We know Eddie Bauer First Ascent and IFMGA guide Caroline George boasts a burly resume of towering climbs. We also know she exhibited great focus to achieve those objectives. But when the Eddie Bauer First Ascent guide completed her mission to climb the six classic north faces of the Alps this past summer, with a 40-hour, door-to-door roundtrip to tick off the north wall of the 9,839-foot Cima Grande di Lavaredo, we were awed again by her charge and her drive. Finding the perfect weather and condition window to tackle this massive, towering Dolomite classic was one of the challenges, but carving out time while raising a newborn, breastfeeding baby required a different level of planning and logistics entirely. Very few women have completed the six north faces, but we’re guessing none have juggled the demands of motherhood, enlisted the help of their husband to watch over le bébé and packed along a breast pump on the 550-meter climb while ticking off the last classic on such an impressive accomplishment of European alpinism. Caroline broke down the full life-list accomplishment in a recent interview with Epic TV, but in this blog feature she details the specific challenges of tackling the steep, overhanging limestone route in the short window available to a working mom. Like we said, she’s got some serious focus. –LYA Editor
Back in 2003, I climbed four of the six classic north faces in the Alps in five months. I started with the biggest one, the north face of the Eiger. One week later, we were standing on top of the north face of the Matterhorn. Then I completed the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses and the Cassin Route on the Piz Badile. There were only two to go—the north face of the Drus and that of the Cima Grande di Lavaredo in the Dolomites. Back then I had hoped to climb them within six months of starting. But the Drus was collapsing and we drove to the Dolomites too late in the season: our fingers almost froze instantly upon touching the rock. We bailed but I wasn’t disappointed. I rarely look back.
Truth be told, the six north faces had never been a goal of mine. I don’t even remember how the objective came into my mind. Most likely my father—an alpinist and literature aficionado—had probably told me about Gaston Rébuffat’s book, Starlight and Storm, which romanticized those six north faces as being the true challenge of alpinists back in the 1930s.
Rébuffat became the first to climb all six. But more than the technical challenge of the six north faces, I was drawn to the history. In the 1930s, climbing such routes was a massive new challenge. The gear that they had was so dismal in comparison with what we have now that those ascents required full commitment. During that era, most alpinists rode their bikes to the start of the trailhead—and one of the most famous stories from that era is that of the Schmid brothers, who rode their bikes from Munich to Zermatt in 1931, climbed the north face and rode their bikes back home! The early competition for first ascents was fierce, but each one has become a milestone in the history of the alpinism, because of their length (the Eiger is 1800m long), the cold, the commitment and the technical challenges the climbs present.
After that stretch in 2003, my focus shifted to other goals such as completing the IFMGA certification and living in the States. The six north faces project had slipped off my radar but the idea was rekindled upon completing the north face of the Drus in 2010 and climbing the north face of the Eiger again—in a day—in 2011. I had only one to go. Yet, in the meantime, I got pregnant, had a baby and it seemed like it would require a lot of serendipity for it to happen.
But serendipity did happen: temperatures were spiking in Europe in the middle of August—warming the conditions on the north face. I had two days off, I was feeling fairly fit and my husband Adam was available to watch Olivia. My motivation was high and I enlisted two perfect partners, H.P. Gubler, a long-time Swiss friend, and First Ascent team member Kent McBride.
Climbing as a party of three isn’t always ideal, but it worked out perfectly. We led in blocks, with one person leading a few pitches at a time, one person belaying and the other resting, or, in my case, pumping milk since I was still breastfeeding my baby! Even though a party ahead of us slowed our climb, we made rather quick work of the route, climbing up the beautiful and very steep yellow limestone so typical of the Dolomites.
The route is equipped with lots of old rusty pitons from when it was first climbed by the Dimai brothers and Emilio Comici in 1933. The first seven pitches are very steep, offering great climbing on big holds, but it is quite pumpy. The wall then kicks back, the rock is loose and the line follows a system of cracks and chimneys that are usually wet, but were dry for us due to weeks of dryness in Europe.
There is nothing like the feeling of completing a goal that you had set out for yourself, but until we reached the top of the route, I didn’t want to believe that the loop was complete. We climbed the Comici Route on the Cima Grande di Lavaredo in a 40-hour round trip from Chamonix with ten hours of driving each way.
On the way home, McBride asked me which one of the six was my favorite. As I looked back at all these ascents, it was hard for me to pick one. I hadn’t expected to climb the Eiger when I first did, so I liked the spontaneity of it, and climbing it last year in a day with my husband Adam remains one of the greatest moments in my life. The north face of the Matterhorn was the most challenging because we climbed it in the worst possible conditions. The Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses was a great rock climb: it was so dry that we climbed it bottom to top in rock shoes. The Piz Badile was the most leisurely: 1000m of perfect granite. The Drus offered the best mixed climbing on great rock and ice, and this could be my favorite. But the Cima Grande di Lavaredo is the one that seemed the most unlikely to happen because it is such a far drive from where I live, and a lot of criteria had to play in my favor to make this goal a reality, such as getting back into climbing shape, waiting for perfect weather and lining up the right partners.
But it did happen and this feels like the true icing on the cake, all the more because people always say how motherhood changes your life and that I would never again be able to have my own goals. I wanted to prove them wrong—not out of spite—but more to show my daughter Olivia that life, as a parent, doesn’t equal sacrifice and frustration. Much to the contrary—it can lead somewhere very spectacular.
Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.