The Eiger’s North Face..

She’s a big thing, whitish at the top. And, at more than 3,400 metres, one could argue that the Eiger is difficult to miss.

Yet our driver, convinced that simply aiming in its general direction was a cunning precept, sat irresolute and harassed at a junction in Interlaken. ‘You know where it said “Buses Only” back there?’ chirruped Fat Paul, somewhat unhelpfully, as other motorists swore at us.

The challenge of finding this mountain, however, is appreciably dwarfed by the feat of actually scaling her. Since 1938, the year the Eiger’s north face was finally conquered, at least 64 climbers’ lives have been claimed. Do you think that Fat Paul ought to give her a whirl, then? Despite egregious abuses of carbohydrates?

 

The Eiger’s Ascent

Yes, this impassioned, determined man, never one to shirk a crampon-studded challenge, strode confidently into an office in the pretty town of Grindelwald. With a no-nonsense, peremptory wave of his hand, he laid out our daunting stratagem, proved he had packed some food…and emerged with some jolly expensive train tickets to the summit.

Still, it’s not every day one rides the Jungfraubahn to the highest railway station in Europe, feasting voraciously on vistas of the Bernese Oberland below. Through scenery constituting nirvana for outdoor enthusiasts, we rode higher and higher, overtaking mountain bikers and cows modelling bells on thick, leather neck-collars.

‘Passengers for the Top of Europe, change here,’ came an announcement in Kleine Scheidegg, and our yellow and green stripy train drew to a halt. ‘Little snack?’ suggested Fat Paul, deeming it propitious to opt for a little something in a café – just in case large somethings proved to be limited further on.

 

Touching The Void..

But, aboard our next train – a little red one – Fat Paul was not looking quite as peppy as usual. Was a menacing, dyspeptic ripsnorter brewing in his bowels? No, as the outside temperature plummeted to zero, I realised that the poor old pigeon was suffering from altitude sickness. ‘Breathtaking,’ he gasped at 3454m, and limped out of our carriage.

The longest glacier in Europe was at last within our reach. This was what we’d been waiting for, the majestic prize that justified the journey’s ineffable expense. ‘I think I’ll have a pie in the canteen,’ wheezed a querulous Fat Paul, making the most of the occasion. ‘I need a little sit-down while you play on the glacier.’

Now, last time I checked, pies are not medically recognised as a panacea for altitude sickness. And, alas, one can’t rely on fathomless stocks of steak and kidney in these beastly foreign climes. Thus, a despondent Fat Paul was last seen in the canteen queue, bewailing the absence of pies, but perking up at the sight of some pasta. In fact, genuflection wouldn’t be too strong a word, as his eyes alighted on this emergency dish. I think it may have saved his life..