Posted by: Bob Fisher | February 9, 2014

John Harlin’s Eiger Obsession

To listen to this podcast with John Harlin, click on the play button below .

Travel and mountain climbing as a personal quest

The mountain is the magnificent but notorious Eiger in the Swiss Alps. The book is The Eiger Obsession by John Harlin III.

And John’s journey — in many ways the climb of his life — was an expedition that became for him a transformational experience. It was also a search for his father who was killed in a tragic accident on The Eiger when John was only nine years old.

I was very fortunate to meet with John Harlin III and to have the opportunity to engage with him in a dialogue that was — for both of us I believe — a poignant experience. John granted me the privilege of accompanying him in thoughts, feelings, and words as he retraced once again his steps on that mountain — in search of his father.

As we discussed in the interview, there were three principal characters in this drama: John, his Dad, and the Mountain. John’s book is very much about the relationships between those three characters, and about his personal quest on “Dad’s mountain,” following “Dad’s route.”

I have often been strangely attracted to the world of mountain climbing, have never really understood that world, and have had no interest in being part of it. However, the fascination with the men and women who participate in this human activity persists and mystifies me. But after reading The Eiger Obsession, seeing the IMAX film The Alps, and chatting with John, I must admit that I now have a deeper awareness of this world and a greater appreciation for the philosophical and spiritual aspects of mountain-climbing. Travel is all about broader vistas, new perspectives, and insight — and to that extent mountain climbing may well be the ultimate form of travel.

The Imax Film

The film is called, quite simply, The Alps; and it is probably the most appropriate title you could give to a film project such as this. The Swiss Alps are of course legendary and monumental. There is also a magnificence and brilliant simplicity inherent in them that any visitor who has been fortunate enough to engage with them knows well.


(a) The Eiger Obsession (John’s book)

(b) Straight Up: The Life and Death of John Harlin (a biography of his father)

(c) The Alps (the recent MacGillivray Freeman IMAX film in which John Harlin III is featured; and of course Switzerland itself and the grandeur of the vertical landscape of the Alps)

(d) For more photographs by John and his father, visit .

(e) For information on travel to Switzerland, visit

(f) You may also wish to visit The American Alpine Club, of which John is a member.

(g) To find where the IMAX film The Alps is or will be showing, click here.

(h) For more information on John’s recent activities, see “Border Stories”:

“In June 2010, American author and adventurer John Harlin set out on a three-month journey to follow the entire Swiss border under his own power, a 2,000km odyssey with more than 170,000m of climbing…. [However] barely a week in, he broke both of his feet in a mountaineering accident. The bones now healed, Harlin is resuming his adventures in two installments. First, in Rivers and Ridges, he will paddle the Rhine, walk around Schaffhausen, and hike and bike the crest of the Jura before the snow sets in. In early summer 2011, Harlin will return to the Alps, this time traveling clockwise from eastern Switzerland to end near the site of his accident, the Mont Dolent, where the borders of Italy, France and Switzerland all come together.”

(i) And in a subsequent “Border Stories,” John comments: “You might think that after 54 years of navigating life in and out of the mountains, I’d have a pretty good idea of what I’m getting myself into. But mountains, like life, often throw up surprises.”

Photographs courtesy of John Harlin III.

Further reading

The Third Man Factor: The Secret to Survival in Extreme Environments

Into Thin Air

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