Tackling the Six Great North Faces of the Alps, Totally Human-Powered

Schaeli and Gietl sort out gear before climbing the Piz Badile. Photo: Roger Schaeli

Simon Gietl and Roger Schaeli have set out to climb the six great north faces of the Alps, a classic achievement for expert alpinists. Their unique wrinkle: They intend to travel only by human power between the mountains, trekking, cycling and paragliding.

Cheese for the road? Friends cheered Simon Gietl and Roger Schaeli at the first cycling leg of their trip. Photo: Simon Gietl

Skis might come in handy soon. Forecasts look good for the next three days, but autumn snow might come as early as next week.

The alpinists estimate that they will climb a total of 30,770 vertical meters, descend 29,470m, and cycle about 1,000km.

Climbing Cima Grande di Lavaredo in the Dolomites. Photo: Simon Gietl

Two down

Their quest began on September 14 when Gietl and Schaeli climbed 2,999m Cima Grande di Lavaredo in the Dolomites. They then cycled 334km to Piz Badile (3,308m). The following day, they completed the Cassin route on the mountain in three hours. From the summit, they paraglided down to Bondo.

Schaeli (left) and Gietl on top of the Cima Grande di Lavaredo

Two down, four to go. But the hardest climbs now begin. Next, they go to Grindelwald for the Eiger Nordwand (3,967m). They then go to Zermatt for the Matterhorn (4,478m). Finally, they pedal to Chamonix for a grand finale on the Grand Jorasses (4,208m) and Petit Dru (3,733m), the legendary spires rising from the Mont Blanc massif.

The climbers glide down from Piz Badile to the town of Bondo. Photo: Roger Schaeli

Rebuffat and Destivelle

Attempting the great six north faces of the Alps has lured climbers since the 1930s. Gaston Rebuffat was the first to bag them all in 1954. Climbers from around the world have tried to follow in his footprints, doing it at various speeds, styles, and via different routes. In the 1990s, Catherine Destivelle became the first woman to do all six. Tom Ballard climbed them in winter, solo and unsupported, in 2014-15.

The current project by Schaeli and Gietl focuses less on records than on simple, human-powered transport. The climbers do have a support team, however.

Fast climbing on Piz Badile’s summit ridge. Photo: Roger Schaeli

In the current times of environmental sensibility and climate crisis awareness, the quest looks fashionable. And yet, not so long ago, being green wasn’t an option — it was the only option.

In his autobiography Summits and Secrets, Kurt Dienberger recalls how he and his friends, poor post-war Austrian teenagers, dreamed of climbing a mythical mountain “far, far away, somewhere over the horizon in an unknown land…The Matterhorn!… We had never been to the Western Alps. We had no money, but we had our dreams…At least, those we could get to on our bicycles.”

It took them a week to pedal from their Austrian village to Zermatt.

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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glu
glu
1 month ago

As far as I remember, Christophe profit did the three major north faces (Eiger, Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses), in a bit less than two days, not all six in a day

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Jerry Kobalenko
Admin
1 month ago
Reply to  glu

Fixed, thank you.

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Anders Strange Nielsen
Anders Strange Nielsen
1 month ago

Hi Angela,

Great article, but i I don’t you are right about Destivlle having been the first women to do all six north faces. She soloed the trilogy in winter, but I think Yvette Vaucher climbed all the north faces during the 60s and the 70s and that Alison Haregreaves (Tom Ballards mum) was the first women to solo the during a single summer season.

Br,
Anders

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