The Mountain Hardwear booth hosted a special Meet and Greet presentation with speed alpinist, Ueli Steck, at the 2011 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City, Utah on Friday, August 6th, 2011. The “Swiss Machine” flew all the way from Switzerland to be at this year’s OR show to present his new film, Project Himalaya, and discuss the experiences he had while on his latest quest.
There was quite the crowd of people surrounding the Mountain Hardwear booth as Steck was signing autographs beforehand. Project Himalaya was playing in the background as he greeted with attendees of the OR show. There was a display of the incredibly light gear that Mountain Hardwear created for Steck on his Himalayan expedition. Steck took his ideas of what he needed and wanted for Project Himalaya to Mountain Hardwear, and they definitely delivered. All the gear created by Mountain Hardwear for Ueli weighed in at less than 10 pounds.
I was fortunate enough to be among a select few to obtain VIP passes to listen to Ueli Steck talk about Project Himalaya and interact in a Q&A session with him. Steck’s presence brought a sense of elation throughout the crowd. For someone who has accomplished what he has, such as setting the speed record and conquering the Eiger in 2 hours and 47 minutes, Grand Jorasses north face in 2 hours and 21 minutes, Matterhorn north face in 1:56, and many others, Steck is a very down-to-earth, good humored and humble man.
Steck explained his experience of climbing Cholatse and Lobuche with fellow alpinist Freddie Wilkinson. “I told Freddie that if he was having any difficulty during the climb to tell me. I didn’t want him to keep climbing if it was too hard. I want everyone to be safe and not put themselves at risk.” Steck nixed the idea of taking a tent when Wilkinson mentioned it. He told Freddie that they’d be fine in their sleeping bags. Steck mentioned that they could trust the Swiss weather report that weather would be alright to climb. Let’s just say they didn’t get a whole lot of sleep without a tent and Steck ended up owing Wilkinson a beer when they were done climbing.
Freddie Wilkinson had to fly back to the states, so Steck was then joined by Canadian, Don Bowie. Their attempts included Cho Oyu, Shishapangma and Mount Everest. Bowie was struck with a fever and chest infection right before the attempt to Shishapangma and he hadn’t quite acclimatized yet. He didn’t want this to dampen the chances for Steck to summit as the forecast was looking clear and perfect for the next couple of days. “Don said for me to go ahead and attempt Shishapangma without him. He didn’t want me to miss this perfect opportunity. I thought I’d go ahead and take a look to see if it was okay. I didn’t take that much gear with me, because I didn’t think I’d summit Shishapangma, but I kept climbing and the next thing you know I was at 7,500 meters, so I thought maybe I will summit.”
Steck and Bowie summited Cho Oyu at the beginning of May 2011, and then it was time to attempt Mount Everest. They were both feeling good and ready for the climb. “I was feeling really good and prepared to climb Everest without oxygen.” There was a point, however, where Steck wasn’t feeling at his best when he drank some water they had melted from the snow. “You have to be really careful where you pick up snow from. You just don’t know if someone peed there or has done some other business.” The “I feel so sorry for you, but it was funny” giggles escaped through the crowd as Ueli held his stomach from the not-so-great memory of that moment.
A question was asked on his thoughts of the “Don Bowie Diet” while up in the high altitudes of Mount Everest. “I don’t know why anyone would buy this junk food, the Hostess cupcakes? They’re so fattening, but for some reason they tasted good to me at high altitudes. And the peanut butter Don brought up. I think I gained about 10 pounds while up there, and I felt so fat. My wife liked the extra pounds on me, but I did not like that. I can’t believe I ate the junk that Don brought.” It’s a good thing no one mentioned the Hostess outlet stores here in Utah.
Steck was in top notch condition to summit Mount Everest. His breathing was feeling good, his energy was great, but then his toes started to get cold when he was getting really close to the summit. When he was about 100 meters away from the summit, he made the decision to turn around and head back to camp. “I was okay with turning back even being so close to the summit. I would rather have all of my toes on my feet so I can keep climbing. I know that my health was good and I can always go back to try again. I’m just glad I didn’t lose any of my toes.” Bowie had turned around a little bit before Steck to head back to camp as he was experiencing the same problem.
Ueli Steck may be the “Swiss Machine” when it comes to speed climbing and training, but he is wise not to compromise his safety or health. “I don’t climb to get attention or to be famous. I climb because I just love to do it. It doesn’t make you better than others if you reach a summit of a mountain. The mountains will continue to be there whether you climb it or not. Don’t do anything to make yourself unsafe when you climb. Be smart about it.”
It was an amazing opportunity to mingle with Ueli Steck. His passion and determination is definitely inspiring. Other great climbers are grateful to have the opportunity to climb with Steck. In Freddie Wilkinson’s own words when he was wondering why he was back in Kathmandu so soon after he had been there in November 2010, “I saw a lone man, soloing untethered up a gnarly mixed mountain face. He moved with the confidence of a condor, gobbling up meters of vertical as if it were chicken scratch. I could scarcely dream such agility is in my own potential as an alpinist. And then I remembered…Ueli Steck…The chance to climb with one of the sport’s true virtuosos, to learn new tricks and, perhaps, break through old habits and discover a new way of looking at the same mountains I had lulled myself into thinking I already knew.” –www.himalayaspeed.com
The question now is what Ueli Steck’s next venture will be. Whatever it is, it’s sure to be another jaw dropping, awe inspiring climb.
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