Bonington and Steck in conversation at the RGS

Our major fundraising event for 2011 was an evening lecture at the RGS called Triumph and Tragedy on the Eiger, with Chris Bonington and Ueli Steck talking about their climbs on that most famous of all faces in the Alps, the North Wall. It was a captivating evening. Chris spoke about the history of the wall and with a delicious mixture of humour and fascinating detail told of how he became the first Briton to climb it with Ian Clough in 1962. He had of course attempted the wall the previous year with Don Whillans but had had to abort the climb in order to rescue Brian Nally, whose companion Barry Brewster had fallen on the second icefield. He then spoke about the climb in 1966 when John Harlin tragically lost his life attempting the Eiger Direct. Nothing brings the story more vividly to life than first-hand accounts of the triumphs and tragedies that have shaped its reputation as the so-called Mordwand (murderous face).

Ueli Steck gave us a delightful and equally fascinating talk about his own relationshipwith the North Wall. And it is indeed a relationship, since he had climbed it 38 times, including twice at record speed. The second attempt still stands as the record: 2 hours, 47minutes and 33 seconds. The time was beaten in 2011, but using fixed ropes on the Hinterstoisser traverse, whereas Ueli climbed the route entirely without aid. He then went on to climb the Colton/Macintyre route on the Grandes Jorasses in record time and finally, the North Face of the Matterhorn. He came out with the understatement of the evening when he said: ‘vertical is not that steep.’ A good title for his autobiography perhaps. The Q&A brought the two climbers together in conversation and reminded the audience that their individual experiences spanned almost half a century of climbing on the great North Wall of the Eiger. A grand and historical event, a unique and fascinating evening and a reminder, if one is ever needed,of the relevance of collecting mountain heritage and how stories are a vital part of that. Our thanks for that evening go to the RGS, to Cordon Rouge who was a sponsor, to Doug Scott for holding an auction of signed prints and books that raised over £3,000 for MHT, to Julie Zitter for her help in organising the dinner and to all those who came and filled every seat in the lecture theatre.

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