The Eiger – which translates as the Ogre – is part of a famous trio of mountains in south-central Switzerland that also includes the Jungfrau and Mönch.
Towering almost 4,000 metres above sea level, it is one of the most famous mountaineering destinations in the Bernese Oberland as well as the Alps as a whole.
The first ascent was made by Swiss guides Almer and Bohren in 1858 but it wasn’t until the 1930s that the mountain gained notoriety when an Austrian-German expedition took on the most challenging and dangerous route up the north face.
It is now widely considered one of the best classic and challenging north-face climbs in Europe.
Unfortunately the Eiger has become synonymous with tragedies involving climbers and the gravity of any climb should not be underestimated.Since 1935, the mountain has claimed the lives of over 60 climbers, earning it the nickname Mordwand or murder wall.
The infamous North Wall (Nordwand in German) is a daunting 6,000-foot wall of crumbling limestone, and is viewed as the only true way to ascend by advanced climbers.
Far more difficult than many more famous summits such as Everest and Denali via their normal routes, for many this 1938 route would rightfully be a career highlight. That said there are other more manageable routes.
The Mittellegi Route is a historic route characterised by massive exposure and engaging climbing throughout the entire ascent and the South Ridge is generally used as alternative if there are less than optimal weather conditions.
It is also the most frequent route used to descend from Eiger.
Whichever route you choose, breathtaking mountain and glacier views await you at the summit. Looking over the small Swiss villages below and glaciers as far as the eye can see, you won’t be disappointed.
- A world-renowned iconic peak.
- A dramatic mountain with a colourful history.
- The north face of the Eiger is considered Europe’s greatest challenge.
- Exposed nature of climbing on the ridgeline is truly spectacular.
- The ascent incorporates some of Europe’s finest moderately technical terrain.
All expeditions to the summit start from the Swiss village of Grindelwald. The easiest way to get here is by taking a flight into the Geneva International Airport, which offers daily flights from major airports around the world.
From here it is possible to rent a car and drive the scenic 2.5 hour route in, or take the public train/bus. Both of these will require changes or transfers.
Regardless of route up to the summit, hikers must take the Jungfraubahn (R line) from Grindelwald to either the Eigerwand (for the North Wall), Eismeer (for the Mittellegi Ridge) or Jungfraujoch (for the Western Flank).
Plenty of guided tours will include training days on nearby peaks, often starting in Chamonix.
Chamonix is one of the easiest alpine resorts to get to, being only an hour’s drive from Geneva international airport. Lyon, Turin and Milan airports are also all within a few hours’ drive.
From Grindelwald to the summit and back, climbing Eiger takes either two or three days, depending if you want an extra day to come back down and make the most of the scenery.
The summit can only be completed after plenty of training climbs. Many tours or guides offer four to six day trips that combine the ascent with nearby peaks – usually Jungfrau and Mönch.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
As mentioned, Eiger is a highly technical Alpine climb that involves rock, snow and ice climbing and has been given a 5.7 grade.
Even if you opt for one of the easier routes, it is no walk in the park and climbers should be in excellent physical condition.
Prior to the expedition, climbers should undertake regular running, hiking, swimming and biking with focus on endurance and strength.
The six months prior to the climb should combine these with climbing indoors and outdoors as well as flexibility.
Most deaths occur during summer ascents, due to slippery conditions and rockfall. Train hard and stick to winter, autumn and springtime unless you plan to climb only via the Mittelleggi.
Alpine climbers need extensive experience on rock, snow and ice.
Previous climbs and traverses on steep and exposed terrain of a similar grade whilst using crampons is a must.
Ice climbing and glacier hiking experience is not mandatory but will make your time on the mountain more enjoyable and lower risk.
Given that the North Wall requires around 10 to 14 hours over technical terrain without losing focus, anyone that isn’t an advanced climber should consider alternative routes.
Guides often recommend climbing the Matterhorn in preparation for summiting Eiger. The Mönch and the Jungfrau are also good training climbs, as are various peaks from Chamonix.
Organised tours will spend at least four days expanding on your crampon and ice axe skills to help build confidence before setting off. Potential itineraries are listed below.
No permits are needed to climb the Eiger or nearby summits.
Guided or Self-Guided
As mentioned above, this is an incredibly demanding climb. Whilst there are no explicit rules around climbing alone, only advanced climbing parties should attempt to climb Eiger without a local guide.
For those who choose to go with a guide, there is usually a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of hikers to guides and prices for mountaineering expeditions vary depending on days spent training and climbing.
Expect to pay at least €1,000 to €2,000 for a classic two or four-day ascent. Add another thousand or so to that for transport costs, food, accommodation and additional rental equipment.
The best time to climb will depend on which route you choose. June through to September is the best time to climb the Mittellegi Ridge or Western Flank.
During this time the summit is warmest and least likely to receive rain/snow storms.
Expeditions to the summit via the North Wall should only be attempted during the winter. Temperatures are much lower this time of year, dropping to -15ºC and -20ºC at the summit and snow is common.
These freezing temperatures reduce risk of rockfall and enough snow has transformed into névé. Frozen steps will allow for relatively quick passage across the icefields but climbers will need full mountaineering equipment.
All climbers must know how the weather works and how storms sit in against these mountains. MeteoSwiss is an incredibly useful weather app to download in advance of setting off.
The first few days of any trip will consist of training climbs to acclimatise and get used to the equipment you’ll be climbing with.
