A few more words about Ueli Steck

When Ueli fell to death three months ago, it really came as a shock to me. It did, because I supposed that he had reached a point where he would slow everything down a bit. Because he recognized he had to.

It seems that Ueli mostly was a very reflective person, at least to me. After his fantastic but questioned success on Annapurna in 2013 he continued to reflect on his risk-taking. In an interview he told me he was very aware of the risks that climbs like the one accomplished at Annapurna bear, and that he could not continue on that level forever. He really wanted to slow down everything, it seemed. And in this regard his honesty was impressive, although perhaps he was not consequent in following his own conclusions.

He perfectly knew what the consequences are when you fail on such a high level of both skill and risk-taking: »Failing means dying,« he said in his last interview.

The climb he planned, a traverse of Lhotse and Everest, was probably not very demanding in technical regards, but definitely extremely demanding in length and altitude. If we believe his own statements, he even chose the climb because it was relatively free of risks, compared to the majesty and size of the enterprise. He would either push through, or get too exhausted and descent.
But still, this climb would take alpinism a step further, as also Reinhold Messner recognized.

In October 2016, I asked Ueli why he had continued to do solo climbs, despite writing in his book that he wanted to stop it, for respect of his wife.

He admitted,

»yes, that is in fact a delicate topic for me. Actually, I have to be careful with those solo climbs, because you largely go to the limits there. But on the other hand, that is a part of me and I cannot simply say “No, I won’t do that anymore.” Not, as long as I have the feeling that it’s something that drives me. So you somehow have to settle this with yourself. It was a phase, in which we thought about it very much and my wife would certainly prefer if I wouldn’t do it. But still, solo-climbing is a part of my personality. And that was the reason I always turned back to do solo stuff.«

Ueli’s very honest answer basically says that he cannot simply quit something which he is driven by, and he would disregard his wife’s feelings in this concern. Is that an exaggerated interpretation? To say he is driven, or, possessed? Probably not. Continue reading

An exceptional one has gone: Ueli Steck is dead.

We are shocked by the message, the climbing community has to recognize the loss of one of its grandest. Ueli Steck’s dead body was found in the Mount Everest area, as the Himalayan Times reports, where he was preparing for a traverse of Everest and Lhotse.
It is hard to believe and words don’t come easy, although one might not be extremely  surprised by the message. Yes, in fact, there might not have been many other ways of dying imaginable for a person who loved the mountains and climbing as deeply and amply as Ueli Steck and who was as irresistibly attracted by them. Mountains were his life. But still, the message comes out of nothing and as a shock. Still it is hard to imagine a climbing world without Ueli. In an interview around three years ago, after his fantastic alpine-style climb of Annapurna’s south face, he told me that if he continued on that level, eventually this wold go wrong; »Irgendwann geht das schief.« What a fatal sentence.
Now it did go wrong, although he had seemed to have drawn consequences and did choose his recent project, the Everest-Lhotse-traverse, in particular because he did not want to continue climbing as risky as on Annapurna.

His death leaves questions, at least to me.

Ueli leaves a wife, and the climbing community mourns for one of its greatest lights of inspiration, possibly with a disturbing shade of dark fascination.

I need time to think about his death. You will certainly read more about this in the next days and weeks.

Inspiration on Women’s Day: Alison Hargreaves

Eiger North Face

The Eiger North Face. A.k.a. Eiger “Mordwand”. Epitome of a mountain face, filled with myth to its snow-edged brim: hair-raising tales of darkness and cold, death bivouacs, nationalist instrumentalization, and immense rockfall. First climbed in 1938.

Fifty years later, Scottish alpinist Alison Hargreaves climbed it in 1988, pregnant in her sixth month.

