How Toni Kurz suffered a painful death, dangling on a rope for days in north face of the Eiger
Toni Kurz

During the 1930s, Toni Kurz was a mountain climber from Germany. He was born on January 13, 1913, and passed away on July 22, 1936. In 1936, he passed away as he and his companion Andreas Hinterstoisser were attempting to climb the north face of the Eiger, which had not been climbed up to that point.

The elevation of “The Eiger” is 14,000 feet, and the Eigerwand is the north face of the mountain. Although Europeans had conquered every mountain in the Alps throughout three generations, there were still relatively few significant difficulties left in the region. One of these was the Eigerwand, which is commonly regarded as the most difficult unclimbed path in the Alps.

Although the 1850s were considered to be the golden period of Alpine exploration, the pinnacle had already been attained by that time. However, the mountain’s north face was not scaled by any of the climbers.

A climb can be difficult for a variety of reasons, including steep slopes, avalanches, lengthy ascents, the absence of simple resting locations, and other factors. Even though the Eigerwand included all of these dangers, there was one that stood out in particular: snow and loose rock.

Mountaineering is typically thought to be at its peak during the summer months when the mountain is at its most vulnerable. It is not uncommon for rocks the size of fists to fall down the mountain. At an astonishing rate, enormous avalanches careen down slopes that are 70 degrees below the surface. In addition, the enormous, concave face is always obscured by darkness. As a result of the concave face, the weather is exceedingly windy and chilly, and the local weather patterns appear to be entirely different from those that are experienced in the pass below. It has a lethal appearance.

A genuine effort at the face has not been attempted by any team prior to the year 1935. However, in that particular year, two young German climbers from Bavaria, both of whom had a great deal of expertise but were relatively unknown outside of the climbing world, decided to undertake the first serious attempt.

The fact that practically the whole face of the Eiger can be seen from a ski resort below is one of the characteristics that sets the ascent of the Eiger apart from other mountain climbs. When the weather cleared up, the people who lived in Kleine Scheidegg, a little resort town located in the pass, were able to stare straight at the north face and see all of these efforts to climb the face.

Toni Kurz dangling on a rope in the north face of EigerHere is a timeline of what happened during the attempt to climb the north face of the Eiger

Here is a detailed timeline of the events surrounding the tragic climb on the north face of the Eiger in July 1936:

  1. July, 1936: Toni Kurz and Andreas Hinterstoisser, both serving in the military, depart from Berchtesgaden, Germany, and travel by bicycle to Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland, to attempt the unclimbed north face of the Eiger.
  2. Mid-July, 1936: Kurz and Hinterstoisser meet up with two Austrian climbers, Edi Rainer and Willy Angerer, and decide to continue their climb together.
  3. During Ascent: Angerer is injured by falling rocks loosened by the warmth of the rising sun as they cross the first ice field. Despite this setback, they continue their ascent.
  4. Further Challenges: Slow progress across the second ice field and Angerer’s worsening condition lead the climbers to abandon their attempt on the Eiger and begin their descent.
  5. Tragic Events: Kurz and his fellow climbers face challenges while descending, including difficulty retracing their route and navigating dangerous terrain. During a descent, Hinterstoisser’s anchor becomes dislodged, causing him to fall to his death. Angerer is struck by a falling boulder and dies instantly, with his body becoming suspended on the running line.
  6. Rescue Attempts: A rescue team attempts to reach Kurz from below using the Jungfraubahn railway tunnel, but severe weather conditions prevent them from reaching him. Kurz remains exposed to the elements overnight.
  7. Kurz’s Efforts: The next day, Kurz, despite suffering from a frozen hand due to losing a glove, makes a courageous effort to abseil down the face of the mountain and reach the rescue team. He first cuts loose Angerer’s body, then Rainer’s, and then ties their ropes together to increase the length.
  8. Rescue Challenges: The rescue team faces challenges with their ropes, with one long rope being dropped and falling short of the required length. Kurz attempts to abseil down to the rescuers but becomes stuck just meters above them due to a knot in the rope.
  9. Tragic End: Despite his efforts, Kurz is unable to release the knot and ultimately succumbs to hypothermia, uttering the words “Ich kann nicht mehr” (“I can’t go [on] anymore”) before passing away. His body is later recovered by a German team.

