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Swiss mountaineer Ueli Steck
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Ueli Steck on the South Face of Annapurna
Photo by © Don Bowie
Ueli Steck and the 82 4000ers in the Alps: Allalinhorn 4027m
Photo by archive Ueli Steck
Ueli Steck on the summit of Everest on 18/05/2012.
Photo by Ueli Steck

Ueli Steck, the man and mountaineer

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In memory of Ueli Steck, the great Swiss mountaineer who died yesterday on Nuptse close to Everest.

Ueli Steck was alone yesterday on Nuptse, that enormous and difficult mountain opposite Everest. He was on his own because after his climbing partner Tenji Sherpa suffered frostbite, Ueli had decided to push on. He was continuing his acclimatisation phase. And it was up there, between Camps 1 and 2 on Nuptse, that Ueli fell. It is up there that one of the greatest mountaineers of all time left us for good. Ueli had got us accustomed to everything. He was great, in every sense. This is why, yesterday, I didn’t want to believe the news of his death, why no one wanted to believe it. The mountaineering world, the entire world, was at a loss for words.

Yesterday I was asked if Ueli Steck had risked too much, if he had defied the mountains too much. No I replied, instinctively. Absolutely not! It’s true, his project, the Everest - Lhotse traverse which aimed at enchaining the highest mountain in the world with the planet's fourth highest peak, is an undertaking that has never been achieved before, one that must be described as something that borders on beyond the impossible. And although Ueli perished while preparing for precisely that extremely high, extremely difficult traverse, I didn’t hesitate for a moment: Ueli had not risked too much. His preparation had been meticulous and he was strong, perhaps the strongest of all. More importantly though, he was extremely conscious of what he was doing. He certainly didn’t challenge the mountains. He was born in them, he lived in them, and this is exactly how he climbed them: extremely quickly, up the most impervious terrain with a sense of control, power and awareness of what he was doing that was absolutely unique. And he knew all too clearly about the possible consequences of his actions… I know it sounds rhetorical: but this was Ueli’s life, his be-all and end-all, and this is what Ueli was like.

I was also asked about Ueli Steck’s legacy, about what he gave to mountaineering, apart from his astounding records. It’s difficult to provide an answer for this one. But once again I replied instinctively: Ueli left us the memory of what he was like, as a person. A man who was sincere and modest. Yes, this may seem strange, perhaps not credible and too celebratory even, for someone who many described as the best alpinist of recent times. But Ueli was precisely this, an absolutely modest man, of rare generosity, always willing to share his time.

However what Ueli gave to alpinism and all alpinists, apart from his cutting-edge ascents and records, is something which many are unaware of or have perhaps simply forgotten. The year was 2008. Ueli and his friend and highly talented alpinist Simon Anthamatten were camped below the South Face of Annapurna. They aimed to attempt a direttissima when, all of a sudden, they received an unexpected call. It was Horia Colibasanu, a Romanian mountaineer they’d met the previous week together with his climbing partner Iñaki Ochoa de Olza from Spain. The two were pinned down at 7400 meters on the immense South Face, Iñaki was extremely unwell and needed help urgently.

Ueli and Simon were not acclimatised. All they had with them was their trekking gear, because all the climbing equipment was already stashed at Advanced Base Camp. It was dark, but not a second did they didn’t hesitate: they set off, towards that distant tent lost high up on one of the most difficult and dangerous faces in the world. This was the start of one of the most difficult and incredible rescue attempts ever. The two Swissmen were joined by a handful of other mountaineers, including Denis Urubko and Don Bowie. The fight lasted six days. Ueli was the only one who managed to reach Iñaki, who then died in his arms, yet in all likelihood Ueli’s ascent saved Horia’s life. In the end all rescuers miraculously managed to dodge the continuous avalanches and escape the face. Well, yes, it is up there that Ueli, Simon and the others really did push themselves a step too far. It is up there that Ueli risked too much, went beyond all limits. But he did it (they did it) in order to save the lives of others. When, much later, I asked him about that "crazy" rescue attempt, Ueli almost didn’t understand the question. For him there was no question in the first place: someone had asked him for help, and he responded. And, he added, what he did was nothing special. That’s what Ueli Steck was like.

by Vinicio Stefanello

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NEWS / Related news:
Ueli Steck dies in Everest accident
30.04.2017
Ueli Steck dies in Everest accident
Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck has died near Mount Everest. The body of the 40-year-old ace mountaineer was found close to Camp 1 on the nearby Nuptse Face, where he was acclimatising for one of the most incredible mountaineering projects in the Himalaya: the Everest - Lhotse traverse.
Ueli Steck and the great Everest - Lhotse traverse / Pioneering mountaineering
07.04.2017
Ueli Steck and the great Everest - Lhotse traverse / Pioneering mountaineering
Interview with Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck on the eve of departure for Nepal where he will attempt to complete one of the most amitious projects in Himalayan mountaineering: the coveted first Everest - Lhotse traverse.
Ueli Steck at Courmayeur's Passione Verticale 2016
16.08.2016
Ueli Steck at Courmayeur's Passione Verticale 2016
On Wednesday 17 August Switzerland’s Ueli Steck, one of the most talented mountaineers in the world, will take to the stage at Passione Verticale, the classic summer festival the town of Courmayeur dedicates every year to alpinism and the mountains. The evening begins at 21:15 and will be hosted by Vinicio Stefanello of planetmountain.com.
Ueli Steck and Annapurna: the interview after his South Face solo
14.10.2013
Ueli Steck and Annapurna: the interview after his South Face solo
Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck talks about his fast and impressive solo ascent up the South Face of Annapurna South (8091m, Nepal, Himalaya) that on 8 and 9 October 2013 enabled him to make the first ascent of the direct line attempted in 1992 by Jean-Christophe Lafaille and Pierre Beghin.

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