The White Spider

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Nordwand (north face) of the Eiger, with a diagram showing the route established during the events written about in The White Spider. The Spider ice-field is located on the peak's upper left.

The White Spider (1959; with chapters added in 1964; original title: Die Weisse Spinne) is a book written by Heinrich Harrer that describes the first successful ascent of the Eiger Nordwand (Eiger north face), a mountain in the Berner Oberland of the Swiss Alps with sections devoted to the history of mountaineering in the area.


The White Spider tells the story of the first attempts to ascend the Eiger's north face (called the Mordwand (death wall) as it is similar to Nordwand (north face) and tragedies happened there), beginning with Max Sedlmeyer's and Karl Mehringer's disastrous try in 1935 and continuing to the successful ascent by Kurt Diemberger and Wolfgang Stefan in July 1958.[1]

After his successful summit of the mountain, Heinrich Harrer received many letters from mountain climbers, which he sifted through with climber and author Kurt Maix to become the contents of The White Spider. In particular, Harrer describes the tragedy of the 1936 attempt by Edi Rainer, Willy Angerer, Andreas Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz in which all died. Harrer's own climb, the strenuous climb of Hermann Buhl, Gaston Rébuffat and their seven partners (1952), and the catastrophe of 1957, when the two Italians Stefano Longhi and Claudio Corti joined the Germans Günther Nothdurft and Franz Mayer – which resulted in eight bivouac nights on the wall of the mountain for the Italians and the death of all but Corti. Harrer's account of the tragedy was the subject of considerable controversy and is no longer considered historically accurate.[2]

The "white spider" on the Eiger's north face

In the book, Heinrich Harrer describes the media frenzy that ensued after all tragedies because the whole of the mountain's Nordwand can be watched by telescope from nearby Kleine Scheidegg.

Book title[edit]

The title of the book is derived from a spider-shaped ice field high on the north face of the mountain, towering above the town of Grindelwald. As Harrer describes, and the climbers discovered, the White Spider is the key to a successful ascent of the Nordwand. Although physically exhausted by the time they reach that point, climbers must navigate the steep ice-field to reach the peak's summit. The White Spider acts as a funnel, with rock and ice slides channelled through the ice field, putting the climbers in great danger while on the field.


  1. ^ Note: Diemberger and Stefan were later awarded the 14th successful climb of the Eiger Nordwand when the bodies of Günther Nothdurft and Franz Mayer had been found on the descent route. At the time of writing, Harrer did not know this.
  2. ^ (in English) Article "Claudio Corti (1928-2010) : A Life in the Shadow of the Eiger"


  • The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer. Currently in print by a number of publishers.

Further reading[edit]