When the two young Bavarians made the decision to make an attempt, the press from all over the world was practically staying at the hotel and monitoring the guys through binoculars before the clouds cleared. This was because all of this had been in place for a considerable amount of time before the initial attempt was made.

Even though they did not know how long the endeavor would take, they took enough supplies to last for six days. They estimated that it would take them between two and three days to reach the top. They had a very successful beginning, as shown by the fact that they made it all the way up to Eigerwand station before starting their camp for the night. Indeed, you have comprehended that right. Tracks for trains may be found approximately one third of the way up the mountain. For the second time, I am not making this up; this is the view that I have from a window looking down on Grindelwald himself.

They were forced to battle with the first significant ice field of the ascent on the second day, which resulted in them making very little progress. They were able to reach the second of them on the third day, and they were able to come close to the summit before clouds began to form and clouded the view of the face.

On the fifth day, when the clouds began to lift, it became abundantly evident that a significant catastrophe was on the horizon. An rare event for the summer months, the whole mountain face was blanketed with several feet of new snow despite the fact that it was July. Because of the avalanches that swept down the mountain, the climbers were unable to descend the mountain using the path that they had previously used. The guys had little alternative but to continue climbing, and they did so in the vain hope that they would reach the peak of the mountain before their supplies ran out or they perished from exposure. The last time anybody saw them alive was on day five, when they were high up on the third ice field, with many thousand feet of elevation still to them.

One of the climbers was seen frozen solid and standing up in the third ice field when an airplane passed by the peak a few days later in an attempt to find the climbers. The term “death bivouac” was eventually used to describe this place.

You would think that after a catastrophe of this magnitude, climbers would be at least momentarily discouraged from climbing. On the other hand, that would be an understatement of how absurd climbers can be. According to what I have read, a number of the climbers who joined the search team to hunt for the two Bavarians did so primarily with the intention of scouting the peak for their own effort to climb it.

It was intended that ten men would attempt to reach the peak during the 1936 season. However, by the month of July, that number had dropped to only four due to adverse weather conditions and accidents that occurred while climbing.

1936 was the year when two sets of people made the decision to do something: two guys from Bavaria named Andreas Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz, and two Austrians named Willy Angerer and Edi Rainer. The two parties came to the conclusion that they would climb together during the preparatory excursion.

All four of the climbers The top two are Willy Angerer and Edi Rainer. Andrew Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz are seen at the bottom.

Hinterstoisser experienced a fall of 37 meters down the mountain face on the very first day of the expedition, although he appeared to be quite unharmed. In addition to that, the guys achieved significant advancements. The “Hinterstoisser Traverse” is the name given to the novel method that Hinterstoisser utilized to traverse a steep rock face. This method involved the use of fixed ropes.

However, it is essential to note that he removed the ropes after completing the traverse. If the climbers were to return to the starting point, it would be far more challenging to do the same maneuver. The first night, clouds began to gather, and as a result, the view of the mountain was obstructed for the spectators who were watching from Kleine Scheidegg below. They were able to see the peak through binoculars and telescopes.

On the early morning of the second day, it seemed to the observers that something had gone wrong with the event. With that, Edi and Willy had ceased their ascent. It appeared as though Edi was providing medical attention to Willy. The rope was lowered by Andreas and Toni to Willy, who appeared to have recovered sufficiently to resume his ascent, and Edi followed in his footsteps.

Their advancement slowed down. They had arrived to Death Bivouac by the middle of the day, which was the final resting site of the German climbers who had died the previous year. Nevertheless, at this moment, it was very evident to the audience that Willy was unable to continue. Regardless of the nature of the injury he sustained on the first day, it was severe enough to preclude him from continuing.

The four individuals started their descent and made significant headway down the second ice field by the time the second day came to a close. Given that Andreas had removed the fixed ropes that had been utilized during the ascent, the rock face that was located between the first and second ice fields would prove to be far more difficult to traverse on the descent. Furthermore, there was no obvious path that could be taken back down the face.

When the storm arrived on the third day, clouds and mist concealed the face of the Eigerwand, making it difficult for onlookers to see it. It was possible to watch avalanches crashing down the mountain, carrying a shower of rocks with them as they went.