An example training window might look like this:
Training Day 1:
Climb the Traverses of the Aig Crouchues above Chamonix to practise rock-climbing skills as well as descending.
Reaching an altitude of 2, 837 metres, the day involves around five hours’ climbing.
Training Day 2:
Take the Aig-du-Midi lift to 3,800 metres to cross the Valle Blanche glacier massif over to the Traverse of the Entreves.
This technical rock traverse is a combination of snow, ice and rock – making it great practise for the Eiger.
Training Day 3:
Climb up to the Dent du Geant at 4,013 metres, taking up to eight hours overall.
This tall summit provides good practice using fixed ropes and more technical climbing.
Training Day 4:
The final training day follows the alpine rock route of Arete des Papillons for six hours, with 800 metres of vertical gain.
Climbers will then travel to Grindelwald, ready to start their summit attempt the following morning.
Eiger Summit via Mittellegi Ridge
From Grindelwald, climbers take the Jungfraubahn cogwheel railway to Eismeer station and begin the ascent by rappelling out of the window.
Four hours of technical climbing later is Mittellegi Hutte, a base to rest and recuperate for the evening.
From the hut, a four-hour ascent to the summit via the Ridge involves intense and technical climbing on a narrow and exposed ridge line.
Pitched-out climbing and scrambling takes climbers to the final snowy slopes, which are steep but firm.
After summiting, descent down the South ridge involves a series of rappels, lowers and down-climbing until you reach the Mönch saddle.
This takes five to seven hours, weather dependent, and different groups may choose to either spend the night at the Mönch Hutte or descend down to Grindelwald.
Eiger Summit via The North Wall
Starting from the Eigerwand railway station, the expedition starts by hiking out to the North Wall through a tunnel.
As soon as this opens up, the ascent begins, involving a combination of rock, ice and crack climbing.
By mid-afternoon climbers will reach a hut that is two thirds of the way up to the summit to eat and sleep.
An early start takes climbers back out into sub-zero conditions, pushing up more steep ice, rock and crack climbing.
On reaching the summit, most people head back down via the south route and on to the train station, or stay on the mountain for a final night.
Eiger Summit via The South Ridge
Starting from the Jungfraujoch station, a four-hour cross-glacial hike takes climbers to the Mönchsjoch Hut.
This mountain hut lies at an altitude of 3,658 metres, with unrivaled views from all of the rooms.
The expedition continues the following morning with an early start. The ascent to Eiger’s summit takes five to six hours with plenty of technical climbing over rock and ice – particularly in winter.
Climbers will generally descend the same way they came.
Most climbing packages provide an all-inclusive trip that covers hotels, mountain huts, trams and lifts, gear and guides. Lodging typically includes two or three nights in Swiss/French huts with breakfast and dinner.
For those who are staying additional days in Grindelwald, or have not purchased a package, there is a variety of accommodation on offer.
The most cost-effective option for large groups would be to rent an apartment or chalet in town.
For solo travellers or couples on a budget there are plenty of lodges and bed and breakfasts that offer simple yet comfortable sleeping arrangements with breakfast usually included as standard.
If you want to tag on a day of relaxation after your summit climb, splash out on one of the luxury hotels such as the Belvedere – with sweeping mountain views and a spa.
There is also plenty of accommodation in Chamonix, most of which is certainly on the pricier side of things.
During winter it is one of the most popular ski destinations in Europe, so demand pushes costs up and you’ll need to book ahead of time to ensure there is somewhere suitable to stay whilst you complete your training climbs.
In terms of postcard-perfect destinations, the picturesque town of Grindelwald very much fits the bill.
As well as its incredible views and climbing opportunities, this small city also offers numerous types of activities. Whether you’re feeling adventurous or just want to chill out, there is something for everyone.
Outside of taking on the Eiger, skiing is probably the most sought after activity in the area. Switzerland is famed for its slopes and Grindelwald First doesn’t dissappoint.
If you can’t ski but still want to be out in the snow then why not try dog sledding from Faulhorn. Another fun alternative is Volgemel.
Exclusive to this part of the world, this activity involves a wooden snow-bicycle on which you speed through Grindelwald’s wintery streets.
For something more low-key, ride the Jungfrau Railway or Mannlichen Cable Car, check out Grindelwald Museum to learn about local history or just savour the flavours at local restaurants. A mountain classic is cheesy fondue and bread.
For those that spend some extra time in Chamonix, activities range from ice skating and movie nights, to paragliding and food festivals.
The Alps are well-known for their outstanding skiing and snowboarding opportunities (with snowshoeing, sledging and impressive apres-ski) and alternative summer activities to hiking include mountaineering, biking and rock climbing.
For something a little different, head to the Les Deux Alpes resort, which recently launched a new outdoor festival. Visitors can tackle 100 kilometres of mountain bike tracks, three trail running competitions and an obstacle race.
If you would prefer to watch than take part, you can witness slacklining above the lake as participants attempt to break the highline world record or check out some aerial acrobatics at The Paragliding Pre-World Cup that takes place each June.
|Skills Required||Climbing, Hiking, Mountaineering|
|Difficulty||4/5 - 5/5|
|Starts at||Grindelwald, Switzerland|
|Finishes at||Grindelwald, Switzerland|
|Length of route||4.5 Km|
|Average time to complete||2 - 3 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||No|
|Highest point||3967 metres|
|Equipment needed||Crampons and ice picks (if completed outside summer months), Harness & ropes, Poles if preferred, Professional mountaineering gear, Specialist climbing gear|