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On March 25, the 25-year-old Austrian alpinist Laura Tiefenthaler soloed the historic Heckmair Route (M5; 5,900 feet) on the North Face of The Eiger (13,015 feet). Hers is just the second known female solo of the legendary face, after Catherine Destivelle, who onsighted the route in 1992.
“Of course I knew of Catherine’s solo ascent, and more generally of her many inspiring climbs, but I … did not care if other women had done it or not,” Tiefenthaler wrote to Climbing.
She said soloing the Heckmair Route was not a strategic decision born from years of dreaming and preparation. Rather, the idea was suggested to her just five days before her successful ascent by her friend and climbing mentor, Rolando Garibotti. “Initially it seemed crazy, but when I analyzed what it involved, I realized that it was feasible,” she said. “This is what I found so appealing: an objective that was outside of my imagination, and yet within my capabilities.”
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Tiefenthaler had recently returned from a successful ascent of the same route, with Jana Möhrer on March 8, where they managed the Heckmair in a day despite expecting (and being equipped for) a bivouac on route. This positive experience, paired with Garibotti’s suggestion, made a solo ascent a compelling goal.
“What was hardest was to then forget about the objective itself, to avoid having it be a stressful situation, and instead focus on going step by step, without looking beyond what was in my vicinity,” Tiefenthaler said. “Drive there, get to the hut, walk to the base, fail and feel OK with failing, recover, eat lots, watch the tourists and skiers, get motivated again, get in a good mental space to sleep well, wake up, coffee, walk to the base, climb a few meters, and then the few meters after that. One little step at the time, and so a crazy dream comes to pass.”
Climbing caught up with Tiefethaler over email to learn more about her solo ascent. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Climbing: What is your history with the Eiger’s North Face?
Tiefenthaler: I first tried to climb it in April 2021 with Raphaela Haug, but conditions were not great, so we bailed. On the 8th of March 2022, Jana Möhrer and I climbed it in a day. Two weeks later I climbed it again, on my own. It’s a cool route. A “must” for every aspiring alpinist.
Why was an in-a-day ascent not enough?
When I climbed it with Jana, I felt very good. The weather continued being ridiculously good, and after finishing one of my guide courses I was keen to climb something solo. I was toying around with different ideas, especially with a traverse near Innsbruck, which sounded complex and uncertain. This is when Rolo suggested I go back to the Eiger by myself, but he felt immediately conflicted about it, because of the danger involved. Since I had already done it, there was less uncertainty, although I knew that too many people on the route might pose an issue. In any case, I was stoked to go have a look.
How did your first attempt go?
On the first attempt I was a little too worried and questioned whether being there at all was a good idea. In that “fog,” I took a wrong turn and lost over two hours, so feeling a little tired and out of sorts, I decided to bail. The weather was stable, so I knew I could try the next day again if I felt right. This first attempt was a good experience, because it made me realize that I could back off without being angry at myself.
How were conditions on the route?
I think conditions were good but not great. The tracks in the snowfields were amazing from the many recent climbers. In the icefields there were the biggest hooks one could imagine. However, the harder pitches were quite dry, so the climbing was much more difficult.
It was important to me that I would not try a solo ascent if there were too many teams on the mountain. My ascent with Jana had been special, and I felt no need to climb it again unless the experience was what I was looking for.
What does your rope-soloing setup look like?
I used a modified Grigri. I rope-soloed ten pitches, and belayed with improvised systems in a few other sections.
What were some of your most memorable moments of the ascent?
Reaching the end of the second icefield just at dawn, feeling really good, and deciding to continue—this had been my cut-off point, where I had to make a decision as to whether to continue or turn around; the flow and the constant movement in progress—you don’t get to pause when soloing; the solitude after passing the various parties on the route was very moving; texting with Rolo at the Traverse of the Gods and taking a little rest; soaking in the peace and calmness; laughing at how fun it was to have to climb every hard pitch twice; being on top, being able to slide down on my ass most of the descent, in the same place where I had to take every step two weeks earlier.
What role did Rolando Garibotti play in this ascent?
He was encouraging without putting any pressure on me. He helped me to ask the right questions of myself. He helped me approach the day with curiosity, keeping my focus on the experience, without being goal oriented. It was good to have a trusted friend on the other side of the phone, even if he was on the other side of the planet. He was more scared than I was but did his best to hide it and enjoyed having a front row seat in this adventure.