Ueli Steck at the Explorers Club
Last night, we were lucky enough to snag a few tickets to Ueli Steck's lecture at The Explorers Club (courtesy of Consulate General of Switzerland in New York). As he led the audience through his climbing career from Eiger to Annapurna, his commitment, passion and talent were continually reaffirmed.
"People asked me why do you climb mountains? I don't really have an answer...it was a passion since I was 12 years old"
Steck started on rock and then moved into more alpine climbing to include ice and high altitude assents. In 2008, he broke the record for the fastest ascent of Eiger, reaching the summit in 2:47:33 minutes.
"People asked me why climb so fast?
I'm a married man and Swiss women are strict. If you're not home for lunch you at least have to be back for dinner"
Underneath it all is the drive to push himself and find his limits. He free soloed El Cap in Yosemite and did an ascent of Everest without oxygen as "small personal challenges." He noted that so many summits have already been done - he has always needed to be creative to push the boundaries of the sport. He was adamant that to him, mountaineering, was a sport not just "going for adventure." He cites thousands of hours of training, specifically doing the same moves over and over again that he knows he'll need in the climb, as the way he's able to succeed.
In the mountains he's able to find simplicity, focus, and freedom that's not available elsewhere.
"I'm doing what I want to do, what I like to do. There's no one telling me what to do. But if you make a mistake... that's your mistake"
On his first Everest attempt in 2011, Steck turned around because of a fear of frostbite on his toes. Though he didn't summit, he came home fully intact.
"I still have all of my toes....I was really proud I could make that decision for myself"
On the other hand, though he did the first solo ascent of Annapurna's south face, he admits he took too much risk and seriously endangered himself. During the Q&A one audience member asked if this wasn't a sort of addiction, a disease even. Steck noted that there is an element of that in climbing. While he knew he took too much risk on Annapurna and was afraid of dying he admitted; "I know how much I enjoyed the situation while I was up there. "
So what's next for Ueli Steck?
"My challenge now, for the future, is to slow down and stay alive"