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'Amazing' In The Alps

Wednesday night on "The Amazing Race," the final five teams are racing across Europe. This week's Pit Stop is in one of the world's most beautiful regions, but race host Phil Keoghan will tell The Early Show about its dangerous past.

Grindelwald is a tiny storybook town in heart of Switzerland. The guidebooks really just don't do this place justice, according to Keoghan, with its charming little chalets, warm inviting inns, and of course, surrounded by all these beautiful mountains, including the Eiger. The infamous North Face is just breathtaking, and its sinister reputation is well deserved.

In German, "eiger" means "ogre," appropriate for a mythical beast. At just 13,000 feet, Eiger's challenge is its incredibly steep grade, constantly crumbling stone and notoriously fickle weather. Blinding snow and ice storms erupt there in a flash, often leaving the mountain caked in impenetrable ice.

Don't worry. There will be no climbing the North Face for "Race" contestants. But to see what does happen in the Alps, watch the episode Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

Godi Just is a local mountain guide who knows how deceptive Eiger can be. He says 50 people have been killed there in the last 60 years.

Says he, "On your right side ... you have the summer. It's green. You can hear the noise of the cowbells. And on the left ... there's winter. You have the ice, the snowy mountains."

The weather changes a lot.

"And mainly, the north," says Just. "On the north face, bad weather is coming very, very fast because of the shape ... of the mountain."

Most Americans know of Eiger only from the 1975 Clint Eastwood movie, "The Eiger Sanction." But for Europeans, the legend began in the 1930s with a deadly international competition to conquer the North Face.

Award-winning adventure filmmaker Gerhard Baur recreated one of the most tragic attempts. In 1936, an angry avalanche swept three climbers right off the mountain face, and left Toni Kurz clinging to an icy ledge.

After two frozen nights on the edge of Eiger, he marshaled enough strength to lower himself toward an approaching rescue party. But then a knot jammed in his carabiner. With fingers too frozen to free himself, Toni Kurz collapsed and died on his rope, just beyond the reach of weeping rescuers.

Says Baur, "Eiger has no mercy. It has its own weather, its own rules — maybe its own mind."

Baur, whose adventure films were honored this year at the prestigious Banff Mountain Festival, admits technology has helped tame Eiger. There are up-to-the-minute satellite weather forecasts, and helicopters that can reach stranded climbers in once inaccessible areas. Baur worries that today's climbers have lost their healthy fear of Eiger.

Warns the filmmaker, "Treat the mountain with the respect it deserves. Try to connect with the North Face. Don't try to impose your will on it. Then you may be rewarded with not only a physically, but spiritually fulfilling achievement."