Obituary: Albert Eggler
Thursday 10 September 1998
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.
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.
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