In August 1995 she died after having reached the summit of K2 – acknowledged as the world’s most dangerous mountain – without supplemental oxygen at the descent; and after having climbed Everest before, without supplemental oxygen, as the first woman, and as well, solo. She had a husband and two children, aged four and six. Continue reading

The outstanding free-climb of El Cap’s “Dawn Wall” and its echo

Much has been written about a climb that has been accomplished on El Cap in Yosemite on January 14th by Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell. It echoed even in larger media such as wide-read newspapers and was highly debated, too, since dimension and style of their climb were not comprehensible for everyone.

El Capitán. Source: Wikipedia

The climb was topping year-long efforts, which consisted basically of figuring out a climbable route and preparing it – and themselves, of course. They accomplished the first free-climb of the Dawn Wall ever. It has “pushed climbing forward”, was one of the frequent statements, as expressed for example in an article that’s very worth reading on National Geographic‘s Adventure Blog. The climb was remarkable in several aspects. Continue reading

Interview with Ueli Steck

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. I am so sick of the entire mechanism of the media that started afterwards. 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-hunting again, so I downplayed the story a little bit.

Was there pressure by the sponsors?

There certainly is pressure, we must not blandish anything here. If you want sponsors you have to achieve something. Otherwise you won’t get another contract in the next negotiations. 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: 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 in a moment like that, I would blame myself 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.”

Admirable.

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.

»Irgendwann geht das schief« – Interview mit Ueli Steck

Vor ziemlich genau einem Jahr hatte ich das Glück, Ueli Steck für ein Interview, das in ALPIN 3/2014 erschienen ist, zu seinen Erlebnissen im Himalaya befragen zu können. Damals war er gerade frisch von seiner Solo-Begehung der Annapurna Südwand (in 28 Stunden) zurück gekommen. Ein paar Wochen zuvor hatte er schon  in einer fantastischen Zeit von 16 Stunden den Mont Blanc von Courmayeur aus Richtung Chamonix über den kompletten Peuterey-Grat (“Peuterey Intégral”) überschritten. Welchen Stellenwert diese Begehung in seiner Karriere hatte und was sie für seine Zukunft bedeuten, über das Medienecho nach dem Sherpa-Streit am Everest und die Bedeutung des großen Risikos bei seinen Touren und sein zukünftiger Umgang damit, darüber gab er Auskunft, ebenso wie über den Druck von Sponsoren.

 

Im Mai 2013 gab es diesen Vorfall am Everest, bei dem einige aufgebrachte Sherpas dich und deinen Seilpartner Simone Moro körperlich angegriffen und mit dem Tod bedroht haben. In den Medien wurde das kontrovers diskutiert und du wurdest sehr kritisiert.

Einige Wochen später hast du den kompletten Peuterey-Grat am Mont Blanc (Peuterey Integral) bestiegen, auch in neuer Rekord-Zeit. Auf deiner Homepage war die Beschreibung eher witzig gehalten und von understatement geprägt. Aber ein kleiner Paukenschlag war diese Begehung ja schon. Wolltest du damit auch zeigen, dass es dich noch gibt und dass du dich nicht unterkriegen lässt von den schlechten Erfahrungen und von der negativen Presse, die nach dem Everest-Vorfall herrschte?

 

Nein, absolut nicht, ich war da einfach Bergsteigen und hatte einen fantastischen Tag.Ueli Steck

Außerdem wird in letzter Zeit alles auf diese Rekordzeiten reduziert!

Aber ob man da 16 Stunden oder 17 Stunden braucht ändert eigentlich nicht viel. Es hängt ja immer auch von den Bedingungen ab. Deshalb wollte ich nicht, dass es wieder so um diese Rekordjagd geht und habe es ein bisschen runtergespielt.

Es war für mich auch nicht entscheidend, diesen Rekord zu machen. Für mich war das wichtigste: in Courmayeur starten, über den Peuterey und wieder auf der anderen Seite ins Tal runter – wenn’s geht in einem Tag. Das ist großartig und ich hatte einen der besten Tage in meinem Leben.

Aber ich kann dir auch ehrlich sagen: nach dem Everest hatte ich keine Lust mehr Continue reading