In September I was trekking around the Annapurna Massif in Nepal. Near the end of the trek I went up to Annapurna South Base camp. I heard there was an expedition going on through but no other information.
I arrived at the Base Camp at 7.35am and I saw the expedition tents just beyond the trekking hostel. Near the tents were dozens of people, including a camera crew, sherpas, etc. I talked to a cameraman. He said it was a Swiss-American climbing team and that they were financing the film themselves due to the controversy on Everest in April.
The two climbers were further forward of everyone, one looking through a telephoto lens. I went up to the climbers and talked to Don Bowie. He gave me some information. The guy behind the lens looked over at me. I said to Don , “ That looks like Ueli Steck” and he said “that is Ueli Steck”. I was stunned but regrouped and started talking to Steck.
I asked if he had read Chris Bonnington’s book on the British expedition of 1970 to this site. He said yeah. I said that was the best expedition to the Himalayas up to that time, wasn’t it. He said, “Yes, that was the first expedition to do a technical climb on an 8,000m peak”, and he added that he intended to do the same climb but in alpine style. I talked a bit more about Don Whillans and the British expedition. Don Bowie later told me that they would be on the 4,000m almost vertical wall for three to four days. I asked him where they would sleep. He smiled and said “anywhere we can”.
Well, since returning to South Africa I was astounded to learn that Steck had soloed the route. I don’t know why there was a change of plans as I assumed that they were climbing the wall together to the summit. It’s an awesome achievement and I don’t know if anything of this magnitude has been done before. To make things even more memorable, a few minutes later there was a big avalanche falling about 3,000m down the face to the left of the Annapurna South face, dropping tens of thousands of tons of rock and ice at the base.
None of the sherpas had seen such an avalanche before.