I climbed the West Ridge of the Eiger with my friend Ivo Ninov. We weren’t expecting the Eiger to be climbable so both of us hadn’t packed any alpine gear. We navigated our way up the icy face, wearing blue jeans and sneakers. Lucky for us we did have some gear; we both had Fiveten shoes and Stealth, the stickiest rubber on earth, on our feet. Ivo was pretty much styling with his high top ‘Insights’. He strutted through some snowy sections and even kicked a few steps. I on the other hand, well foot, had on the Dirtbags. This is a fine shoe for most things, and was the only shoe I brought with me to Europe for that reason, but come on, climbing the notorious Eiger in velcro closure friction loafers, what was I thinking?
On the way we found some metal spikes and a small wooden stick. We improvised these into our ice tools. A little further up the trail we found two ice screws so we discarded our ‘garbage spikes’ and each gripped onto a single ice screw hoping that somehow we could self-arrest if we slipped.
We were heading for the ‘Ecstasy Board’, the world record wingsuit BASE-jump, diving board that I found and opened with my friend Andy West during the summer of 2009. When you drop a rock off the Ecstasy Board it hits a ledge within 8 seconds. In 2009 I was able to fly with my ‘Tonysuits XS’ wingsuit for 2 minutes and 50 seconds, descending vertically 8800 feet while moving forward 5.5 kilometers. Since then the world’s best flyers have been trying to break this record.
Ivo and I laughed and picnicked our way up the alpine face. Our route was covered with black ice and snow but luckily we could zigzag our way up, gripping with our Stealth rubber on mostly dry rock. One slip though and we would have slid the length of the Ridge to our deaths. Five hours passed as if minutes during our moving meditation.
We suited up at around 2:30 in the afternoon. We’d be screwed if we had to walk down…. Ivo pulled on and squirmed into his Phoenix-Fly ‘Vampire 4’ and I, my super favorite ‘Tonysuits Apache.’ The Apache has started to feel like my second skin lately as I’d been focusing on the efficient glide more than normal. A few raven-like birds called Alpine Choughs came and flew within feet of us for about 10 minutes--just hovering there. I noticed that they were ridge soaring into a strong south wind. It seemed like the birds were trying to tell us something. We had intended on flying west but now could easily see by the birds’ flight pattern that we would be held back by a strong side wind. I decided we should fly north, with the south wind at our back.
Ivo and I have such a carefree attitude when climbing and flying together. We both realize that the way we pursue winged flight is quite safe and I guess we’ve become used to pouring on total concentration as well as the idea that if we make a bad error we pay with our lives.
I remembered watching Ivo on his first wingsuit cliff jump. He plummeted like a rock. Now I watched my Brother launch and fly for miles until he was out of sight. His form was perfect in the air, so calm and fluid. He made one hell of a flight for a Vampire and it looked like he made it to the town of Grindlewald.
I scanned down the valley many miles further to the town of Grund. This was my destination. I zipped my suit completely up, felt to make sure my pilot chute was tucked in perfectly and then turned and faced the south wind allowing the gusts to inflate my suit to almost full pressure. Then I turned back towards the drop-off and tread carefully out the diving board making sure not to trip over my leg wing. I felt lucky that my wingsuit’s booties were also soled with Stealth dot rubber as my toes stuck over the edge of one of the most dreaded alpine walls on earth, The North Face of the Eiger.