Weekend Warm-Up: Climb, Paraglide, and Cycle Through the Alps With ‘North 6’

There are six north faces in the Alps that mountaineers consider the greatest, the most epic, the most iconic: Grosser Zinne, Piz Badile, Matterhorn, Eiger, Petit Dru, and Grandes Jorasses.

Achieving them all puts you in rarified mountaineering air. Climbing them as Roger Schaeli and Simon Gietl do in Epic TV’s short film North 6 is a whole different story.

Consider. The Swiss (Schaeli) and South Tyrolian (Gietl) undertook not only to climb each face, but to do so concurrently and by traveling the distances between the climbs under their own power — on foot, bicycle, and paraglider!

“No man has ever conquered a mountain,” reads a quote by famed mountaineer Gaston Rebuffat displayed at the top of the film. “He has climbed it, which is quite an achievement, indeed a wonderful thing. But only for a moment in the course of eternity does a man linger on a peak, and receive admission into a world otherwise closed to him.”

a map of the North 6 expedition

Photo: Screenshot


Beautiful words, but to get to the top of any mountain requires skills, grit, and endurance. To cover 1,100km of distance, 30,770m of ascent, and 29,470m of descent on faces that can and do kill lesser climbers requires a little something extra.

a man secures his climbing harness by headlamp

Photo: Screenshot


Break it down

“If you look at the whole picture, you’re going to get stressed,” Schaeli tells the documentary team early in the film. “But if you break it down into the individual goals, like the descent, putting on your cycling shoes, cycling, dusk, dawn, if you take it piece by piece it works out.”

That’s a climber’s way of looking at big goals, for sure, and it’s interesting to see the philosophy played out in mountaineering adventure linked up by long human-powered travel between peaks.

cycling between peaks

Photo: Screenshot


The feat becomes even more impressive when you learn that two months before beginning the project, Simon Gietl underwent knee surgery.

Understatement of the year

“Yeah, so that wasn’t so great,” the climber says in the understatement of the year. But adopting a mindset that more elite athletes could stand to embrace, Gietl determined to listen to his body, set the alarm bells on “sensitive” (as he put it), and step away if anything felt dicey.

Starting with Grosser Zinne and working westward, the climbers tackle Piz Badile on a cloudy day three before paragliding down and taking up bicycles once again. Next up are the Eiger and the Matterhorn, both of which provide plenty of scenic challenges.

on one of the walls

Photo: Screenshot


And so it goes. Cycling. Climbing. Repelling or paragliding. Cycling. Climbing. Concrete gives way to stone; stone gives way to ice, and ice gives way to air.

a man ice climbs

Photo: Screenshot


As the climbers prepare to finish the project at Grandes Jorasses, it strikes them how easily a small thing — a falling pebble, a rotten slice of ice, a busted knee — could derail the final moments. But as viewers, we are never really in doubt. And as the two stand atop Grandes Jorasses and embrace in triumph, it’s the culmination of a decidedly measured and meditative mountaineering film.

That makes North 6 best enjoyed in a relaxed and contemplative mindset, perhaps fireside, perhaps with something warming in a tumbler. It challenges you to enjoy the peaceful moments of adventure, and for that, it’s a refreshing change of pace.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).