The White Spider: The Story of the North Face of the Eiger Summary & Study Guide

Heinrich Harrer
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The White Spider: The Story of the North Face of the Eiger Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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In The White Spider, mountaineer Heinrich Harrer chronicles the history of mankind's battle against the North Face of the Eiger, a mountain in the Swiss Alps. The North Face is a sheer drop, treacherously icy and rocky, and constantly bombarded with avalanches. Harrer, one of the first party to succeed in climbing the North Face, focuses on the strength of character and courage of the climbers who have faced this challenge, many of whom lost their lives in the attempt.

The sheer North Face of the Eiger was thought impossible to climb when the mountain was first scaled by other routes in the 1800s. In 1935, a pair of mountaineers made the first attempt to climb the North Face and froze to death at 10,800 feet. Another failed attempt was made in 1936, and the climbers were killed going back down the mountain. In 1937, two climbers retreated successfully from their attempt. After two deaths on the North Face in 1938, the first successful attempt was made by Anderl Heckmair, Ludwig Vörg, Fritz Kasparek, and young Heinrich Harrer in 1938.

During the wartime years of the 1940s, few attempts were made to climb the North Face. Two successful ascents were made in 1946 and 1947, after a failed but non-fatal attempt in 1946. In the 1950s, fourteen successful climbs were made. In 1952, a party of nine reached the summit, made up of three separate parties, one French, one Austrian, and one German, who joined together during their climb. The climbers included noted German Hermann Buhl and French expert Gaston Rébuffat. Uly Wyss and Karlheinz Gonda's ascent in 1953 ended in tragedy, as the two fell from the ice field at the summit. Only later was their climb of the North Face classified as a success.

In 1957, a disastrous climb is clouded in mystery. Stefano Longhi and Claudio Corti, seemingly unprepared, were slow climbers. Günther Nothdurft and Franz Mayer soon caught up with them, and then slowed down to their pace for the journey. Longhi and Corti were injured, and the two other climbers finished the ascent but died on the way down the mountain. Corti was rescued with a steel cable, but his accounts of the events were inconsistent and unreliable.

The first winter ascent took place in 1961 and was filmed for a movie. Among many successful climbs in the early 1960s, three solo attempts in the 1960s led to tragedy and one expert descended without success, before Michel Darbellay climbed the peak solo in 1963. By the mid-1960s, the lower part of the climb was littered with ropes and pitons left behind, encouraging less accomplished climbers to the North Face. However, even as the number of successful climbs continues to grow, the mountain remains a challenge to test even the best mountaineers.

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