When the clouds parted for a while, those who were observing were able to see that the rock face that they had used to get to the second ice field had been saturated with freezing rain from the previous night.

A pictorial representation of the appearance of the rocks in the Hinterstoissen Traverse following the storm that occurred the previous evening

As soon as the fixed ropes were removed, it became obvious that the climbers would not be able to utilize that route to return. To descend the mountain, the only option was to rappel off of a cliff wall that was 600 feet high.

An experienced climber by the name of Albert Von Almen brought the train up to the windows in the Eigerwand tunnel, which was located close to the foot of the cliff that the four men were now getting ready to descend. He had the impression that another catastrophe was about to occur.

After Von Almen had popped his head out of the window of the Eigerwand tunnel, he yelled out for the climbers who were located in the uppermost part of the tunnel. To his astonishment, he ended up hearing four responses. All of the men seemed to be in good health and reported that they would be down in a short while. After enduring such a harrowing ordeal, Von Almen got to work brewing a cup of tea for the climbers, with the expectation that it would warm them up.

The clock was ticking away the minutes. After waiting for two hours, Von Almen’s anxiety level rose to an increasingly high level. Following his return to the window, he once more yelled for the men to come. Now, there was only one voice that could be heard, and that was Toni Kurz.

Von Almen was able to obtain two pieces of information despite the fact that the wind made it difficult to hear: Toni was the only person who had survived the rail tunnel accident, and she was unable to descend any farther since she was suspended in the air hundreds of feet above the window of the train tunnel.

Instantaneously, Von Almen called the Eigergletscher Station, which is located in the valley below, and instructed them to provide a rescue team as soon as possible. Given the high level of danger that was involved, the head of the mountain rescue committee made the decision at the time that no guides were to be forced to take part in the rescue operation. On the other hand, three guides volunteered their services and rode the train up to the window along the slope.

The guides emerged from the windows of the Eigerwand tunnel and proceeded to climb the face in a diagonal direction, ascending it in the direction of the foot of the rock from where Toni was dangling. The fact that he had been on the mountain for three days did not affect the strength of his voice when he talked to them.

As a result of an avalanche, the four guys had been injured. It was the strongest climber, Hinterstoisser, who had put the rope on the rock face during the ascent. Unfortunately, he was swept entirely off the mountain face and fell over a thousand feet to his death. All three of them, Willy, Edi, and Toni, were bound together by a single rope, with Toni being in the midst of the group. Willy and Toni have both been vanished without a trace. It was during the descent that the rope had been entangled around Willy’s neck, causing him to be strangled. Edi, who was still at the top of the cliff face and bound to both of the fallen guys, had been crushed on a boulder at the top, breaking his skull before immediately freezing to death. He had been tethered to both of the fallen men. However, his frozen corpse continued to push against the rock, which prevented Toni from dying as she had been destined to.

The guides couldn’t approach Toni since there was no way for them to do so without ascending 600 feet up the disintegrating ice that was located between the first and second ice fields. Toni was alone, and there was empty air below and above him. It was not possible to toss a rope up because of the distance.

Upon the arrival of darkness, the guides realized that it was quite possible that they would perish while attempting to scale the ice face and rescue Toni from above. Toni was given the assurance that they would come back the next morning to make another effort at rescuing her. They were informed by Toni that he would not be able to survive the night. They were able to hear him crying for assistance as they dropped back to the window in the train tunnel a considerable amount of time after they had departed.

The next morning, when the guides returned, Toni was found to have icicles that were eight inches long hanging from his boots. His left mitten was pulled off by the wind when he was sleeping throughout the night. In addition to his lower left arm, his hand had become completely frozen and solid during this time.

The fact that there was simply no way to climb the cliff was made abundantly clear to the expedition leaders. Using the mountain climbing equipment that was available in the 1930s, it was simply impossible to climb a frozen rocky ice face. However, if modern equipment had been available, it might have been possible to accomplish this task.

The first suggestion for rescuing Toni was to throw a rope at her. In order to bring a rope up to him, they even brought rockets with them. On the other hand, this method was unsuccessful since all of the ropes were thrown away from the cliff face and into the air. Toni was supposed to lower a short rope, and then they were supposed to hook one of the rescue ropes to it. This was the second idea. Toni would then be able to descend the remaining distance by tying that rope to his and descending farther. Nevertheless, Toni did not have any more rope to lower. In some way, he needed to produce additional rope.

