Challenging the Man-Eating Mountainby Richard Bangs
In the shadow of the most notorious rock wall in the Swiss Alps, John Harlin III contemplates the climb of his life — the one that claimed his father 40 years ago.
One rope length from the White Spider, the last great defiance on the mountain wall that is one of the world’s deadliest, the 7 mm fixed line broke. John Harlin II, the first American to climb the legendary North Face of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps four years earlier, fell 4,000 feet into the void.
A short time later his nine-year-old son, Johnny, heard the news from his sobbing mother. It was news he couldn’t fathom. His father was among the world’s greatest climbers, a pioneer of straight-up routes, a man almost mythically at home in the vertical world.
That was 40 years ago.
Now John Harlin III, just shy of his 50th birthday, has returned to attempt to climb the hard, black limestone wall that killed his father. He has brought along his daughter, nine-year-old Siena, who will wait with her mother at the Bellevue des Alpes hotel at the base of the spearpoint-shaped mount. This is the Eiger, a 13,025-foot peak amidst the Swiss Alps. It’s not the highest mountain here — Dufourspitze is almost 2,000 feet higher and the distinctive Matterhorn is more recognizable — but the North Face of the Eiger has long been known as one of the climbing world’s most difficult challenges.
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