Eiger 1966 : the story behind the death of John Harlin

John Harlin

The north face of the Eiger is unquestionably one of the most difficult and dangerous in Europe, wrote Pierre Mazeaud, who was familiar with the subject. Léo Billon (member of the Groupe Militaire de haute Montagne), Sébastien Ratel (ex-GMHM) and Benjamin Védrines have just signed a rare rehearsal of the Directissime Harlin at the Eiger.
In the winter of 1966, the climb was the subject of fierce competition between two teams, one Anglo-American and the other German. This inhumane month-long siege in the middle of winter cost the life of the American John Harlin, who long dreamed of this Directissime. Here’s the story of that dramatic ascent.

At a time when weather models make it possible to see the slots of good weather several days in advance with a formidable precision, it seems unimaginable to think that climbers could have jumped into such a wall only waiting for the last snowfall to end. Yet, that’s what both teams did. On the one hand, the energetic John Harlin, a former fighter pilot, did his classes at Yosemite. With Royal Robbins or Gary Hemming, they redefine the alpine standards by opening the toughest routes of the moment, Directe américaine on the western face of the Drus (1962), south face of the Fou (1963), and finally Directissime américaine