by Kraig Becker
Last week we were astounded by the news that Swiss climber, and Wenger ambassador, Ueli Steck had completed a solo summit of Annapurna, one of the most difficult and dangerous mountains on the planet. At the time, not many details about the climb were revealed and we were left to wonder just what challenges Ueli faced on his way to the top. Now that he has returned from the mountain, Steck has started sharing more of the story, and it turns out it is even more impressive than was initially thought.
Posting to his blog yesterday, Ueli shared all kinds of information about the expedition and his final summit push. Last Wednesday he and several companions set out from Advanced Base Camp with the intention of climbing Annapurna’s South Face. The route is an incredibly difficult one that has seldom been climbed in the past and by the time the group reached the Bergschrund, a particularly tricky section, the other climbers chose to go no further. But Ueli isn’t like any other climber, so he bid his companions farewell and set off alone for the top of the mountain that had thwarted him on two separate occasions in the past.
Climbing in high winds and blowing snow, Ueli made good time, shooting up the route in alpine style. Left to his own devices, he was able to climb at his own pace, stopping to take shelter briefly in a crevasse where he regained his energy for the final push to summit. After sunset, the winds dropped dramatically, giving Steck the opportunity he needed to complete his bold solo attempt.
The ascent wasn’t without its challenges however. At one point, Ueli stopped to take some photographs and accidentally dropped his camera and one of his down gloves. For the rest of the climb he alternated his remaining glove between both hands in order to keep them warm and to ward off frostbite. He also faced a technical climb up the final headwall, which he made without using his rope at all.
From there it was a straight shot to the summit, where he spent less than five minutes taking in the view and appreciating what he had accomplished. Ueli knew that Annapurna is one of the most dangerous mountains on the planet and that getting down can be just as difficult as reaching the top. But the descent went well and Steck was soon greeted by his friends who brought him food and water to help get him back to ABC where he had started. When he got there, the enormity of what he had accomplished finally set in. Not only had he made a solo summit in alpine style, the entire round-trip took just 28 hours to complete. A typical summit of Annapurna requires four or five days for most alpinists.
This climb reaffirms that Ueli Steck is in a class all his own. For my money, he is the best high altitude mountaineer in the world and I can’t wait to see what he does next.