Taking on the Eiger

December 14, 2015

 If you didn’t catch the segment that aired on 60 minutes on November 30th, then please do try if you want to see extreme sports on steroids. I have only heard about, “the Eiger” as the backdrop for the 70’s movie with Clint Eastwood, “The Eiger Sanction”. As entertaining as that movie was, extreme athlete, JT Holmes ‘ascent down the Eiger is nothing short of harrowing.   The Eiger Mountain is one of the largest mountains in the Bernese Alps, located in Switzerland.   The Eiger as it is called is one of the great mountain climbing destinations in the world and also known for extreme skiing.

The northern face is known for its sheer face and its climbable which is considered high achievement. Even though it is conquerable, it is very dangerous due to falling rocks and ice, especially since sixty-four climbers have died since 1935. As far as extreme skiing, helicopters drop off brave skiers on the glacier side. The skiing is considered very difficult, but the skiers will be rewarded with an abundance of virgin snow.

Who is JT Holmes? He is an American extreme athlete that has a love for the three sports he utilized on his descent down the Eiger. Holmes as a skier has skied down some of the most dangerous runs in the world. Holmes also is an avid base jumper and wing suit enthusiast. He is well known in the world of extremes sports and had been working on the Eiger descent for years.

As part of his trek down the mountain, first he was dropped off by a helicopter on the summit which is the size of four ping pong tables. As his team prepared his equipment, there was the lurking threat of falling due to unstable footing and high winds. Holmes goes for it with a now or never attitude and skis down the first section of the mountain along with a speed wing (part parachute, part glider) attached to his body. The speed wing allows him to get lift above the rocky terrain on the first section of the descent. It looks easier than it appears as he smoothly glides and skis down steep slopes.

When he reaches that part of the mountain where there is a large snowpack, he releases the speed wing. He is now screaming down the mountain on skis which looks incredibly scary. His camera man and a helicopter have caught the thrilling descent, but it gets even more unbelievable. Holmes skis off the edge of a cliff face into a full fledge freefall. During this freefall he must release his skis and use his special suit to move away from the cliff sides. This is the most dangerous point in the descent where he is falling over 120 miles an hour. When the skis are released Holmes finds the moment where he pulls the parachute to create his landing.

He is so stoked by the ride and overcome with a joy for this has been a long-time dream come true. More amazing he decides to give it another try. On his second run, there was a nerve-wracking moment when Holmes couldn’t release one of the skis which could have been his certain death. He got it released and he escaped the danger but still makes you shake your head at the insanity of this stunt.

There has been some amazing stunts and athletic feats performed by the daredevils but only they will justify it and stand by their convictions. There have been plenty of deaths and heartbreak associated with these endeavors but the only thing we can do is watch and hope they are successful. When I was a kid, we had Evel Knievel to marvel at and he too was successful more times than not, but he lived to see another day if he didn’t finish the jump. These guys and gals are either adrenaline junkies or adrenaline enthusiast and have to decide someday if this is all worth it. It seems evitable that some sort of accident will happen if they want to keep doing this death defying stunts.   Hopefully, most will know when the dangers exceed the reward. The technology has allowed men and women to do everything to defy gravity and don’t know what is left on earth to tackle. I just not sure I am ready to see somebody shot out of a cannon across the Grand Canyon just yet.