Alpinists Link Six North Faces in Alps Under Human Power Only

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simon gietl roger schaeli north6 project alps
Simon Gietl and Roger Schaeli on the Grand Jorasses summit, the final peak in their North6 Alps project. Photo: John Thornton

On September 10, Simon Gietl and Roger Schaeli set out on a classic alpinist’s challenge: climb the Six Great North Faces of the Alps.

Adventurers have done it since the 1930s, and while most start the adventure by pulling on their mountain boots, Gietl and Schaeli got started by cinching down their bike shoes and checking their tire pressures.

In a down-to-earth approach, the Swiss-Italian pair planned to link all six peaks using only human power: trekking, biking, or paragliding between each mountain. They called the challenge, succinctly, the North6.

gaetl schaeli north6 project

Simon Gietl and Roger Schaeli cycle during the North6. Photo: Nicolas Altmaier

Putting it bluntly, that’s a lot of terrain to cover. The team estimated that they would climb 30,770 vertical metres, descend 29,470m, and cycle about 1,000km. Today, they announced their success. The two mountaineers required 18 days (14 active, one rest, three forced rest) to summit the Cima Grande di Lavaredo (2,999m), Pizzo Badile (3,308m), Eiger (3,967m), Matterhorn (4,478m), Petit Dru (3,733m), and Grandes Jorasses (4,208m) by their north faces.

The North6 project: long days on the wall and the bike

It’s worth noting that Gietl and Schaeli did not undertake the challenge without support. Still, success was far from guaranteed. True, they powered through the first three routes in just four days, including opting against the Heckmair Route for the Eiger’s more difficult Le Chant du Cygne (7a, 900m). But bad weather forced an unexpected rest day before attempting the Matterhorn’s Schmid Route (TD). When they did climb it, they reported that wet, snowy conditions made it significantly more challenging than they expected.

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A post shared by Simon Gietl (@gietlsimon)

They promptly set out for the Petit Dru, 140km away by bicycle. The bike route was long and grueling: they pedaled 2,210m uphill and 2,350m downhill. Snowy conditions persisted. On September 24, Planet Mountain reported that they started up the North Couloir (ED, 900m) of the Dru at 3 am and topped out 17 hours later. A long, dark rappel put them at the Refuge de la Charpoua (2,841m) at 1:30 am.

“It took us a long time, logically,” Schaeli said. “The first few pitches were really tough. Fortunately, Simon was very motivated to climb through the thick of night, despite the constant spindrift at the start. We had to stop a couple of times and wait a few minutes for the snow to whiz away.”

gietl schaeli north6 alps project

Gietl leads the snowy crux of the Petit Dru’s North Couloir. Photo: John Thornton

Paragliding across the Mer de Glace

From there, they paraglided across the Mer de Glace towards Refuge de Leschaux below the Grand Jorasses. Analyzing conditions on the north face from the ground, Schaeli and Gietl realized that their options were limited. The Walker Spur and the Macintyre-Colton were out of the question. They concluded that the Linceul route, also called The Shroud, gave them their best chance for success.

schaeli and gietl north6 alps challenge

Schaeli and Gietl paragliding. Photo: Roger Schaeli

In a word, they hiked the route. The pair topped out the Grand Jorasses’ 4,208m at 3 pm on September 27, celebrated briefly, and concentrated on the long descent. They executed it without incident, thus closing the books on the staggering North6 project.

schaeli and gietl north6 alps challenge

On the Grand Jorasses summit, 4,208m. Photo: Severin Karrer

Full circle: the North6 as a historical expression

Schaeli called the endeavor “probably my best mountaineering experience ever,” adding that he “wouldn’t have wanted to do that with anyone else!”

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A post shared by Simon Gietl (@gietlsimon)

In some ways, Gietl and Schaeli’s method represents a full-circle return to the challenge’s roots. Though many have tagged all six summits over the years, doing it under one’s own power was the only option when climbers first started attempting it in the 1930s.

In his autobiography, Summits and Secrets, legendary Austrian alpinist Kurt Dienberger remembers conceiving similar projects in the postwar era with his friends: “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.”

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About the Author

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents' evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.

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Pascal
Pascal
2 months ago

Congrats for their achievement! Note, however, that Simon Gietl is Italian, not Swiss.

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Jerry Kobalenko
Admin
2 months ago
Reply to  Pascal

Corrected, thank you.

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