Sometimes things just evolve don’t they? A thought springs into your head, one little email arrives and that can be enough to trigger a whole new event in your life. That is how, despite being a mountaineer of very modest abilities, this summer I find myself about to attempt one of the most notorious mountains in the Alps
The Eiger arguably has become one of the most infamous mountains in the Alps. It’s north face was the site of horrifying accidents, remained unclimbed until 1938, and then became the space for Nazism to parade the perceived physical supremacy of the German nation. It remains somewhere many rock climbers go for the supreme test. So why, oh why, am I going to try to stand on this fearsome summit with such a horrible history? Have I got above myself, become deluded about my abilities or has dementia set in rather too early? These are all valid questions that I will to leave others to answer but they have nothing to say about the motivation for this climb.
This stems from a lady born in 1836 who in July 1864 became the first woman to stand on the Eiger’s summit. Lucy Walker was a pioneer of women’s climbing at a time when it was often thought mountaineering was only possible for men. After her ascent which, as well as being the 1st for a woman was only the 4th in the history of the mountain, people gathered at the hotel in Kleine Scheidegg keen to meet this ‘female phenomenon’. One person presumed she had gone immediately to bed only to be curtly told she was ‘more anxious for dinner than for bed.’
I had been aware this was the 150th anniversary of Lucy’s climb and in the dark days of February the thought suddenly sprung into my mind that it really ought to be commemorated. Almost unthinkingly I sent out a prospective email and was stunned at the interest it generated; several people wanted to do the climb and even more offered support, thinking it an excellent idea.
Suddenly I had a project on my hands; suddenly I had to think seriously about the mountain. Lucy Walker’s route – the West Flank – is now virtually impossible because of the changes time brings. The rock is loose and snow cover has decreased over recent years. That leaves only the Mittelleghi ridge as a feasible prospect; this is a narrow, exposed arête, quite a bit above my ‘pay grade’! Happily all that email traffic led me to a very experienced female guide who has agreed to help me along – fingers firmly crossed!
From all those who got in touch in February inevitably several had to drop out for various reasons. We now have a party of ten women plus a couple of chaps who are planning to tackle the mountain early in September. Although we cannot do Lucy Walker’s actual route we will be making an appearance in Victorian climbing dress and will be revisiting the Bellevue Hotel at Kleine Scheidegg where Walker ‘s party stayed. Additionally some guides from Grindelwald will be joining us on our ascent just as they did 150 years previously.
Lucy Walker broke new ground for women in the second half of the nineteenth century. Our climb not only wants to celebrate her achievement but raise awareness that in the 21st century there is still work to do to encourage more women into the mountains and outdoors generally. The perception that mountaineering is more for men than women still persists – our eclectic group of varying ages and abilities hopes to undermine this.
So be warned one little thought, one quick email can lead you to some surprising places.
Later in the year it is planned, in conjunction with retailer Ellis Brigham, to hold a talk about the climb. If you are interested in attending please leave your contact details so I can send you further information