by Kraig Becker
Wenger ambassador Ueli Steck continues to amaze the mountaineering world with his high altitude exploits. The Swiss climber has earned a reputation for going fast and light on the most iconic peaks in the Alps, while setting numerous speed records in the process. Over the past few years he has brought that same sensibility to the Himalaya where he has made some of the most daring and impressive climbs in recent memory. Yesterday he added another chapter to his already impressive legacy by completing a solo summit along the South Face of Annapurna, the most dangerous and deadly mountain on the planet.
Details of the climb remain a bit scarce at this time as Ueli, and his climbing partner Don Bowie, have limited communications from Base Camp. Steck did share the news of his success however by sending back a short text message that simply reads: ”Summit, alone, South Face.” That message not only indicates that he was able to reach the top of the mountain but also return to BC safely.
Annapurna is the tenth highest mountain in the world and was the first of the 8000 meter peaks to be summited. But judging this montain on its 8091 meter (26,545 ft) height alone is likely to cause someone to underestimate the challenge involved with reaching the top. It is a brutally difficult climb and numerous mountaineers have died while attempting the summit. In fact, Annapurna has the highest death rate of any Himalayan peak, far exceeding that of Everest or even K2.
One of the biggest challenges for anyone attempting to climb Annapurna are the frequent avalanches that occur on its upper slopes. The mountain is notoriously unstable when heavy snows blanket the region and those conditions have turned back many climbers in the past. Ueli himself failed on two previous attempts to reach the summit which spurred him on to return to the mountain to give it another go. But those previous expeditions took place during the spring when warmer temperatures add to the level of instability . The Swiss alpinist had hoped that climbing in the fall would allow him to avoid those issues and judging from what we know so far, it sounds like his gamble has payed off.
It should also be noted that successfully solo climbing any Himalayan peak is quite an impressive feat and one that Ueli has done in the past. But Annapurna is truly in a league all its own and it is a testament to Steck’s skill and preparation that he was able to pull off such an audacious climb. Hopefully we’ll get more details from him soon.
Congratulations to Ueli on completing this amazing adventure.