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October 19 , 2008

The Climb Up to Hell


In the heart of the Swiss Alps stand the three majestic peaks of the Bernese Oberland, Europe's most famous mountain range. The highest, at 13,638 feet, is the Jungfrau. Next is the Mönch, at 13,465 feet. But it is the smallest, the Eiger, rising 13,038 feet above sea level, that is by far the deadliest. Called a "living" mountain for its constantly changing conditions-unpredictable weather, disintegrating limestone surfaces, and continuously falling rock and ice-its mile-high north wall is perhaps the most dangerous climb in the world. And that may be just what beckons elite Alpinists to scale the treacherous peak against the odds. 

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In 1957, nearly forty years before the well-known Mount Everest tragedy, two teams of confident climbers set out to summit the north wall of the Eiger Mountain. Not long into their journey, onlookers could tell that the four men were headed for disaster. Soon rescue teams from all over Europe raced toward the Eiger-yet only one of the four climbers survived to face unfounded international accusations. In a story as fascinating as any novel, Jack Olsen creates a riveting account of daring adventure, heroic rescue, and one of the most baffling mysteries in the history of mountain climbing. 

The forbidden, formidable north wall of the Eiger Mountain in the Bernese Alps, while it was first successfully climbed in 1938, has remained a supreme challenge to the most seasoned climber and in 1957 two teams of two Germans and two Italians again made the attempt with devastating results. while Corti, the only survivor, was perhaps talented- all were seemingly uninformed and ill-prepared, certainly for the wind and weather conditions which were to defeat them and make their rescue so difficult. Corti's partner, Longhi, was the first to entertain misgivings and was soon worn out, suffering frostbite as well; the Germans lost their food and were sustained chiefly by an innate, irrational mystique. Rescue crews were quickly organized, but only Corti, who ""looked like a live corpse"", was salvaged; his partner had been left lower down- to die, and the bodies of the other two ropemates were only found months later. In the avalanche of blame, resentment (against the guides as well as Corti) to follow, no true judgement could be reached although Olsen, a Sports Illustrated staff writer, does absolve Corti after a final interview... The folly and the fascination of "vertical Russian roulette", the courage compounded with stupidity, the doubts and recriminations which lingered on long after this disastrous ascent, all intensify the drama of this attempt and revive the furor it occasioned at the time. It will keep its readers on the ropes. 

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