Ueli Steck, a Swiss alpinist, was probably one of the best mountain climbers in the world. He managed to combine an Olympian’s physique and a calculated daring, in a sport where the willingness to take risks is as crucial as fitness.
Years of science-informed physical exercise and his legendary endurance earned him the nickname “the Swiss Machine.” He showed the world what a talented climber could do if given the funding and time to prepare like a normal athlete. Ueli was a real professional, driven by courage, willingness, and faith.
Sadly, Ueli Steck died on the 30th of April, at the age 40. He was trying to climb the 25,791-foot Himalayan peak of Nuptse, as preparation for an aspiring ascent of Everest. While Steck was climbing alone, he fell around 3,000 feet.
Earlier in April, in a video published on YouTube, Steck said that after scaling Nuptse he would climb part of a route up Everest. The route was pioneered by Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein in 1963 and was yet to be repeated successfully. After that, he planned to traverse peaks from Everest to Lhotse. This traverse has only ever been done once before.
“I think it’s possible, but we don’t know. That’s exactly the challenge, that’s exactly the interesting thing. Nobody has done that before,” said Ueli of the route.
While the terminology and equipment of traditional climbing can be easy to convey to amateurs, solo climbing-which Ueli excelled at is not so easy to explain. It can be as dangerous and unpredictable as it sounds and looks. There is no particular piece of gear, nor a trick that makes things easier. If the climb is difficult, the climber needs to be disciplined and trained as much as possible. A mistake is often fatal.
Solo climbing can be looked at one way or another. Either you decrease the risk of getting hurt with years of dedicated practice, or the more you undertake climbs alone, the greater are the chances of an accident. The second one is more likely since the list of great mountaineers that have been killed climbing alone is very long. “The risk is constantly there — and you deal with it,” said Ueli Steck in a 2016 video.
To many climbers, speed is a quantifiable thing, and they find it exciting to be able to move quickly. If this benchmark was a measurement for mountaineers, Ueli was the best in the world. He managed to climb the famous North Face in 2 hours 22 minutes and sprinted up the 6,000-foot-high “Wall of Death” in just the time it takes to run a marathon. It took him just 62 days to climb the 82 peaks in the Alps 13,000 feet or higher.
Ueli Steck will be remembered as an incredible athlete, inspiring personality, and fearless climber. He had a great influence on countless athletes and will continue to be an inspiration for many in future generations.
In the video below, you can see the thrilling adventure Ueli had conquering the Dru mountain, in the French Alps.
Ueli Steck, born 4 October 1976; died 30 April 2017
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