Because it was cheap
As soon as I signed up to study abroad in Germany, I started looking for mountains I wanted to climb in the Alps. Even though my mountaineering experience was close to zilch, spring break in Colorado had planted dangerous ideas in my head, and I decided climbing the Eiger would be a great introduction to the sport. Within a few weeks of arriving in Germany, I convinced Zane, one of my fellow students, to be my partner.
After a harrowing 24 hour train ride, we arrived in Grindelwald. I was ecstatic to actually be looking up at the mountain I had read so much about. Even with this first sight, I got the feeling that I was in for a rude awakening. Seeing that fresh snow appeared to be covering much of the Mittellegi Ridge, we decided it would be prudent to acquire some mountaineering boots and crampons. The store clerk who was renting us the crampons, could tell that we had very little experience, and he warned that we would probably die if we attempted the Mittellegi Ridge. While this is not what we wanted to hear, we both knew it was probably pretty close to the truth.
While warnings of death did not deter us from the Mittellegi ridge, a 150 euro price tag for a train ticket to the Eismeer station sure did. We could, however, get a relatively cheap ticket to the Kleine Scheidigg, which is the starting place for the West Ridge. We decided this was our best option, and were in Kleine Scheidigg an hour later.
From Kleinne Scheidigg, hiked about an hour up to another train station which was the last stop before the train disappeared into the tunnel leading to Eismeer. Having no Bivouac gear, we decided to sleep on the floor of the deserted train station. About 9:00 two ladies came and told us to leave, but we just went outside until they left and the went back in and slept in the bathroom for the rest of the night.
About 4:00, we woke up and started getting our stuff together. We are both fairly experienced rock climbers, so we brought harnesses, a rope, helmets, a few nuts, some tricams, and a few slings. We we also both sporting our newly purchased ice axes. The first section of the west ridge was a mainly a 3rd class scramble with some 4th class parts. There were plenty of rock cairns and even a few fixed ropes, which made route finding relatively easy. after about an hour we were at the obvious saddle that overlooks the northwest face. The sun was just rising, and we sat down here to take in breathtaking views of the Monch and the Jungfrau. The beaty of the scenery induced an almost euphoric state, and we both decided the trip would be worth it if we didn't make it an inch higher up the Eiger. Furthermore, while we we were sitting there, we saw several large avalanches lasting as long as 3-4 minutes and sounding like low flying jet planes.
Stopping was out of the question at this point, though, because we both still had visions of the summit dancing through our heads. There were some snowfields above us, so we decided to strap on our crampons, rope up, and try to climb them. As we got closer to the snowfields, there was a for in the trail. One way went to the left, staying closer to the edge of the ridge, while the other went towards the snowfields. Being all keyed up and wanting to get our money's worth from our crampon rental, we headed for the snow. The snow was not really that steep, probably only 40 degrees, but we had a hell of a good time going up it.
At the top, we took off our crampons and began scrambling us some loose, rocky terrain. It seemed like some fourth class stuff to me. I am no expert on climbing grades, but the exposure was enough to scare the shit out of both of us. To complicate matters, we kept having to cross over ice covered rock sections (I guess we should have put our crampons back on) where we had no traction. We were still roped up from the snowfields, and some of the sections were so steep that I would sit at the top and do a hip belay to give Zane more confidence (at which points he was probably regretting to ever coming). After a few hours of climbing exposed, ice covered, crumbly rock with no protection, Our nerves became tattered to the point where we began talking about going down. We had several close call that almost sent us both tumbling down the mountain, and neither one of us had the mental fortitude to continue to deal with the exposure. Furthermore, we realized that we were hopelessly off route. In our excitement to climb the snowfields we had gone much to far to the right of the west flank, instead of staying close to the ridge line.
So, as hard as it was to admit defeat, we decided we would be perfectly happy if we could just get down alive. The down climb was more nerve-wracking than the way up, and arriving at the relative safety of the snowfields was one of the most relieving moments of my life. We spent a sold hour frolicking on the hard packed snow and practicing self arrest. The snow was steep enough to have a lot of fun rocketing down it on your butt before digging in with your ice axe.
The rest of the descent was routine. It was beautiful weather with not a cloud in the sky all day long, which only increased our disappointment at squandering such a good opportunity to summit. Our main feeling, however was relief at having survived our ill prepared attack on the west flank of the Eiger.
The climb was simultaneously one of the worst things and one of the best things I have ever done. As soon as I was safely back on the ground, I knew that someday, when I was more prepared, I wanted to make another attempt to summit the eiger. I was hooked on the strange cocktail of adrenaline, fear, wonder, that the mountains produce for me. Even having not made it close to the summit, The climb was still one of the richest experiences of my life.