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Looking on: Are you in or out?

To encourage students to develop a sense of adventure and exploration (SEAL theme: self-awareness).

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage students to develop a sense of adventure and exploration (SEAL theme: self-awareness).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and two readers.
  • Prepare an image of the north face of the Eiger to display during the assembly.


Leader: The Eiger is one of the highest mountains in Switzerland.

Display image of the north face of the Eiger.

The north face of this mountain soars 1,800 metres vertically from the valley floor – a treacherous and unstable wall of shattered limestone and closely packed ice. What makes the north face of the Eiger distinctive is that the base of the face lies right in the small village of Kleine Scheidegg. Climbers mix with tourists clustered around the railway station or lounging in their tents at the campsite or on the balconies of comfortable hotels.

Leader: In July 1938, two German climbers – Heinrich Harrer and Fritz Kasparek – set out from Kleine Scheidegg to attempt the first ascent of the face. They followed in the footsteps of other German and Austrian climbers who’d attempted to climb it and either been forced to retreat or died a horrible death, being frozen in a storm, hanging from their ropes or swept off the mountain by falling rocks.

Reader: July is a beautiful time in the valley. The sun beats down, the views are spectacular and the air is clear and still. Thousands flock to the area on the remarkable railway that carries passengers from the town of Grindelwald to the highest station in Europe at the Jungfraujoch. Kleine Scheidegg provides a fitting halfway stop for a drink and a bite to eat.

Leader: By the end of the first day, the two climbers had gained a significant amount of height and tackled the Hinterstoisser Traverse – one of the most difficult sections of the climb. They left a fixed rope in place in case they were forced to retreat. Next morning, they were astonished to see a second pair of climbers – the experienced Anderl Heckmair and Ludwig Vorg – approaching them. Heckmair and Vorg had taken advantage of the fixed ropes to make a swift ascent.

Reader: There are sets of binoculars and telescopes at various points in the village for tourists to observe the climbers. From the complete safety of the valley, it’s possible to view in close-up what’s happening on the mountain.

Leader: On the north rock face, conditions were harsh for the climbers, who’d agreed to join together into one team. An avalanche nearly swept three of them away. Rock falls were a constant danger. Ice melted and soaked their clothing as it poured down, only to freeze in the sub-zero temperatures of the night. Yet, their sense of commitment was total.

Reader: Watching the climb became boring after a while. Even the sight of a crisis produced only limited interest. The tourists continued their journey or settled back into the comfort of their accommodation, particularly when the weather took a turn for the worse, as it often does in the mountains.

Leader: Conditions were very tough on the face. One slip could have swept the whole team off the rock. They were in uncharted territory. No other climbers had reached such a height on the face. They progressed painfully slowly, taking turns to lead, living in a constant state of high anxiety, dependent totally on each other.

Then, on 24 July, the climbers conquered the final section and reached the summit! Their sense of relief, achievement and satisfaction was overwhelming. They were famous. They were the conquerors of the most feared rock face in the whole of Europe. It had been tough, but now it all seemed so worthwhile.

Reader: In the valley, all the observers were aware of was the fact that the climbers had gone out of sight. Had they been successful or had they failed, like so many before them? It was impossible to know. The tourists turned from the view to find something else to engage their attention.

Time for reflection

Leader: Are you in or are you out? Are you one of those people who wants to get involved or are you someone who prefers to watch others getting on with it? It’s like that in many sport and leisure activities – there are those who spectate and those who do it. It’s not about possessing great skill or having the right body – the London Marathon shows that. It’s about doing, using the moderate health and fitness we have, rather than watching. Getting involved may entail some discomfort, some sacrifice of time and effort, but, like those climbers, the end result is a sense of achievement. The same is true throughout life. What we get out is usually linked to what we put in. It’s about relationships, our work, our passions and our concerns.

Jesus was very clear about getting involved. He praised a foreigner who helped a man who’d been mugged when others had passed by and declined to do anything. He talked about the resources we each possess and how we do or don’t use them. He inferred that it is far batter to invest them, develop them, rather than simply hide them away. He described us as being like lamps that are made to shine in a dark land rather than be hidden under a shade.

I wonder what each of us will face today? There’ll be opportunities, crises, threats and choices. The question is, are we in or out?

Dear Lord,
Thank you that each day is different.
May I face each new situation with commitment.
May I choose to be in rather than stand around as an observer.


‘Get up, stand up’ by Bob Marley

Publication date: July 2013   (Vol.15 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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