In the 1930s the Eiger Nordwand (North Wall) was considered the last and greatest of Alpine problems left in the world. The White Spider is a portion of the upper face where snow-filled cracks radiate from an ice-field resembling the legs of a spider.
The book begins by describing the early attempts to climb the Nordwand, including the harrowing stories of Max Sedlmayer and Karl Mehringer who froze to death in 1935, and Toni Kurz, Andreas Hinterstoisser, Edi Rainer and Willy Angerer who died in 1936.
Harrer then tells his first-hand story of the first ascent. Harrer and Fritz Kasparek started their climb on July 21, 1938. A day later, Anderl Heckmair and Ludwig Vörg started their attempt and quickly caught up to them. They combined into one team of four, led by Heckmair. The four men were caught in an avalanche as they climbed the Spider, but all had enough strength to resist being swept off the face.
"We were all on a single rope. ... One hundred feet above me stood Vorg, safeguarding Heckmair, as he grappled with icy rock, treacherous ice gullies, and snowslides high above us in the mists and driving snow." Heckmair fell as he led the difficult Exit Cracks, but was caught by Vorg, his crampons piercing Vorg's hand in the process. On July 24, 1938 Heckmair, Vörg, Kasparek, and Harrar completed the first ascent of the Eiger Nordwand.
Harrer then continues the Eiger story, including the dramatic rescue of Claudio Corti trapped high on the face near the Exit Cracks in 1957. Harrer added a few more chapters in 1964, including the story of Adolf Mayr who fell to his death in 1961 trying for the first solo ascent. After reaching the Second Icefield in 1962 Barry Brewster was struck by a falling rock. His partner Brian Nally tried to care for the dying man, but eventually Brewster fell from the face. Famed British mountaineers Chris Bonington and Don Whillans stopped their attempt to rescue the now disoriented Nally.
The stories of the tragic attempts are chilling, the first ascent riveting, the entire book spellbinding. This book is a great history of the Eiger Nordwand. The appendix is better in later editions because Harrer corrects some of the ascents, given more information like finding the bodies of Nothdurft and Mayer in 1961, and includes the list of ascents up to the 1970s. The photos are very good.