“The record meant nothing to me – I knew that was not my real best. I had just been faster than the others….” – Ueli Steck
The simpler the challenge is for Ueli Steck, the more compelling. And it was the promise of simplicity that initially drew Ueli to the mountains after a youth spent playing competitive hockey. “The rules were so clear. You get to the top of not. There is no maybe, no doubts… Sometimes just to be out there is so simple. You’re happy as soon as you are laying in your sleeping bag with a warm meal. ”
Today, the thirty-four year old Swiss sometimes carpenter and full-time alpinist excels in virtually every style of climbing. “Every discipline is fascinating,” says Ueli, whose staggering tick-list includes everything from El Capitan free climbs and 5.13 solos to 8,000 meter peaks and bold solos and speed records in the Alps and the Canadian Rockies. But don’t be fooled by big numbers: his achievements are the by-product of a more personal goal. “I like to push my personal limits. It doesn’t matter what the result is afterwards… For me it’s most important to push my body to its full potential.”
Ueli would prefer to let his accomplishments speak for themselves. In 2007, he broke the speed record on the North Face of the Eiger by nearly 46 minutes, sprinting up the 6,000 foot face in only three hours and fifty-four minutes. But Steck wasn’t done. “The record meant nothing to me – I knew that was not my real best. I had just been faster than the others.” After a year of disciplined training and conditioning, he returned to the Eiger again, and incredibly, cut another hour off his own record.
These days, Ueli is most focused on the high peaks of the Himalaya: in 2009, he reached the summits of two 8,000 meter peaks. Yet these climbs were only a warm up for a bigger dream, to solo a hard technical line on one of the world’s highest mountains. Patience is important, he notes: “To climb something very difficult you need to be the right time in the right place, and remember the mountain is always stronger then you.” Nevertheless – Ueli going to keep trying.
You can bet on that.