As fate would have it, Ueli Steck's life ended at the foot of Everest, the highest peak in the world.
This was a man who treated as his playground mountains on all four corners of the earth. His journey ended on 30 April while attempting to carry out a world first in the Himalayas. A world first: one of many.
This one took him high above the clouds, to a place he had neared on more than one occasion, without ever reaching it; each time adding to his list of risky ascents.
This time there was no escape; he was taken away by the Snow Queen. Ueli Steck was cremated in Nepal, right in the heart of an area he had explored so many times.
The life of a true master was over. But the memory of his exploits will remain in our minds forever. With his style and his personality, Ueli Steck was like a breath of fresh air in the sport. Here we look back on the inspirational journey of a legend and a true star. He was 40 years old.
The Everest-Lhotse Project
The last dance
Having barely finished traversing the Alps' 82 highest peaks in June 2015, Ueli Steck's thoughts turned to another major project: connecting two of the world's highest summits. For the ascent, he would first climb the roof of the world, Mount Everest (8,848m).
He would then use a pass, also located at around 8,000 metres, to join Lhotse (8,513m), the world's fourth highest mountain. It would all be completed in pure alpine style, without oxygen. A world first. The Swiss flew to Nepal at the start of April to try and achieve this beautiful traverse. He died on 30 April after falling from a cliff in the shadow of Everest. He had been carrying out acclimatisation training alone.
A young mountaineering prodigy
Ueli Steck was just 12 years old when he went climbing for the first time with a friend of his father's. It was love at first sight for the sport. His life was suddenly different; he stopped playing ice hockey and began climbing as many Swiss walls as possible. At 18, he completed his first ascent of the Eiger's north face. Records and solo ascents then began to rack up for the man nicknamed the “ Swiss machine ”.
Collecting speed records
Faster, faster! Surrendering to it; allowing yourself to be carried by the mountain. Each breakthrough is a reason to go faster. As the years went by, Ueli Steck set more and more records. In the Alps, - Eiger (2 hours 22 minutes 50 seconds), Large Jorasses (2 hours 21 minutes), Cervin (1 hour 56 minutes) -, and in the Himalayas, - Shishapangma (10 hours 30 minutes), Annapurna (28 hours) -. Every mountain his feet touched brought a new record, conquered by his vibrant strides. In order to achieve such feats, this talented technician left nothing to chance. Every mountain he set his sights on was carefully studied, scanned and dissected before being climbed. Then there was his equipment. Everything was considered, weighed and calculated – something that Lucie Lacroix, Julbo team manager and a partner of the “ Swiss Machine ”, can testify: “Ueli was very demanding of his equipment. He did a lot to help us develop our sun protection range. He wanted lighter glasses that had better ventilation, but that didn't lose any of their performance in terms of protection. He worked alongside us to create new models. "
“ I see it as a personal challenge to optimise time and to keep going faster and faster. For me, mountaineering is a process through which I always seek to do better. Time is an objective indicator. If the time is better, that means I was better. That is what I seek to do: to progress. ”
A love of solo ascents
Some secrets will stay buried forever: solo ascents with no pictures or fellow rope team members to tell their story. But his Julbo sunglasses, worn on his nose, took a front row seat in his adventures. They shared these solitary moments between the seasoned mountaineer and the mountain. True allies, they will never tell their secrets. Even though many mountaineers did climb with Ueli Steck, the Swiss climber was somewhat partial to solo ascents. During these journeys, it was not only the mountains he faced alone, but also his doubts and his decisions. He enjoyed this freedom, and seized with both hands. "I spend a lot of time in the mountains. I enjoy the challenges of rock and ice. It is a simple, honest environment where freedom is complete. You can do what you want there; you make up your own rules. "
The ultimate quest
“ I don't put my ascents in any particular order. As soon as I've reached a goal, I move onto something else. Past events become nothing more than experiences. The important thing for me is always my next project. I put all my energy into that and make it a priority, whatever it is. ” Propelled by his desires, his ideas and his imagination, he was already dreaming of his next challenge. With so many achievements under his belt, his goals often ended up being new records. But that was far from being the most important thing for Ueli Steck. The key to his pursuits had always been same: to be at one with his freedom…until the very end.