As promised, here is the English translation of the interview I led with Ueli Steck one year ago at the IMS in Brixen. It’s the translation of the shorter version as it appeared in ALPIN. At first, I talked with him about an incident at Mount Everest, in which he was violently attacked by sherpas in an angry dispute.
After the incident at Mount Everest you departed immediately. How did you continue after the return?
It was all just too much! You have to imagine: Journalists knock at your door at eight in the morning, demanding an interview. But I am not keen on talking with them. They are just waiting for a chance to criticize you. I seriously considered to jack it all in, to go climbing only for myself. Period.
On your website you expressed your disappointment about the happenings at Everest. How has that incident changed you?
It has changed all my life. It’s hard for me since, to get involved with people. A lot of confidence is lost and will not come back very soon. The entire mechanism of the media that started afterwards, I am so full with that. I will never forget that and I cannot undo that. But now it has happened and I have to deal with it.
After all the discussing, your record ascent on Mont Blanc came like a coup.
Maybe. But after Everest I was not keen on talking with anyone. The problem is that I can’t just hide. At Mont-Blanc I was just climbing and had a fantastic day. It wasn’t about the records. In the last time everything is being reduced to records. But what’s the difference in whether you take 16 or 17 hours? It very much depends on the conditions. For me the decisive point was: to start in Courmayeur, to go via Peuterey (to the summit of Mt. Blanc, t.a.) and on the other side back down into the valley – if possible, in one day. I didn’t want it to become a matter of record hunt again and so I have downplayed the story a little.
Was there pressure by the sponsors?
There certainly is pressure, we must not blandish anything here. If you want the sponsors you have to achieve something. Otherwise you won’t get a contract in the next negotiations any longer. And often I have to slow the sponsors down a bit. Of course, they want to see something immediately. You are talking to marketing people there and as an athlete you have to be careful.
Nevertheless you had decided relatively soon to return to Nepal and with Annapurna to try an 8000m peak.
Sure, after Everest there were doubts. But the experience on Peuterey did show me: climbing is what brings fun to me. I thought: If I stop climbing now, then everything goes down with me.
And Annapurna has been a project for me already for a long time. But one thing I certainly know now, too, is: I only go climbing for myself and everyone can form his opinion about that.
Have you had the thought of quitting your career as early as for example Walter Bonatti?
After the Everest incident of course there were thoughts like “Now I’m completely fed up”. But I knew: If I quit I a moment like that, I would make myself complaints for the rest of my life. Walter Bonatti was an idol for me – he said: “Now I have reached my zenith and now I quit.”
That’s admirable, in fact! And I think that’s what is missing in alpinism. There are many climbers who have in a way reached their zenith and extend their career artificially. I want to avoid that. Mountaineering is not a competitive sports. When as a hundred meter sprinter don’t bring your performance you just don’t get to the finale. But in mountaineering you still can sell an expedition as an act of madness. And a climb like that on Annapurna can’t be done ten times, you won’t survive that. Bonatti moved within a range of which he knew: If I continue here, this will go wrong.
Steve House, too, has accepted that now, I think. I don’t want to put the words in his mouth, but for his achievement in 2005 on Nanga Parbat he had worked a lot. And that was a gigantic success. But you will do something like that only once in a career. After that, you have to be able to put it behind and accept that.
What does that mean for you?
For me, that’s the point where I have to be careful. It doesn’t go on like that forever, I cannot enhance myself infinitely. And this could also mean that I want to protect myself. If you always act in this dangerous field, it will go wrong eventually.