My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I decided to read this short story in order to bring some adventure into the mix of this month’s selection of short stories. The first time I heard this story was in my junior year of college while riding up to NH in a blizzard with a car full of guys ready to go ice climbing for winter break. It was a very fitting scenario to hear Jon Krakauer’s voice narrating the short story of his defeat on the legendary North Face of the Eiger.
Krakauer and his friend (8 years younger) spent about a month camping out near the lodge at the base of the Eiger just waiting for a streak of good weather. Each day they would walk to the payphone to get the four-day forecast and each time it involved storms and high winds on the Eiger. He mentioned that his younger friend often equate sentiments of dangerous climbing with fun climbing but he was a supremely good climber so he was excited to get on the face with him He mentioned several times his partner’s summit fever, an attitude that can surely get you into trouble on mountains like the Eiger. Which was more important, climbing the mountain or coming back alive? Krakauer wasn’t sure his partner had fully considered the latter. It reminds me of a great book I read called “On the Ridge Between Life and Death” by Krakauer’s life and climbing mentor David Roberts.
Avalanches, blizzards, and dangerously high winds (170km/hr) kept them off the mountain for several weeks. One night a strong wind blew in and sent their tents a quarter mile away from their campsite despite the fact that each tent had about 250lbs of food and gear inside as well as it having been tied down to large logs and an ice screw sunk securely in to the icy ground. Once they tracked down their tents, which were tore mostly to shreds, they simply went into the lodge and got drunk with all the tourists. Why not right?
Finally, they got a streak of good weather and headed up onto the wall. The ice was in poor condition and they soloed many pitches (i.e. no anchors to protect yourself from a fall). After two days on the wall and a forced bivouac they decided that they couldn’t make it any further and they turned back repelling where they could and down-climbing everywhere else. It was a pretty epic short story and I’m definitely interested in reading the rest of the stories in the book of Eiger Dreams. I highly recommend the audiotape versions as well.
About the Author Jon Krakauer:
Jon Krakauer is an American writer and mountaineer, well-known for outdoor and mountain-climbing writing. (Courtesy of GoodReads.com)