The Eiger Obsession
In this excerpt from his 2007 book, The Eiger Obsession, John Harlin III faces his legacy—and the mountain that killed his father.
While John Harlin III was living in Switzerland as a boy, his father fell to his death opening a new route on the north face of the 13,025-foot Eiger, a story recounted most recently in the 2007 Imax film The Alps. Last summer, at 56, Harlin, the editor of The American Alpine Journal, safely completed his own Swiss epic: a hike, climb, paddle, and bike around the Alpine kingdom’s serrated border. The result was a wild 1,200-mile adventure, the second of its kind, in one of the most well-traveled countries in Europe. It took 105 days, 688,000 vertical feet of elevation change, and two broken feet to complete.
1. June 23, 2010: Harlin’s knees flare up on day one after a 12-mile hiking descent from Leysin to Lake Geneva.
2. June 24: At the Col de Verne, the clouds part to reveal that the border is actually a 400-foot vertical wall. With no climbing partner, Harlin must go around.
3. July 1: While descending the Aiguilles Rouges du Mont Dolent, Harlin dislodges a body-size boulder and falls 50 feet. He breaks bones in both feet and calls for a rescue. It’s Day 9. He heads to Mexico to lick his wounds.
4. October 10: At Schaffhausen, Harlin spends days bicycling around the border’s bulges and loops.
5. October 22: Harlin follows trails upstream along the semi-wild Doubs river, finding some of the best mountain biking in the country.
6. October 29: Harlin trades his bike for a kayak to paddle 60 miles along Lake Geneva. He must wait till summer to return to the Alps.
7. July 6, 2011: Harlin meets the only other person to have circled Switzerland in this manner, Andrea Vogel, who did it back in 1992. Together they cross 9,725-foot Schesaplana in 16 hours.
8. July 30: Harlin teams up with an Italian mountaineer to tackle 4,000-meter Piz Bernina.
9. August 30: Harlin checks into Margherita Hut, at 14,940 feet the highest full-service hut in the Alps.
10. September 12: Harlin scales his final peak, 12,542-foot Mont Dolent. He peers down the north side, where he fell the year before, and decides to go down the south side instead.