascent of the North Face of the Eiger has been out of print for several decades but I remember reading it fifty years ago as an impressionable youth making my first tentative steps into the sport of mountaineering and rock climbing.

It has now been republished by Vertebrate Publishing with a new introduction by Peter Gillman, one of the two original authors. Sadly, Dougal Haston the co-author died in a Swiss avalanche back in 1977.

Times have changed and climbing equipment and techniques have altered over the last fifty years. Climbers are now ascending the Eiger Direct route in 26 hours as opposed to the thirty days it took for this original fist ascent.

This book is a classic tale of achievement and endurance and allows the reader the chance to escape from the current conditions of lockdown and spend a few hours joining these intrepid mountaineers on one of Europe’s, if not the World’s, toughest climbs.

by John Burland