Legendary Swiss route re-climbed

The push up the Metanoia route Stephan Siegrist
This content was published on January 9, 2017 - 16:32

For a quarter-century, no one was able to repeat the “Metanoia” route up Switzerland’s notorious Eiger North Face that American climbing legend Jeff Lowe pioneered. Until now.

Three well-known professional alpinists from Switzerland and Germany finally pulled off the coveted second ascent of Lowe’s masterwork, one of the boldest and most difficult routes in the Alps, just before the close of 2016.

Swiss pro climbers Stephan SiegristExternal link and Roger SchäliExternal link and Germany’s Thomas Huber said on Monday they had completed the ascent in a two-day push on December 29 and 30, after several tries since the week before Christmas that were stymied by bad weather.

Lowe put up the route in 1991, braving severe storms in an extraordinary solo winter endurance effort that lasted nine days. It was since portrayed in the recent film “Metanoia”, which means a change in one's way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion. Lowe, who made more than 1,000 first ascents worldwide, was a proponent of the light and fast “Alpine-style” of climbing, rather than traditional expeditions.

Weary but happy sumitteers Huber, Schäli and Siegrist (l to r) Stephan Siegrist

A personal victory

After a painful divorce and financial troubles, Lowe decided to come to terms with his life. And he wanted to create a new, direct line up the Eiger North Face, without the use of any bolts, as a tribute to previous pioneers of extreme alpinism.

He has since described how the climb fundamentally changed himExternal link. For the second ascent, Huber’s fascination with the unique history of the climb quickly drew in rope-mates Siegrist and Schäli.

Lowe, who in recent years has been confined to a wheelchair because of a neuro-degenerative disorder, was excited about the repeat of his climb. “I'm happy and gratified that they found the route to be hard, bold, beautiful and visionary,” Lowe said.

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Making the second ascent brings fresh understanding of the magnitude of the climb.

“Their confirmation of the quality of Metanoia is very gratifying and quite humbling,” said Lowe. “Best of all, Thomas understands what I was doing with the climb; which was trying to create an example of how alpinists can progress in an environmentally conscious way that honours the spirit of extreme alpinism."

Siegrist and Schäli each described it as a real highlight of their careers, which include several dozen ascents of the Eiger North Face – Schäli’s favourite mountain. Huber said he kept trying to imagine what it was like for Lowe.

“What he accomplished is really just madness,” Huber said. "With Metanoia, Jeff was able to prove that you can accomplish impossible challenges just with your heart."

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