Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Annapurna 60 Years Later - Ueli Steck Speed Run

When reading Annapurna, I was fascinated by the perseverance and determination of the expedition team. Members of the expedition declared their loyalty to follow their leader - these men were ready to risk their lives in order to conquer the peak and their ability to face so many unknowns is remarkable. Beginning with only rough (and flawed) sketches of the region, this was truly an exploration. The team spends months on reconnaissance trips to discover potential routes before the real ascent even starts. Herzog’s determination to make it to the summit pushes his team beyond their physical and emotional limits. His desire to reach the summit leads him to disregard his team’s deteriorating health and push on (altitude sickness and concerns of frostbite) as he was willing to put his life on the line in order to reach the summit.

I was stunned when I found an interview with Switzerland’s Ueli Steck who had recently solo’d Annapurna’s south face. Ueli’s trip took only 28 hours from Base Camp to summit and back again! Following his ascent, Ueli said: “I would never be willing to die for such a mountain... If I do something like that I must be absolutely sure that I can do it. If I had the slightest fear [I could] die, I would not have gone for it.1” More than 60 years later, speed climbs have replaced first ascents as the new extreme adventure. As Andrew Jillings said in the Glen House last week, we’re chumps  – they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Today, modern mountaineers climbs with high-tech equipment, GPS, satellite phones, helping to remove uncertainty from the equation. I’m not trying to say that Ueli Steck’s lacks skill or willpower but after reading Annapurna, Ueli’s feat somehow seems less impressive.
Bierling, Billi. "Speed Climber Steck Breaks Annapurna Record." Swissinfo.ch. SWI, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 03 Feb. 2014


  1. http://vimeo.com/fenomcreative/uelisteckannapurna2013

  2. I am quite impressed with Ueli as a mountaineer and find him pushing the limits in the same way that Herzog and earlier expedition members pushed the limits. Herzog was the first to stand a top an 8,000 meter peak and Ueli was the first to do the peak in a single day. In the same way that Herzog and his expedition benefited from the technology of eiderdown jackets, crampons, and mountaineering boots to become the first team to summit an 8,000 meter peak, Ueli benefits from front point crampons, ice climbing tools, technique developed by earlier climbers, and intimate knowledge of the route. However, the advances in technology, technique, and previously explored routes do not take away from Ueli having the skill, fortitude, and athleticism to complete a solo ascent of technical route in extreme conditions. In 1994 Lynn Hill became the first person, man or woman, to free climb the Nose, a 2,900 foot vertical rock face in Yosemite, and was celebrated as a huge accomplishment. Last year Alex Honnold soloed the Nose and two other 2,500+ foot climbs in 18 hours. With advances of technology and technique developed by climbers who came before, modern climbers continue to push the limits of human ability. Ueli is the only climber in the world currently able to pull off solo climbing a technical line on an 8,000 meter peak base camp to summit in that little time. Just like Herzog, Hill, and Honnold, I find him to be an impressive, skilled, and innovative climber who is continuing to redefine the possibilities for technical climbing.