Toni Kurz

A knot turns into a disaster

Toni Kurz is probably one of the most famous names associated with the Eiger north face. Although Toni Kurz never reached the summit, his story and rescue is unique and is part of Eiger history.

Toni Kurz climbed the north face of the Eiger with his fellow mountaineer Andreas Hinterstoisser on 18th July 1936 to make the first ascent. At the same time the two Austrians Willy Angerer and Eduard Rainer were also in the wall and the race for the summit began. After Hinterstoisser had mastered a difficult traverse, the other three mountaineers also passed this point by means of the safety rope and then pulled it off again. From here on, the four mountaineers formed a rope team. The bad weather and the rock fall injury of Willy Angerer forced the rope team to descend. When they reached the cross passage again, the wall was so covered with ice that the return traverse failed without a safety rope. On the descent, the rope team was probably hit by a heavy avalanche and rockfall. All climbers fell, only Kurz survived the rockfall hanging in the rope.

The drama was observed with binoculars from Kleine Scheidegg, and rescue teams set out to provide help. They used a viewing balcony of the Jungfrau Railway in the north wall to enter it, and approached the casualty within shouting distance. However, due to the beginning of the night and the arrival of even worse weather, they had to return. Hans Schlunegger later reported that shortly afterwards Kurz screamed “no” several times, which shook him to the core. Half-frozen Toni Kurz spent this icy, lonely night next to his dead comrades and only meagerly roped up; standing or hanging in the north face.

When the rescue team ventured back into the icy wall the next morning, about 40 metres below his location, the icing of the wall prevented the lifesavers from coming any closer to the helpless climber. The only option for Kurz was to abseil down to the rescuers.

As the rope did not have the required length, Toni Kurz had to tie an extension rope of the rescuers and pull it up to him. When he could finally abseil down, only a few metres above the rescuers’ heads, the knot did not fit through the carabiner. Unable to move up or down, Toni Kurz died of physical exhaustion hanging from the rope. His last words were: “I can’t go on any longer”.

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