Sunday, April 30, 2017

Very, very sad news....RIP Ueli.

By now you may have heard of the tragic death of the great Ueli Steck on Sunday morning, April 30th.  He apparently died from a fall on the slopes of Nuptse somewhere above Camp 1 or 2 of the Everest climbing route.  Here is an article from the Himalayan Times:

KATHMANDU: Ueli Steck (41), popularly known as ‘Swiss Machine’ in the mountaineering world, was killed in an accident near Camp II on Mt Everest on Sunday morning, multiple sources at the base camp of the world’s highest peak confirmed.
A group of six rescuers discovered a body of the multiple-record holder mountaineer near the Nuptse Face of Mt Everest where he could have slipped and fell on the ice-covered slope. Fellow mountaineers had seen him climbing Mt Nuptse alone at around 4:30 am.
The team has collected the scattered parts of the climber’s body. A Fishtail Air helicopter has also been sent to Camp II to conduct a long line rescue, according to a source at base camp.
This is the first death of the season on Mt Everest.
Swiss alpinist Steck and Tenzing (Tenji) Sherpa headed to Khumbu region to attempt to climb Mt Everest by never repeated West Ridge/Hornbein Couloir route without using supplemental oxygen in the spring climbing season. They also set out a plan to make a descend to the South Col before taking the once climbed direct route just below the Lhotse Face to obtain that summit record.
“Quick day from base camp up to 7,000 m and back. I love it, it’s such a great place here. I still believe in active acclimatisation. This is way more effective than spending nights up in the altitude!,” the climber posted on his Facebook page on April 26.
Steck, who won two Piolet d’Or awards in 2009 and 2014, is also famous for his speed records on the North Face trilogy in the Alps. He won his second award in 2014 after making the first solo ascent of Mt Annapurna. Steck who was the first recipient of the Eiger Award for his mountaineering achievements in 2008, also completed his 82 Summits project, ascending all 4000 m peaks in the Alps, in 61 days in 2015.
According to him, he spent two nights in camp II. His Facebook post on April 24 indicated that Tenzing suffered frostbite a few days ago.  “Hopefully Tenzing Sherpa frostbite is getting better soon so we can be together on the mountain again.”
In 2013, an ambitious plan to summit Mt Everest was foiled after Steck along with Italian alpinist Simone Moro and Jonathan Griffith engaged in a heated confrontation with rope fixing Sherpas.
Last year, Steck and his German climbing partner, David Göttler, spotted the bodies of Alex Lowe and David Bridges who died in an avalanche on Mt Shishapangma in 1999.
According to the Department of Tourism, Ueli Steck was a leader of one the Everest expeditions locally managed by Kathmandu-based Royal Orchid Treks and Expedition.
Steck was not only the greatest alpinist in the world but also a good friend of Nepal, senior Captain with Manang Air Ashish Sherchan who flew the alpinist to different locations on Mt Everest recently remembered.
“I can’t express what a loss this is to the mountaineering community, Ueli loved Nepal, Everest and the Himalaya,” renowned climber Alan Arnette commented from Colorado.
According to Durga Datta Dhakal, Director at the Department of Tourism, Ueli’s body was airlifted to Lukla.
Here is a video of Ueli describing why he was here and what he was trying to achieve on his Everest/Lhotse project.  His comments on what defines success are especially heartbreaking:

This is truly upsetting, devastating really, and underscores a harsh reality of high altitude mountaineering at the highest level.  I can’t make sense of it and I don’t think there are any easy answers or explanations that help one understand it.  It’s shocking, upsetting and very, very sad.

His accomplishments as a mountaineer are of-course legendary, and his reputation as a man and a friend are equally lofty.  I’m sure his friends and colleagues will have several very appropriate celebrations of his life and his accomplishments.  He was one of the true greats of climbing and probably one of the greatest endurance athletes to ever live.  Anders and I had speculated that had he chosen a sport like triathlon, he probably would have become a Kona champion.

Anders, as he has pursued his passion for alpine mountaineering, has always “followed” and tried to learn from the climbs and training techniques of today’s great mountaineers.  For Anders, and for many mountaineers, Ueli was at the top of that list.   Anders showed me some videos of him climbing and it is truly otherworldly what he did on the high slopes.

Here is an example of one of these videos--we're talking about one extraordinary human being here:

It was a very special day for Anders and the rest of the Madison crew when Ueli stopped by and had lunch with them two weeks ago (4/16) at Base Camp (I had gone for a training hike down to Gorek Shep).  Anders was impressed by how nice and down to earth he was and his willingness to talk and offer advice to them.

Anders and Ueli at Madison base camp, two weeks ago....

Ueli pursued the sport in a very different way than Anders does (and indeed than most people).  He climbed without the usual protection and safeguards that most people utilize.  He loved to climb and especially push the limits of what could be done on the high slopes.  However, he also worked very hard at his craft (as many mountaineers do, including Anders) and the meticulousness of his preparation is renowned.  He is revered for the style and the grace he showed high on the mountain.  This is not to say that this approach led to his death (because who knows what really happened) but to say Ueli pursued the sport in a fundamentally different way than Anders (or I for that matter).  Ueli was a genius and a true pioneer when it came to mountaineering.

I haven’t commented on fear and the risks inherent in high altitude mountaineering in this blog so far, but this event once again brings to the forefront the danger that those who climb Everest face.  As Anders’ father, I’ve had some nights (especially in my tent at Base Camp) contemplating this fear—the fear that I really don’t like to talk about.  I’m proud of Anders and the person he has become, and Judy and I both support him (as well as our other children) in trying to live the lives that they aspire to live.  But clearly, there is part of me that wishes Anders was not putting his life on the line in this way.  I was just there for a month, and I know very well the compelling and intoxicating nature of mountaineering.  The almost unfathomable beauty, the challenge, the camaraderie, the thrill of doing something very difficult, with real consequences.  For sure, when you are in the mountains you feel very much alive and the experience is very compelling and rewarding.

 I’m confident in Anders’ ability, training and judgment, as well as the support team from Madison that he has around him, but I look forward to the day when he’s back safe and sound in the States.  As he climbs ever higher in the days ahead, this tension will be a dominant component of our lives.

Right now, I feel very sad for Ueli’s family and friends—those who really knew and loved him.  I can’t imagine how difficult this news is.  I hope they find some peace in all of this at some point down the road.  And I hope that all those who still will be climbing there tomorrow and the days after are safe so that this tragedy is not repeated soon (or at all).

Very sad day.


DavidE said...

Hi Randy,

Incredibly sad news. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and fears. Wishing a safe rest of the climbing season to the entire Everest community and to Anders and his team in particular


esskay said...

Randy, Steve Kremer here from your Vinson climb. Elegant post on a truly sad day that makes all of us who love to climb take a step back and reflect. Ueli was also one of my idols of course, and simply watching one of his numerous videos was sometimes all I needed to energize my spirit and aspire to achieve more. We all know the dangers, enough has been said on that topic. What we also know is that the high mountains make us feel alive - with an amplification that, for me at least, can't be felt elsewhere. I will continue to follow Anders progress with a smile, since I know he's feeling that "amplified aliveness" every minute of the climb. And having climbed with you and him on Vinson, I have no doubt that he'll succeed.