Intro: Seattle to Zurich
with Geo Dunn and Dave Hahn of International Mountain Guides

George Dunn and Dave Hahn guide climbing expeditions all over the world for International Mountain Guides, of which Dunn is a co-owner. Both are also veteran guides for Rainier Mountaineering Inc. where Dunn is a senior guide and director of winter programs. Along with successful climbs to the tops of Everest and Kangchenjunga, Dunn holds the record for the most ascents of Mount Rainier. Dave Hahn has summitted Everest, guides climbs on Denali, and has spent several winters in Antarctica as an explorer and on-call guide for Vinson Massif and surrounding peaks. Hahn wrote dispatches for The Mountain Zone from his '98 North Side Everest Expedition. Dunn and Hahn lead this Alps Classics trip for International Mountain Guides in the summer of 1998.

Dave Hahn guides Mont Blanc
Dave Hahn
[click to zoom]
Travel day. Yesterday was too, but a much longer one. George Dunn and I flew from Seattle to Vancouver and then straight to Zurich. That seemed to take up more than the normal share of sunrises and sunsets, the kind of flight where you put your shoes back on at some point, pull yourself together for landing when you figure you've gone far enough... and then it takes four more hours to get to the intended airport.

We got to Zurich mid-day through our new time zone, breezed through immigration (you'd have to do something pretty strange in front of the passport guy to get him to actually open yours and look at it), and then hopped a super quiet and smooth train into town. Crossing the street from the train station got us to the Walhalla Hotel. It was hot. Certainly hotter than Mt. Rainier had been a day earlier. And humid. We promptly sweated away a few quarts. A nap would have been nice at that point, but George had the good sense to decree that we'd not turn in for another eight or nine hours and break on through the jet lag. We went out walking.

Zurich seemed much as I remember it from two years ago, busy, and fairly young. Lots of hip haircuts, clothes and body metal. Guess that's just our part of town. Lots of opportunity to buy a watch, a knife, or some chocolate on our way down and back from the lake which pushes into the city center. We were early for dinner at the Zugehaus-Keller, a former armory building that was built sometime in the 1400s. Great stuff, even for bleary-eyed time travelers like ourselves. A little Bratwurst and beer to make one feel removed from the norm. Back to the hotel after dinner and I couldn't keep awake long enough to find out the latest CNN news about Monica Lewinsky's dress.

George and I breakfasted in the hotel and began meeting the clients. I feel fortunate to know three of the five from previous programs, two even endured McKinley trips I led: one in '93 and one just last year. This is Geo's trip, so he knows and has been in touch with all the folks. By about 10am, all are present, and I go to bring the rental VW van around. We load up and hightail it out of town. George navigates and I concentrate to keep us moving along the twisty, narrow lanes at 100km/hr. I'm assaulted by all sorts of novel symbols and signs and there is the continual struggle with the clutch which doesn't leave much time for enjoying the fantastically green and tidy hills and towns we lurch through.

Geo Dunn guides Mont Blanc
Geo Dunn
[click to zoom]
After lunch in Interlaken and a short ride to Lauterbrunnen, we hop on a cog train for the slow and steady ride to Wengen. Now with some other poor guy having to concentrate on the clutch, I can take in the magnificent mountains, cliffs and glaciers we're sneaking into. I'm blown away once again by the size of the Alps. Climbed from their lowest reaches, they'd take a guy like me at least a week for each peak. Nope, too much to do in these weeks already, we'll let the trains, cog rails, trams, and chairlifts get us within reasonable distance of the summits. But not today, we hop off in Wengen at 4100'. Up to the Falken Hotel which has been around since 1895, thereby predating even the Motel 6s back home in the American West.

Some afternoon cumulus is gathering about the Jungfrau by this time, but it merely seems to add to the beauty and majesty of the mountain, adding some depth and perspective to the sky. We sit after check-in, sipping beer and chatting in the garden. Geo and I have already decided by now that we have a fine and friendly crew. They seem attentive to our gear and clothing suggestions for the first round of climbs. By dinner, it has rained and hailed, taking a little heat off the day. The seven of us linger on after the four-course meal, talking of climbs past and future, guiding philosophies and strategies. An evening stroll through town with a few of the guys and a final quiet hour of conversation on the steps to the hotel while gazing at the night sky full of mountains and clouds in a oil-paint like mix of shades and hues prepares me for the days end. Up to the room for a final gear sort and bed.

The Eiger North Wall Window
[click to zoom]
George and I were up by 6:30am to clear skies and shared a breakfast with Mike McTigue and Chris Groff while the others chose to snooze. It was great to see Frau Kova, up bright and early for her own breakfast. She has spent her eighty-plus years running the Falken and seems to enjoy it still. She asked us to be careful in our climbing this year as she thought the snow conditions somewhat low and the rockfall hazard therefore greater. We agreed to take due care, finished stuffing ourselves, and then strolled five minutes into town for a few phone calls and for some final lunch shopping for the days to come. It was nice to beat the tourists to town and to enjoy the peacefulness of shopkeepers watering their flower boxes with just the occasional whir of an electric golf-cart moving through the empty streets.

Back at the hotel, we geared up for a three day excursion and then headed for the train. We squeezed onto the very crowded cog-rail cars, trying not to knock people over with our packs or skewer them with our ice axes. The cars climbed steadily upward, giving us fine views of the Monch, the Eiger and the Jungfrau. This would certainly be one of the hottest days of the year, and it was difficult to look at the glaciers devoid of snow cover, dirty and running with water, and not contemplate their loss. It is only human to assume that change is bad and that a bigger glacier is a better glacier (if you are a mountain guide perhaps), and I suppose that being here on a snowy and cold day would take me off the hook for worries of global warming. The North Face of the Eiger looms into view and one can quickly forget that man has any control over nature. The Eiger rules.

We pull into another crowded station at Kleine Scheidegg (where Clint Eastwood tried to figure out his "sanction" many years ago.) Switching trains, we end up standing in the aisles. The ticket checker is quite sorry for this and issues us free drink vouchers for our hardship. The train chugs up and into the Eiger itself now. Through a tunnel that makes one amazed at the ideas that mankind comes up with. We stop for five minutes at the famous North Wall window, and gaze down at the early pitches of a scary climb where a good deal of climbing history was forged. Back into the train and we cog on up through the mountain, finally coming to the "top of Europe" which is an underground station situated between some rock and some glacier places. A snackbar lunch fortifies us for the 45 minute walk to the Monchjoch Hutte at 3650 meters. We exit the tunnel and quickly put on glasses and ball caps as solar protection. We cross the big, flat and very white portion of a glacier in a plowed out cat track left by a grooming machine. Geo and I try to set our best example by walking slow and easy, but our folks cruise on ahead as if to test the big new altitude.

Dave Hahn, International Mountain Guides

PAGE 1 of 5