Heinrich Harrer

The literature on mountain climbing has been understandably dominated by Mount Everest. However, the Eiger mountain in Switzerland has also received attention for its North Face. There is a German movie titled Nordwand (North Face) which tells the story of an ill-fated attempt to climb the Eiger’s most challenging peak in July of 1936. The first successful attempt to climb this part of the Eiger took place in July of 1938. It was accomplished by a four man German-Austrian team which included Heinrich Harrer. He was an Austrian and a very skilled climber. After his successful assault on the Eiger he joined the German Army and was sent to India in 1939 to scout some potential climbing sites there. While he was in India the Second World War started and he became a prisoner of the British. He eventually made an escape (with another prisoner) and made his way to Lhasa in Tibet. He befriended the Dalai Lama (who was eleven years old at the time) and became one of his tutors. He wrote a book about his stay entitled Seven Years in Tibet which was also made into a movie. Harrer and the Dalai Lama remained life-long friends until Harrer’s death in 2006.

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