Toni Kurz, 1936
13 January 1913|
Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany
22 July 1936 (aged 23)|
|Known for||Eiger north face|
Toni Kurz was born on 13 January 1913 in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany, where he was raised. He completed a brief apprenticeship as a pipefitter before joining the German Wehrmacht in 1934 as a professional soldier. Together with his childhood friend Andreas Hinterstoisser, he made numerous first ascents of peaks in the Berchtesgaden Alps, including some of the most difficult climbs of that time. The two young men climbed the southwest wall of the Berchtesgadener Hochthron in 1934, and the south wall of the straight pillar in 1936. They also made first ascents in the Reiter Alpe on the German–Austrian border, and of the direct southern route up the Watzmannkinder in the Watzmann in 1935.
In July 1936, Kurz and Hinterstoisser left Berchtesgaden, where they were serving in the military, and travelled by bicycle to Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland to attempt to climb the Eiger north face. While on the mountain, they met up with two Austrian climbers—Edi Rainer and Willy Angerer—and the four decided to continue their attempt together.
During the ascent, Angerer was injured by falling rocks loosened by the warmth of the rising sun as they crossed the first ice field. As a result of Angerer's worsening condition and their slow progress across the second ice field, they abandoned the attempt on the Eiger and decided to descend. A further challenge arose when Kurz and his comrades failed to retrace their route across the area now known as the Hinterstoisser Traverse and had to climb downwards. As the result of another avalanche, Hinterstoisser himself became disconnected, plummeted down the mountain, and perished. Later, Willy Angerer, now climbing below Kurz, was smashed against the wall, dying instantly. Edi Rainer, the climber who had been securing the other two, was pulled against the wall and died minutes later of asphyxiation. Kurz, alone now, remained uninjured.
Later that day, amid worsening weather, a rescue team attempted to reach Kurz from below, ascending by means of the railway tunnel that ran through the mountain, the Jungfraubahn. They could not reach Kurz due to the severity of the storm and were forced to leave him dangling unprotected and exposed to the elements for the entire night. The next day, the team again attempted to effect a rescue; Kurz himself made the effort, despite a frozen hand due to losing a glove, to abseil down the face of the mountain and reach the team. To accomplish this, he first had to cut loose the dead body of his comrade hanging below him, then climb up and cut loose his other dead comrade. To increase the length of his rope, he unravelled it and tied it together again. This entire process took five gruelling hours. He then lowered the rope to the waiting rescuers, who attached their own rope.
The mountain guides only had one long rope – 60 metres – with them. Hans Schlunegger just put it between his back and his rucksack (not into his rucksack) to save some time. This was not an unusual practice for them. Unfortunately when he made a sudden movement the rope dropped and fell down to the foot of the wall. As a result the team combined two shorter ropes to reach the required length; however the combined ropes still fell short. Kurz pulled up their rope, fixed it, and began his abseiling descent. He was stopped a mere couple of metres above his rescuers by the knot. To abseil any further he would have had to raise himself enough to release the pressure on the knot and let it pass through his gear. Desperately, Kurz tried to move himself past the knot, but in vain. Facing the futility of his situation, he said only "Ich kann nicht mehr" ("I can't [go on] anymore") and died. His body was later recovered by a German team.
The tragic story became well known after publication of Heinrich Harrer's classic 1960 book The White Spider and was more recently covered by Joe Simpson's book (and Emmy-winning TV documentary), The Beckoning Silence, as well as the 2008 German dramatic movie North Face.
- Auffermann 2010, p. 91.
- Harrer 1998, pp. 31–32.
- Cooper, Kate (May 2008). "The Eiger Nordwand Revealed: Rainer Rettner Interview". UK Climbing. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
- Anker, Daniel (ed.) (2000). Eiger: The Vertical Arena. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. ISBN 978-0898866797.
- Auffermann, Uli (2010). Entscheidung in der Wand: Marksteine des Alpinismus. Schall-Verlag. ISBN 978-3900533625.
- Fleming, Fergus (2002). Killing Dragons: The Conquest of the Alps. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 978-0802138675.
- Harrer, Heinrich (1998) . The White Spider. New York: Tarcher. ISBN 978-0874779400.
- Heckmair, Anderl (2002). My Life. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. ISBN 978-0898868463.
- Simpson, Joe (2002). The Beckoning Silence. New York: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 978-0224061803.