The guides were able to come up with a plan that had a chance of being successful, but it was contingent on Toni still possessing sufficient physical strength. First, they instructed him to descend as far as he could, and then they instructed him to remove the lifeless corpse of Willy. After that, he would have to attempt to climb back up, re-tie himself, and then cut the rope that was immediately beneath him.

Then, with one of his arms frozen, he would have to unravel the small portion of rope and then connect the pieces together in order to descend to the rescue squad. This small rope, which is not strong enough to support Toni’s weight, would then be used to lift up a stronger rope that was provided by the rescue crew. He would then need to attach this rope to his own rope in order to descend.

Over the course of five grueling hours, Toni toiled to create a fresh rope to drop to the guides. He cut Willy’s body from the rope, but it did not fall, since the freezing rain from the night before had frozen it securely to the rock. He then went up about 25 feet with one functional arm and frozen feet, and used his ax to cut a length of rope below him. Then using his teeth and his one good hand, he proceeded to unravel the little amount of rope and connected each segment together to descend to the guides.

The sun passed its height in the sky and began to fall slowly toward the west. At one point an avalanche thundered down the mountain hurling rocks and snow careening past the guides. Willy’s frozen body was detached from the cliff wall by the rubble, and it was flung past the rescue squad before falling down the mountain and into the valley below.

At long last, Toni completed his improvised guide rope and handed it across to the people who were rescuing him. He was on the verge of exhausting his strength. Toni was provided with some climbing supplies and a rope that was thicker and stronger, which was fastened to it by the guides in case she needed to climb down the cliff face. However, even the rescue line was not far enough in length, so they attached a second rope to it toward the bottom of the pit.

Willy was able to carefully drag the rope and gear up over the course of an hour, despite the fact that he had not slept for four nights, was exposed to the wind and rain, and only had one decent arm. Following that, he started the agonizing and gradual decline.

Twenty-five feet above the guides, Toni appeared in the line of sight. Then twenty feet, and finally thirty feet. Suddenly, he came to a complete and total stop. Toni’s carabiner was unable to accommodate the knot that the rescuers had tied in order to connect the second rope to the first rope because it was too big. It was impossible for him to go much lower.

The guides were able to hear him groaning as he struggled to break through the knot by himself.

A furious group of rescuers yelled out to the fatigued guy, “Try, lad, try!” in an effort to motivate him. Toni mumbled to himself as he made one more attempt with all of his remaining strength, but he had very little left; his amazing efforts had used up virtually all of his strength. As long as he was engaged in physical activity, his will to live had been heightened to an incredible degree; nevertheless, the descent into the safety of the rope-sling had alleviated the stress that had been building up. It was getting close to the time when he would be rescued; the conflict was almost ended, and there were now other people around who could assist him…

Then there is this knot… This is only a single knot… It is not going to be successful… Just give it one more shot, buddy. It’s going to be gone!

Within the appeal that the guides made, there was a sense of desperation. One final uprising against the course of events; one final appeal to the remaining reserves of strength in order to overcome this final and sole hurdle. Toni leaned forward and attempted to make use of his teeth for the very last time. The frozen left arm of his body, which was no longer in use, protruded from his torso in a rigid and helpless manner. All of his supplies had been depleted. Toni’s lips were simply moving as he spoke incoherently, his lovely young face turning purple from frostbite and tiredness because of the combination of the two. It was unclear if he was still attempting to communicate with us or whether his spirit had already moved on to the next life.

Then, he spoke once more, and this time he was quite explicit. Then he declared, “I’m finished.”

Suddenly, his body leaned forward. Swinging softly over the gulf, the sling was nearly beyond the grasp of the rescue guides who were attempting to save the victim. He had passed away as he was seated in it.1.

Since the publication of Heinrich Harrer’s famous novel The White Spider in 1960, the terrible narrative has gained widespread attention. More recently, Joe Simpson’s book, The Beckoning Silence, which was also the subject of an Emmy-winning television documentary, as well as the German dramatic film North Face, which was released in 2008, have both chronicled the story.


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