Interview with Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck after climbing the 82 alpine four-thousanders, carried out in 62 days last summer from 11/06/2015 to 11/08/2015. The enchainment had previously been carried out in the same self-propelled style by Franco Nicolini and Diego Giovannini in 60 giorni in 2008. In 2007, Miha Valic had completed the journey, using motorised transport but mainly in winter, in 102 days.
“I wanted to break out. Everybody always expects a record or something hard and dangerous from Ueli Steck. But I just wanted to do my own thing.” This, in extreme synthesis, is what it all boils down to in Ueli Steck’s latest undertaking. This summer the Swiss alpinist embarked on climbing all 82 alpine 4,000m summits catalogued in the official UIAA list and while this project certainly isn’t new, it came about ” just for fun, for the love of the mountains.” And it also stemmed from that extraordinary, unrepeatable solo ascent of Annapurna carried out in October two years ago…
Ueli, last time we spoke you’d just descended from perhaps the most important climb in your career, Annapurna. So how did this new project evolve and fit in?
I had a hard time accepting what I had climbed on Annapurna. I realized this is a dead end. If I keep going in this direction I will die pretty soon. You cannot play this game like this for too long, there’s simply too much risk. But I also know how much I love this game and when I commit to something, I do so 100%. So the 82 summits was a great way to discover more about myself climbing in a different way. It was just about enjoying the mountains.
Your partner at the start was Michael Wohlleben. This surprised us since much of the hard stuff you’ve done in the past has been alone. So why the decision to go with Michi?
This time I wanted to climb with a partner. But once again it didn’t work out, unfortunately Michi got injured and I ended up climbing 30 peaks alone. When he was forced to abandon it was a difficult moment for me. After 5 peaks suddenly I had to deal with a completely new situation. But there was no way I would give up easy. That’s not Ueli Steck. I decided to keep going. Of course I had no idea whether it would work out, but it did!
So, without planning it, this trip provided a great opportunity to climb with many different people.
Yes, it was certainly more complicated than I had expected, but it was more interesting to climb with so many different partners. Sometimes I had partners like Andreas Steindl who is super strong and we could quickly link various peaks, one after the next. Other times I just climbed with old friend and we simply savored the climbing together. And for the first time my wife got involved in a project and this was great, something very special for me. It ended up being a great mix of meeting people, at times performing quickly at altitude, during others just having a good time up in the mountains.
Ueli you are dubbed the Swiss Machine for you speed with which you climb mountains. What goes through your mind when you climb? And do you like this nickname or do you think it isn’t right for you?
The Swiss Machine is a name created by others. To be honest I don’t think about it too much, I just get about doing what I like. And I really enjoy that moment when I push hard. As soon you go fast your vision really narrows. You start to see just the next move, the next step, nothing else. It’s hard to describe, it’s a kind of flowing truth over rock or snow. It’s just a really cool moment.
Then there were other moments during this tour of the alpine 4000ers when you travelled from east to west, from one mountain to the next on foot or by bike. So could you ever recover?
Of course there were days when my legs hurt. But that’s fine, it’s part of the game. On the whole though I was in good shape during the entire project and felt like I could always recover. I was more worried about maybe getting some small injuries, but I was lucky, my body worked well, no pain at all during the whole project. About the cycling: that was really nice, I actually got really hooked on cycling recently as I love the speed, being able to easily cover so much ground, and when I reached the Ecrins I felt like I was in cycling mecca. So many cyclists everywhere! The climb up to Col du Galibier, famous because of the Tour du France, was a great moment, too. But the highlights were definitely descending the passes. When my brother and I cycled down from Grimsel Pass there was very little traffic, we pushed each other and hit 90km/h. Now that’s cool!
Apart from the fun, what was the most challenging aspect of this trip?
I think the biggest challenge wasn’t so much the actual climbing, but not to get nervous. When we started the project there was still so much climbing ahead. You never know how it will end, what the weather will be like. Climbing 82 summits requires a very long period of time, during which you need good weather and plenty of luck with conditions. This can drive you crazy very easily indeed.
