Ueli Steck, AKA the Swiss Machine, has stunned the mountaineering community with his solo ascent of a new line on Annapurna's forbidding south wall. It was his third visit to the 8,000er, the world's 10th highest mountain.
“It just feels unreal right now,” Steck told Redbull.com/Adventure via email. “It's been such a long-term project and now it's done!”
For Steck, the ascent also helps to lay the Everest ghosts to rest. Earlier this year he was forced to abort his ascent after a well-publicised fracas with Sherpas. Such was the bad feeling afterwards that for a while Steck lost his mojo.
I cannot erase what happened on Everest. It will always be in my mind. But with this ascent of Annapurna I feel I can now move on. The fire inside me is back!
In the video (below) Steck says that conditions were great and everything just worked out really well.
“Sometimes you just have these kind of days — but [when they happen] you have to realise them and pull the trigger in that moment.”
Steck set off from on October 9th at 05.30am with his team, consisting of Don Bowie, and photographers Dan Patitucci and Jonah Matthewson. At the bergschrund, Bowie decided not to continue and Steck pushed on alone.
“At the first moment it was difficult for me to switch on soloing. But the good conditions helped me to quickly get focused,” Steck writes on his blog.
Describing the mindset needed to solo, Steck told us: “It's easy — you just have to focus on your next step. That's all I'm doing. Life is very simple.”
Back at Base Camp, the team could only watch with a 1,000mm lens.
“We paced camp like first-time fathers in a waiting room,” Patitucci writes.
Steck pushed on in his customary efficient style.
“Step by step I moved on. I kept telling myself, 'Just fight, just fight'. Again and again. When I reached the summit ridge I could hardly believe it. It was night, the sky was full of stars and the ridge was going down in front of me.”
“With my altimeter I checked everything very carefully, I followed the ridge and I knew: I was on highest point.”
Steck spent just five minutes on the summit before turning around. At 9:30am on October 10th he was back at Base Camp after a 28 hour round trip.
Annapurna was the first 8,000m mountain to be climbed, in 1950, by Frenchmen Louis Lachenal and Maurice Herzog — the story was later immortalised in Herzog's classic adventure yarn Annapurna. The south wall was first climbed by the climbers Dougal Haston and Don Whillans in a British all-star team led by Chris Bonington, in 1970.
At the time of writing Steck was on his way back home. What was he most looking for to, we asked? “Having a good dinner with some friendS and a good bottle of wine!”
Sounds pretty well deserved to us.