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Jacopo Larcher - Strange Heroes
La Sportiva ambassador Roger Schaeli tells us about the new, attractive route on the Geneva Pillar he has opened last November on the Eiger North Face. Even if it‘s shorter than the well-known routes on the legendary Swiss mountain, this one could probably hold the hardest crux pitch: to be able to climb it you need to fully concentrate and switch to ‚Airplane mode’.
Text by Roger Schaeli
“The slightly prominent Geneva Pillar is known worldwide in climbing circles. It‘s basically an eye catcher because of the beautiful play between sunlight and shadow. It has always fascinated me. The Geneva Pillar is probably the most climbed part of the Eiger‘s north face. You can already find several modern sport climbing routes there. The pillar is very popular with sport climbers since the routes are hard but never longer than nine pitches. In addition, the rock is great and the approach short. Climbing on the Geneva Pillar lets you get a taste of the Eiger feeling but it‘s not the real, typical Eiger north face type of climbing. Still the routes are considered to be Eiger routes. The idea of climbing a route to the very right of the beautiful corner of the Geneva Pillar has been with me for quite some time. I had the chance to open a new line right next to the well-known ‘Deep Blue Sea’ in the summer of 2016. After climbing the route ‘Le Chant du Cygne’ with Mayan Smith-Gobat we set our bivvy on the Eiger Glacier. The next morning we went back to the corner of the Geneva Pillar. Mayan patiently belayed me and so I was able to make a first ascent of the first pitch by evening. Conquering the crux had me give my everything and cost me some spectacular falls into the rope until I was finally able to free climb from the last bolt onwards to the long-awaited belay. We ended the day very satisfied and I noticed that it would be hard, that it would be good, and that I liked it!
The hardest pitch: Despite the good start I wanted to take my time and didn‘t come back until a year later with Rannveig Aamodt. We had climbed all over the world together and said corner on the Eiger was always a topic of discussion. Rannveig was gladly willing to support me on my first ascent. She belayed me in another pitch despite snowflakes, sleet, and cold. We had a great time and enjoyed the adventure. That‘s when the name of the route came into being. Rannveig and I liked to set our phones to ‚airplane mode’ on purpose to be able to spend uninterrupted days climbing.
Later that summer I had the chance to work on the route again. Another attempt at climbing the route ‘La vida es silbar’ in a day wasn’t possible and so I had some time to commit to my new route. Dimitri Vogt, a very strong young climber from Biel accompanied me for two days and we were able to make a first ascent of the crux pitch. The crux pitch is very diverse, very challenging, and protected quite daring. There are only two bolts in the entire 40 meters of the pitch. You climb over a very steep protruding part to a ledge. Your feet are in the air since you almost climb over a roof. The purple Camalot is perfect as mobile protection in this part. Once you‘ve placed it you have to climb the necessary crux. After numerous falls into the rope all I could find in terms of holds was a crimp on the left, a small crack for two fingers to the right and a small structure that I had to quickly push off of so I was able to stretch myself as far as my will and my wit would let me. Bam! I finally stuck to the desired hold. This is where the second fixed protection is, a bolt. Reaching this hold cost me a whole day, my entire strength, the skin on my fingers, and a rope. The brand new rope suffered so much during all my falls over the grey Eiger rock that its webbing was destroyed from the abrasion and the core was visible. Before I was able to climb the crux I had to cut off the first ten meters of the rope and tie in again. After the crux an incredibly beautiful and tricky limestone double crack lead to the belay. This pitch is really unique and probably the hardest one I have ever climbed on the Eiger. I estimate it to be a little harder than an 8a+. ¬Maybe 8a+/b.
A new goal I can imagine that this route will become very popular one day. The approach is easy and the climb very hard, but not as long, laborious, and alpine like the ‘Odyssee’ for example. ‘Airplane mode’ will only have nine pitches. So it’s the ideal goal for strong climbers looking for a smaller, spicy Eiger adventure.”
Last November, the 40-year-old Swiss alpinist Roger Schaeli has completed a new route up the North Face of the Eiger. The 300-meter route offers a good mix of trad & bolts, with the 40m crux pitch sports only two bolts and difficulties around 8a+. Schaeli established Airplane Mode ground-up in the summers 2017 and 2018, with Dimitri Vogt, Bernd Rathmayr and Mayan Smith-Gobat, as his personal third addition to the North Face of the Eiger. In 2007 he completed Magic Mushroom together with Christoph Hainz, while in 2015 he teamed up with Robert Jasper e Simon Gietl to complete Odyssee.
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