The First Ascent of the Eiger's Mittlellegi Ridge
There were numerous attempts to ascend the Mittellegi Ridge and several successful descents of the route before it was finally climbed in1921. Most of the early attempts were thwarted by the extremely difficult rock of the Great Gendarme and the rock step above.
The first recorded attempt on the ridge was on 6 July 1874. In 1885 the ridge was descended for the first time. In an interesting trip on 8 August 1894, a party abandoned their attempt on the ridge and descended the lower part of the Northeast Face (Lauper Route) from about 3500 m.
Japanese climber Yuko Maki made the first successful ascent of the Mittellegi Ridge with Swiss guides Fritz Amatter, Samuel Brawand, and Fritz Steuri on 10 September 1921. Amatter had descended the ridge in 1904.
A great deal of unique direct aid climbing was employed to overcome the difficult rock of the Great Gendarme and the rock step above where fixed ropes are located today. I have never read a report of free climbing or rating the free climbing difficulty of the step above the gendarme. When I climbed the ridge, this section was severely iced and impossible to judge.
Maki describes the climb in a 23-page article in his 1923 book SANKO.
The equipment taken included: four types of piton (30 in all), wooden wedges, a hammer, two 30 meter ropes, one 60 meter rope, and a 6 meter long wooden pole. Maki describes the wooden pole:
"A 6-meter-long wooden pole, with a hook at the uppermost end and three metal spikes at the bottom, one of which was equipped with a hole and could turn freely, so that when climbing on steep rock walls all of the spikes would make contact with wall simultaneously."
Provisions consisted of two dozen raw eggs, one roast chicken, sausages, biscuits, lemons, bread, butter, jam, sugar, and brandy.
The approach used on the first ascent.
The party approached the ridge from the Eismeer Station of the Jungfrau Railway and bivouacked on the night of 9 September. They started climbing again at about 6:00 AM the next day.
Above the Great Gendarme, the time came to use the pole. Maki describes its use:
The fixed ropes now in place where the first ascent party used the described aid.
"Amatter, the lead climber, leaned against the rock face. Steuri, the second man, slotted the lower end into a little crack and putting his whole weight behind it, levered it securely into place. Amatter took a length of rope, fashioned it into a loop, and hung it from the upper hook on the wooden pole. By such means, we thought to limit the force of any possible fall. Belaying himself in this way, Amatter began to hack out tiny little footholds in the rock with his axe. .... In the cold and the wind, Amatter and Steuri took turns at this work, searching for possible hand- and foot-holds. As last man, I had to climb with the pole. With only one free hand it was obviously impossible to climb, so I tied in to an extra rope and was hauled up bodily by the other men. ...At the same speed and with the same hard work, we conquered the 150-meter stretch. But then there stood before us a much steeper, almost vertical rock wall roughly 50 meters in height. ... Eventually, the ridge gradually decreased in steepness. We now had the most difficult part of the climb behind us. To climb just 200 meters we had taken eight hours."
The party reached the summit of the Eiger at about 7:15 in the evening, stayed for less than 5 minutes in the cold and gathering darkness, and began the long descent of the West Flank. They reached Eigergletscher Station at about 3:00 AM on 11 September.
The original hut. Since replaced.
Maki later contributed 10,000 Francs to the Grindelwald Guides for the construction of a hut on the Mittellegi Ridge. The hut was built in 1924.
When original hut was replaced, it was moved to near Eigergletscher station where is now sits as a "museum".
Some additional history and ascents:
Yuko Maki (1894-1989) went on to make the first ascent of Mount Alberta
in the Canadian Rockies (1925) and in 1956 was the leader of the Japanese expedition that made the first ascent of Manaslu
(8163 m), the eighth highest peak in the world.
Maki and Amatter climbed the ridge together again in 1926.
Japanese climbers Saburo Matsukata and Samitaro Uramatsu with Swiss guides Samuel Brawand, and Emil Steuri made the first ascent of the lower part of the Mittellegi Ridge, known as the Hörnli Ridge, between Ostegg and the Mittellegi Hut on 6 August 1927.
Fritz Amatter and Fritz Kaufmann made the first winter ascent of the Mittellegi Ridge on 12 February 1934. Amatter was 60 years old.
provides the following additional information regarding Samuel Brawand:
Samuel Brawand was a farmer's son who became a school teacher and a mountain guide in Grindelwald. He was a specialist and promoter of local dialects. He flew 45 m ski jumping in 1922 and was the first inhabitant of Grindelwald to install a telephone. In politics he was also very active as a member of the Swiss parliament, and minister for construction of canton Bern. He died in 2001 after a full life of 103 years.