Ueli, on 22 July 2015 Dutch alpinist Martjin Seuren lost his life while climbing with you. We heard you at the time and know this was a terrible moment for you
We weren’t actually climbing together at the time of the accident. I met him for the first time in the Torino hut. He wanted to finish his 82 4000er project and all that was missing was the Jorasses traverse. He wrote an email to me saying he wanted to climb with me, I agreed, it sounded like a cool idea. So we met in the Torino hut for the first time. Together we left the hut, but I had to go to Dent du Geant first. The idea was that I catch him up later on the Rochefort ridge. When I came back from the Dent du Geant, on the Rochefort Arete I ran into Ulrich, a guy from the South Tyrol working at Helbronner, they were up there and he saw Martjin falling. It was Ulrich who raised the alarm by phoning the hut. So when I arrived everything had already happened. Afterwards I was of course involved in the search for him and with all the rest.
It’s really sad. I have seen too many people die in the mountains. This makes me think a lot, of course I realize that I myself could die in the mountains. When someone dies in the mountains it’s always a really bad day. I was very upset. His family touched me a lot. There are no words to describe it. It’s the end of a life… this is forever, there is nothing that can change it.
Are there any special moments that surprised you?
The mountains are full of surprises. For sure one “particular” moment was on the Barre des Écrins: I ran up the wrong valley. This is almost impossible. But yeah, I succeeded! I ran up the dark and there was a sign, Glacier Blanc and Glacier Noir. I was sure Glacier Blanc was indicated to the left, so I just kept running, all the way to the end of the valley until I decided that I was definitely in the wrong place! I checked Google Maps and this confirmed I was on the wrong side on the mountain, so I all I could do was run back down to the parking lot and start again. These are moments when I make fun of myself! I decided it had been a great warmup and it added some more km and vertical km’s to the trip.
Out of interest, how many of these mountains had you climbed before?
In truth I have no idea, not many. Actually I’d never climbed most of this peaks before, in the past I’ve usually concentrated on climbing steep routes up big faces. This was one of the reasons why I wanted to do this.
What can you tell us about the gear you used?
When I was climbing alone I mostly had only crampons and ice axe, sometimes I took some ski poles with me, too. When climbing with partners we mostly just used a 5.5mm dynamic rope, 20 or 30m long. I usually climbed with a 25 litre pack, or a 10 litre running pack, 1 icescrew, maybe 2 quickdraws and a belay device. And of course a cordlette and a Tibloc emergency ascender for glacier rescue.
That’s not much! At times you also had a paraglider. Is this the way forward for you? And for the record, how many peaks did you fly from?
There was a lot of good weather and flying conditions were good but in the end I didn’t fly a lot, mainly because when I was on mountains from which it was ideal to fly, I was with partners who didn’t paraglide. It would have been very antisocial to just say goodbye on the summit!
I use a XXlight from Ozone, it weighs just 1.2 kg, while the new Ozone harness weighs a mere 110 grams. It fits perfectly along with all the other equipment in my 25 liter pack. In the end I only flew from Bernina (close to the Marco and Rosa hut), then from the Schreckhornhütte. I also did some flights on reccies, when I hiked up somewhere to just fly a bit.
82 summits, you wanted to do these in 80 days, in the end you took 62. The enchainment is not new and presumably you were not trying to set records.
No, not at all. As you say, the idea is not new. It was Patrick Berhault who tried it first (in one continuous push, Ed.). Tthe first to complete it was Miha Valic in 102 days in 2007 (above all in winter, using motorised transport to travel from one area to the next, Ed.). In 2008 Franco Nicolini and Diego Giovannini completed it in 60 days. Something like this is all about the overall experience, not about record. of course, if you are very lucky with the weather you can be fast, if on the other hand you are unlucky with the weather then completing it takes time. My aim was just to complete them all, but everyone kept asking me about how much time I would need and since I had to give them an answer, I said 80 days. In the end it took 62 days, which was totally fine. Had I attempted a record, I would not have had the pleasure of climbing with my wife or some other people, such as old friends, I’m certain I would have lost a lot of greater experience. But of course I had days when I pushed myself, so I did also have my own little challenges during the project. I wanted to break out. Everybody always expects a record or something hard and dangerous from Ueli Steck. But I just wanted to do my own thing. At the end of the day, climbing is something very personal, it’s all about experiencing something for yourself. And it’s you who defines the borders of this experience.
