Ueli Steck - Khumbu Express - Piolet d'Or 2005
Interview with Swiss mountaineer Ueli Steck, nominated for Piolet d'or 2005 for his solo ascents of Cholatse (6440m), Tawoche (6505m) and Ama Dablam (up to 5900m).
Grenoble, 10 February 2006
Ueli Steck has intense, intelligent, glittering eyes. He’s "pocket-sized" but, who knows why, he gives me the impression of power, of strength. He doesn’t hide the "selfish" side to mountaineering. But his is a life-long passion: he cannot help but climb (but also “live") the mountains, he cannot do without them. And he loves climbing alone: he is at his best when he needs to look after no-one but himself. Is this selfishness? Maybe, but when you look in his eyes, at how he smiles at you, you’re struck by something else... Ueli is pure energy, fun and contagious energy!
Ueli what was the most beautiful thing about your Kumbu Express?
Being the only one who made decisions; this forced me to concentrate and added weight to my actions. When you climb with a partner you share part of the responsibility with them. When you’re alone you can’t do that. I like this condition, where I have to decide for myself and take responsibility for my own actions
Isn’t that selfish?
Yes, a bit, but alpinists are selfish!
In order to achieve things, to be successful on climbs that require your absolute maximum you must really want them, more than anything else… otherwise you won’t do them, you’ll never do them.
Is that what you’re like?
I’m very determined: when I set myself a goal I put my head down and g straight towards it, nothing can stop me. At least, that’s how I go about things.
That’s Steck in the mountains. What about in every-day life?
The mountains and mountaineering are my life. I understand that perhaps it’s not easy living with me… but it’s a love which is simply too strong: the mountains are my life…
Do you have a recurring dream? I mean real dreams you dream about at night
Of course, often before falling asleep I dream about a 4000m face, on an 8000er… A face where there’s a bit of everything: rock, mixed, ice. And I dream about climbing it towards infinity, climbing and moving perfectly, joyfully. It’s beautiful…
Is the motivation for all this to be/become the strongest mountaineer?
No, certainly not. The strongest alpinist in the world doesn’t exist! There are certainly many mountaineers who are strong, talented, for sure more than one… and it’s also certain that I’d like to be considered in this group.
An obligatory question for a “soloist”: what’s your relationship with risk, with fear?
Fear, being afraid of a face or a climb, is a condition you have beforehand, in the run-up. But then, when you set off, when you’re climbing, there can be no room for doubts or hesitation. When you climb you need to make the right choices and believe in what you’re doing. If you begin to doubt or question your decisions then it’s time to descend, to abandon your ascent. And this too is a decision you need to believe in and accept as the right one for you in that specific moment.
Have you ever renounced a climb, because you doubted your ability to succeed?
No, not yet fortunately…
Are you happy? Does this totalising way of experiencing the mountains and mountaineering make you happy?
Yes, a lot. I repeat: at the moment this is my entire life.
What music do you associate with being in the mountains?
None, when I climb the only music I listen to is nature, the mountains that surround me. I love listening to music, but I do so when I relax…
What is important in your alpinism?
For me it’s really important choosing how to take to the mountains. You have to search it out and choose it. In short, it has to be “right” for you. And then it’s important to follow it though, experiment and carry out that decision.
KHUMBU EXPRESS, Nepal.
Ueli Steck (CH).
Solo enchainment: north face of Cholatse (6440m) via a 1600m route graded M6; East Face of Tawoche (6505m) via a 1500m; NW Face of Ama Dablam (to 5900m).