Obituary: Albert Eggler

IT WAS in 1956, when the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research in Zurich organised their second expedition to Mount Everest, that Alfred Eggler was invited to lead a party of ten of the country's top climbers.

The expedition, spread over a period of four months, was a complete success. The second and third ascents of Everest (8848m high) were made by two parties of two climbers on 23 and 24 May, as well as the first ascent of the neighbouring 8511m Lhotse - the fourth highest mountain in the world - on l8 May by a third two-man party. The arrival of the monsoon on 26 May prevented a third attempt on Everest by a summit-party in which Eggler himself had intended to participate.

Born in Brienz at the foot of the Bernese Oberland in 1913, Eggler first visited the mountains as a small boy in the footsteps of his father, a keen skier, and he took up skiing in earnest whilst at school. His mountaineering career began during his student days at Bern University, where he studied law, and in 1934 he was elected to the exclusive Academischer Alpen Club of Bern. From then on, accompanied by friends, many of whom were experienced mountaineers, he climbed most of the classic Alpine routes: on honeymoon after his first marriage, he and his wife ascended the Z'mutt ridge of the Matterhorn, returning in time to attend a dance at Zermatt the same evening.

Eggler had a distinguished career in Switzerland's militia army (something every Swiss man has to take part in up to the age of 50), serving for a total of 2,000 days, and rising to the rank of Major. He was Commandant of army mountain training camps in summer and winter; and in 1965 he was appointed chief of the Army Avalanche Service. Many of his colleagues during those years became lifelong friends.

For many years he was attached to the Federal Tax Administration as a lawyer, later setting up his own legal practice in Bern, from which he finally retired in 1987. He was a prominent member of the Liberal party, and a member of his local city council. With his wide mountaineering interests he was elected President of the Central Committee of the Swiss Alpine Club from 1964 to 1967, of the Union Internationale des Associations Alpines from l969 to 1972, and of the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research from 1987 to 1993. He was an honorary member of the Swiss Alpine Club, and also of the Alpine Club London, an honour he prized highly.

It is not given to many men to live a life as active and personally fulfilling as Eggler was able to do for over a decade after his retirement from public life. Devoted to daily physical exercise, including bicycling, hiking, and golf, he managed to retain a degree of physical fitness and mental ability remarkable for his years. In his eighties he enjoyed rock climbs in the summer and ski tours in the winter from which, as his wife used to tell him, he always returned looking greatly refreshed and cheerful.

It was only after he had recovered from an attack of pneumonia in 1997, when it took him 10 hours to climb the 4099m Monch from the Jungfraujoch, that he began to feel his diminished powers, having done the same climb six years earlier in two and three-quarter hours! Slowing down did not however mean an end to weekly excursions in his favourite hills.

During recent years he was a tireless planner of summer and winter expeditions into the mountains he loved, accompanied by close friends, and often by members of his family. He took his great-grandson out to ski with him in January 1998. He was an excellent skier and a very reliable leader, always acquiring in advance a thorough knowledge of the region, of the snow conditions, and of the weather.

Albert Eggler had been looking forward to visiting Ladakh in September, accompanied by his daughter and her husband. His death occurred quite suddenly, when he slipped while walking down a steep pathway, after a short climb amid familiar hills accompanied by a close friend.

Trevor Braham

When a highly talented group of Swiss alpinists, including several professional guides ("les Genevois") returned in December 1952 from a second, gallant attempt to make the first ascent of Everest, it was understandable that some of them should entertain doubts about the competence of British "amateurs", albeit with good alpine credentials, to succeed where they had failed, writes John Hunt. The Swiss guide Raymond Lambert and the Nepali sirdar Tenzing Norgay had turned back within about 800 feet of the summit in May of that year; a second expedition was forced to retreat in the face of fierce gales in December.

In truth, these two heroic efforts lacked logistical support as well as the backing of supporting parties. Above all, the two expeditions lacked firm leadership, planning and organisational skills which were necessary for them to operate in unison under extreme conditions of altitude, wind and weather.

This was apparent to the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research (Schweizerische Stiftung fur Alpine Forschunger) which had financed and launched these attempts on the mountain. The foundation decided to make a radical change in the composition and leadership of a third Swiss effort, to be launched in 1956. Albert Eggler, an advocate from Bern and a professional soldier in the Swiss Army, possessed the experience and skills, the decisiveness and authority which commanded respect among his friends and team members, chosen from German-speaking mountaineers from the Oberland and the valleys of the upper Rhone. But he was also greatly loved by the team. A quiet and modest man, of few words and no pretensions, his leadership was by example.

I met members of all three Swiss expeditions at a gathering in Rosenlaui, convened by the Swiss Foundation to celebrate their success; it was a nice gesture that they chose 1963, the tenth anniversary of our own first ascent of Everest. It was a very happy meeting which brought together, for the first time, the climbers from Geneva and the German-speaking alpinists who had climbed the mountain (as well as neighbouring Lhotse). We British were represented by the veteran from the 1924 Expedition, Noel Odell, and myself. And of course, Tenzing Norgay was there.

We climbed on the limestone pinnacle of the Engelhorner and some enduring friendships were made. Among them was that between Eggler and myself. In the following years we would meet to climb or ski together with other members of Eggler's team, at some climbing venue or other. Good memories abound from those years.

At a centenary meet of our Alpine Club at Zermatt, various Swiss and British climbers traversed the Lyskamm and followed that delightful climb with a much harder route on the Briethorn (the Klein-Triftje or "Young" ridge). Another year, with Ernst Reiss (who had climbed Lhotse), we made the fifth ascent of a notably hard rock climb which had been pioneered by Reiss: the south-west face of Wellhorn.

One winter, while skiing at Champery, Eggler and I, with his daughter Beatrice, made the first recorded mid-winter ascent of the Haute Cime of the Dents du Midi and back to the village, in the course of a short January day. While taking part in the celebrations at Zermatt to mark the centenary of the Swiss Alpine Club, two Swiss "Everesters", Eggler and Luchsinger, with my wife and myself, decided to pay a token tribute to Edward Whymper and his companions who, in 1865, had first climbed the Matterhorn. The weather was atrocious and the mountain heavily covered by fresh snow; yet we ventured for several hours up the Siss (or Hornli) Ridge, following the footsteps of the pioneers, until we felt satisfied that honour had been done to those heroes.

We were thwarted by bad weather on another occasion, when we planned to climb the Eiger by its north east buttress (the "Lauber" route). We had to settle for humbler fare: the attractive granite ridges above Meiringen (Gletchhorn, Bergseeschijen, Schijenstock and Tellistock). Hard little climbs, but the good company was what mattered.

My final and abiding memory was skiing with Eggler at Murren. He was accompanied by two adored Tibetan ("Apso") terriers which, after struggling up the "pistes", were provided with a free ride downhill, their heads visible at the back of their master's rucksack!

Albert Eggler, mountaineer and lawyer: born Brienz, Switzerland 11 June 1913; twice married (one son, two daughters); died Simmenfluh Mountain , Switzerland 25 August 1998.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?