What does this enchainment represent to you?
A great idea. Thanks to Patrick. You can also do it also in 100 days. 10 years. It simply doesn’t matter! It’s just great to do this journey, regardless of how long you take. I had 2 months and I enjoyed almost every single day, I was on a great journey.
It would be good to remember that it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park
No, and I have to be honest that in the background there is also the sports performance. I cannot live without feeling that I am pushing myself. I did 117,489 vertical meters in two month. I think this is a good base for progressing to get fit.
When you started you said that you were doing it “just for fun, for the love of the mountains.” So how much fun did you have?
Every day I had fun. Never did a day pass when I wasn’t motivated to get up in the morning. It’s exactly what I like, being up in the mountains. It was one of my best trips ever!
One last question Ueli: what is your main priority in your climbing now?
I just do what I feel like doing. I still have some projects in mind. I have so much energy and motivation now. And right now I’m in Nepal, I’ve just finished the acclimatisation process…
#82SUMMITS BY UELI STECK
Piz Bernina 4049m, Ueli Steck / Michael Wohlleben, 11/06/2015
Schreckhorn 4078m, Ueli Steck / Michael Wohlleben, 17/06/2015
Lauteraarhorn 4042m, Ueli Steck / Michael Wohlleben, 17/06/2015
Mönch 4107m, Ueli Steck / Michael Wohlleben /Daniel Mader, 18/06/2015
Jungfrau 4158m, Ueli Steck / Michael Wohlleben, 20/06/2015
Lagginhorn 4010m, Ueli Steck / Daniel Mader, 24/06/2015
Weissmies 4023m, Ueli Steck, 24/06/2015
Dürrenhorn 4035m, Ueli Steck, 25/06/2015
Hobärghorn 4219m, Ueli Steck, 25/06/2015
Stecknadelhorn 4241m, Ueli Steck, 25/06/2015
Nadelhorn 4327m, Ueli Steck / Robert Bösch, 25/06/2015
Lenzspitze 4294m, Ueli Steck, 25/06/2015
Dom 4545m, Ueli Steck, 25/06/2015
Strahlhorn 4190m, Ueli Steck, 27/06/2015
Allalinhorn 4027m, Ueli Steck / Daniel Mader, 27/06/2015
Alphubel 4206m, Ueli Steck, 27/06/2015
Rimpfischhorn 4199m, Ueli Steck / Nicole Steck, 28/06/2015
Nordend 4609m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Dufourspitze 4634m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Zumsteinspitze 4563m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Signalkuppe 4556m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Parrotspitze 4432m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Ludwigshöhe 4341m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Corno Nera 4322m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Punta Giordani 4046m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Vincentpyramide 4215m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Lyskamm (West) 4480m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Lyskamm (Ost) 4527m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Castor 4226m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Pollux 4091m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Breithorn 4165m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Breithorn (Mittelgipfel) 4160m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Breithorn (Westlicher Zwilling) 4141m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Breithorn (Östlicher Zwilling) 4106m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Breithorn (Roccia Nera) 4075m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 30/06/2015
Matterhorn – Cervino 4477m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Steindl, 01/07/2015
