Yesterday, Ueli Steck, the Swiss climber commonly regarded as one of the most formidable alpinists to ever live, was making a solo ascent of Nuptse, a Himalayan peak conjoined with Mt. Everest, when he apparently slipped and plunged 3,280 feet to his death. He was 40. By climbing Nupste, Steck was acclimatizing for a climb he had planned to attempt later this month: Everest’s West Ridge, a route which has caused more deaths than successful ascents; upon reaching Everest’s summit, he would then traverse to Lhotse, the world’s fourth-highest peak. This incredibly dangerous traverse has been climbed, unsuccessfully, by only one other person.
Steck’s achievements in mountaineering are many, though he will be best remembered for his solo ascent of the Eiger’s North Face in 2015, having climbed it in just over two hours — a world speed record — as well as his successful ascents of all 82 13,000-plus-foot peaks in the Alps in just 62 days that same year. Steck was a deity of the “fast and light” school of alpinism, a practice in which climbers minimize gear loads in order to reach summits as quickly as possible. Steck had also twice received the Piolet d’Or award, mountaineering’s highest accolade.
Nearly a month ago, Steck wrote what would be his final post on his blog, closing out with a poignant, eerily ominous quote: “And now I’ll just go; and only worry about the events that lie ahead of me. Day by day, one by one. It is the here and now that counts. What comes next is uncertain in any case. Learn from Yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”
In remembrance of “The Swiss Machine,” we have resurfaced our interview with Steck in 2015. The New York Times has Steck’s full obituary.
— Michael Finn