First Ascent of the Eiger, 1858
Climbers on the West Flank in dry conditions.
Very few details are known about the first ascent of the Eiger on 11 August 1858 via the West Flank & West Ridge. An Irishman named Charles Barrington with Grindelwald guides Christian Almer and Peter Bohren made the ascent. Barrington was not an avid mountaineer and after this one summer in the Alps, which included the first ascent of the Eiger, he never returned.
The only written account of the climb by one of the participants is a letter written by Barrington to his brother some 24 years later and published in the English Alpine Journal. This letter is reprinted in its entirety in EIGER THE VERTICAL ARENA
Some sources state that Barrington had a choice of trying either the Eiger or the Matterhorn, but he chose the Eiger because he could not afford the Matterhorn. Others say that he chose the Eiger because that is where he was at the time. There is partial truth in each statement.
Barrington reports meeting two mountaineers and complaining that what he had done so far in the Alps had not been very challenging. They taunted him with the statement: "Try the Eiger or the Matterhorn!" He took them up on it, and decided to try the Eiger since he was in Grindelwald at the time. After climbing the Eiger, he did not have enough money with him to try the Matterhorn, so he went home.
Descending the West Flank in icy conditions.
The group started at 3:00 PM from Wengen and reached the summit at about noon, stayed for some 10 minutes and descended in about four hours in the face of worsening weather.
Barrington portrays himself as the leader and as needing to convince the guides to get started on the lower part of the climb. One wonders if this is the truth or a bit of bravado, especially since he describes the reaching of the top saying: "the two guides kindly gave me the place of first man up". It does not sound like he was leading at that point.
He describes the route much as it is followed today, staying close to the edge of the North Face much of the way. They occasionally threw over large rocks: "to hear them crash down beneath the clouds". He also reports marking the way with chalk and small stones: "fearing that we might not be able to find on our return".
About thirty people met the group at the bottom of the climb and the ascent was confirmed by observation of a flag left on the summit.