Täschhorn / Alphubel 4491m, Ueli Steck / Daniel Mader, 03/07/2015
Dent d’Hérens 4181m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Wälchli, 05/07/2015
Dent Blanche 4374m, Ueli Steck, 06/07/2015
Obergabelhorn 4063m, Ueli Steck, 07/07/2015
Zinal Rothorn 4221m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Wälchli, 07/07/2015
Finsteraarhorn 4274m, Ueli Steck / Nicole Steck, 10/07/2015
Grüenhorn (Gross) 4043m, Ueli Steck, 10/07/2015
Fiescherhorn (Hinter) 4025m, Ueli Steck / Nicole Steck, 11/07/2015
Fiescherhorn (Gross) 4049m, Ueli Steck / Nicole Steck, 11/07/2015
Aletschhorn 4195m, Ueli Steck, 12/07/2015
Weisshorn 4505m, Ueli Steck, 13/07/2015
Bishorn 4153m, Ueli Steck, 13/07/2015
Grand Combin de la Tsessette 4141m, Ueli Steck, 15/07/2015
Grand Combin de Valsorey 4184m, Ueli Steck / Daniel Mader, 15/07/2015
Grand Combin de Grafeneire 4314m, Ueli Steck / Daniel Mader, 15/07/2015
Les Droites 4000m, Ueli Steck / David Göttler, 18/07/2015
Aiguille Verte 4122m, Ueli Steck / David Göttler, 19/07/2015
Grande Rocheuse 4102m, Ueli Steck / David Göttler, 19/07/2015
Aiguille du Jardin 4035m, Ueli Steck / David Göttler, 19/07/2015
Mont Blanc du Tacul 4248m, Ueli Steck / Daniel Mader / Ueli Bühler / Robert Bösch, 21/07/2015
Mont Blanc du Tacul (Corne du Diable) 4069m, Ueli Steck / Daniel Mader / Ueli Bühler / Robert Bösch, 21/07/2015
Mont Blanc du Tacul (Pointe Chaubert) 4074m, Ueli Steck / Daniel Mader / Ueli Bühler / Robert Bösch, 21/07/2015
Mont Blanc du Tacul (Pointe Médiane) 4097m, Ueli Steck / Daniel Mader / Ueli Bühler / Robert Bösch, 21/07/2015
Mont Blanc du Tacul (Pointe Carmen) 4109m, Ueli Steck / Daniel Mader / Ueli Bühler / Robert Bösch, 21/07/2015
Mont Blanc du Tacul (L’Isolée) 4114m, Ueli Steck / Daniel Mader / Ueli Bühler / Robert Bösch, 21/07/2015
Mont Maudit 4465m, Ueli Steck, 21/07/2015
Dent du Géant – Dente del Gigante 4013m, Ueli Steck, 22/07/2015
Aguille de Bionnassay 4052m, Ueli Steck, 31/07/2015
Mont Blanc (Südgrat Grande Pilier d’Angle) 4243m, Ueli Steck / Jon Griffith, 31/07/2015
Mont Blanc 4807m, Ueli Steck / Jon Griffith, 31/07/2015
Mont Blanc de Courmayeur 4748m, Ueli Steck / Jon Griffith, 31/07/2015
Augille Blanche de Peuterey 4112m, Ueli Steck / Jon Griffith, 31/07/2015
Dome du Gouter 4304m, Ueli Steck, 31/07/2015
Mont Brouillard 4053m, Ueli Steck, 03/08/2015
Punta Baretti 4013m, Ueli Steck, 03/08/2015
Pic Luigi Amadeo 4469m, Ueli Steck, 03/08/2015
Aguille de Rochefort / (Dent du Géant) 4001m, Ueli Steck / Daniel Mader, 04/08/2015
Dome de Rochefort 4015m, Ueli Steck, 04/08/2015
Grandes Jorasses (Pointe Hélène) 4045m, Ueli Steck, 05/08/2015
Grandes Jorasses (Pointe Margarite) 4066m, Ueli Steck, 05/08/2015
Grandes Jorasses (Pointe Croz) 4110m, Ueli Steck, 05/08/2015
Grandes Jorasses (Pointe Whymper) 4184m, Ueli Steck, 05/08/2015
Grandes Jorasses (Pointe Walker) 4208m, Ueli Steck, 05/08/2015
Gran Paradiso 4061m, Ueli Steck / Andreas Aeschlimann, 07/08/2015
Dome de Neige des Ecrins 4015m, Ueli Steck, 11/08/2015
Barre des Ecrins 4101m, Ueli Steck, 11/08/2015
14/10/2013 – Ueli Steck and Annapurna: the interview after his South Face solo
Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck talks about his fast and impressive solo ascent up the South Face of Annapurna South (8091m, Nepal, Himalaya) that on 8 and 9 October 2013 enabled him to make the first ascent of the direct line attempted in 1992 by Jean-Christophe Lafaille and Pierre Beghin.
Accessed from http://www.planetmountain.com/english/News/shownews1.lasso?l=2&keyid=43127