Roger Schaeli set out at 2:00 a.m. on his third attempt to complete the Lauper Route on the North Face of the Eiger. The 18-year-old had grown up climbing with his father near their home in Sörenberg, Switzerland, and was now in training to become a mountain guide.
His previous attempts of the Lauper Route had been stymied by bad weather, but this time, conditions were in his favor. Just a few hours later, he was on the summit and had made his first complete ascent of the North Face.
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That was in 1996. Now, 23 years later, Schaeli has climbed the Eiger 52 times—not counting incomplete attempts. And he has no plans to stop anytime soon. “I live here, you know; it’s kind of the best long, serious climb. It’s just half an hour out of my door,” he said. “There are still some routes I want to free climb. I also have one or two routes in my mind that I would love to do the first repetition [of].”
Schaeli, now a professional alpinist and mountain guide, has made history on the Eiger many times. He has held the team speed record for the North Face at two separate points: first in 2008, when he and Simon Anthamatten climbed the classic Heckmair Route in 6 hours and 50 minutes, and then again in 2011, when he and Simon Gietl reclaimed the title by climbing the same route in 4 hours and 25 minutes (that record was bested four years later by Ueli Steck and Nicolas Hojac, with a time of 3 hours and 46 minutes).
In 2013, Schaeli and the German climber Robert Jasper made the first free ascent of the Ghilini-Piola Direttissima (5.12d), seven years after their first attempt was thwarted by a severe thunderstorm. In 2015, Schaeli, Jasper, and Gietl established Odyssee (5.13c), which remains the most difficult route on the Eiger’s North Face. And the next year, he teamed up with Thomas Huber and Stephan Siegrist for the first repeat of Jeff Lowe’s legendary Metanoia, a full 25 years after Lowe first climbed it solo.
Among all of these endeavors, the Japanese Direttissima (5.13b) stands out in his mind. “It took me seven years to climb that route,” he said. He and Anthamatten worked on it through the entire summer of 2003; they managed to climb the entire route with the exception of one pitch, which they skipped due to rockfall. The next year, he began working the route with Jasper, but the pair struggled with the upper pitches. Finally, in 2009, Schaeli and Jasper completed the route’s first free ascent. “That was kind of a big achievement for me,” Schaeli said. “I grew on this route a lot. I learned a lot, I had a lot of hard times, a lot of good times, I climbed with a lot of good friends.”
Evidently, many of Schaeli’s climbing partners on the Eiger have come back time and time again to take on new challenges with him. “I’m a pretty social climber, at the end,” he said. And younger, strong climbers looking to test their skills on the Eiger alongside Schaeli have kept him coming back. “It’s not that I have to climb there,” he said. “This is really something I love.”
He’s not tied to the mountain: Schaeli has logged first ascents and first free ascents in countries including India, Morocco, Argentina, Greenland, the USA, Austria, Norway and Italy. And he has plans to keep traveling and climbing across the world, from Pakistan to Peru to Patagonia.
But the Eiger still holds a special place in his heart: “I love to climb there,” he said. “I feel home.”
Watch Schäli and Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll make the first one-day free ascent of La Vida Es Silbar (7c+/5.13a, 900 meters) on the North Face of the Eiger in Switzerland, on July 23, 2019.