On Sunday morning, Swiss climber Ueli Steck, 41, was killed in an accident on Mt Nuptse in the Himalayas. Ueli was affectionately known as the ‘Swiss Machine’ in the mountaineering world, but this nickname did not belie his true personality and soft manner – he was both an amazing climber and a very decent individual.
He was a multi-record holder in mountaineering, as well as a 2-time winner of the coveted Piolet d’Or in 2009 and 2014, the most infamous of mountaineering awards. Ueli also holds the solo speed record on the North Face of the Eiger, made the first solo ascent of Mt Annapurna in 2014, received the Eiger mountaineering award in 2008, and completed his 82 Summits Project in 2015 by climbing all 4000m peaks in the Alps in just 61 days using only foot, cycling and paragliding power.
Apparently Ueli slipped and fell on an ice-covered slope of Nuptse during an acclimatisation climb, having been seen for the last time around 04:30 by other mountaineers on Nuptse. A rescue team discovered / recovered his body and delivered it to a helicopter at Camp II, which has been requested.
Steck’s death is the first of the season on Mt Everest, as he and Tenji Sherpa headed to the Khumbu region to attempt to climb Mt Everest without using supplemental oxygen. Their goal was to climb it by the un-repeated Hornbein Couloir route on the West Ridge. The plan was to set a record by making a descent to the South Col and then climbing the Hornbein directly just below the Lhotse Face to the Everest summit. Last Wednesday, Steck wrote on Facebook: “Quick day from base camp up to 7’000m and back. I love it. It’s such a great place here. I still believe in active acclimatisation. This is way more effective than spending nights up in the altitude!”
Steck was climbing alone on Sunday, as Tenzing Sherpa was suffering from frostbite for the past few days. According to Durga Datta Dhakal, Director at the Department of Tourism, Ueli’s body was airlifted to Lukla before being flown to Kathmandu. All of guides and climbers who knew Ueli and were inspired by his personality and accomplishments will miss him very much.
His family asks that speculation not be made as to the exact circumstances of his death until more can be learned. Ueli was one of the greatest mountain climbers in history and will be long remembered.
RJ Fleming, Professional Mountain Guide, Kathmandu