The breathtaking majestic mountainscapes of the Swiss Alps are not only inspiring but has also produced at least one mountaineer who has also earned the awe of climbers and hikers around the globe.
No longer content with the Swiss Alps as his main playground, accomplished Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck set his sights on the peaks of the rest of Europe and subsequently launched and finished an 82-summit project within just 3 months at 38 years old.
This may get you wondering whether the air up in the Alps has anything to do with his climbing prowess. Or rather, the fact that the Swiss Alps is his training ground probably doesn’t surprise you.
Although Steck’s feat was initiated and completed in mid-2015, it’s one awesome undertaking that bear’s repeating and recollection. The climber began his #82Summits project in June at the Piz Bernina, which is about 4,048 meters high.
Since Day 1, he wakes up somewhere between 2 and 4 in the morning every single day and climbs about 8-14 hours daily. Amazingly, thanks to a strongly motivated assault, he conquered all 18 peaks of the Monte Rosa in just one day. In the past, it took him 3-5 days to do just that.
Steck’s endeavor took him across Switzerland, France, and Italy, moving on his own human capacity by cycling, skiing, and paragliding to help him get to the next destination faster. He did not use motorized mode of transports to get to one place from another.
Further, he also didn’t use ropes a lot because of the need to move fast without a heavy pack weighing him down.
In an interview, Steck said what helped in the success of his feat was the weather.
“It’s really hard not to get nervous because you don’t know what’s going to be in six weeks with the weather, he said in 2016. “Last year was the summer of the century, I think. We had really good weather. I was so lucky.”
The Gray Area
Despite his efforts, he finished clambering up all 82 summits just one day later than the current 82-peak speed record, which is held by Italian climbers Diego Giovannini and Franco Nicolini. The highest peak Steck summitted was the 4,810-meter Mont Blanc. His last summits were the Les Ecrins Massif, Pic Lory, and Barre des Ecrins, all of which are 4,000-meter peaks.
Unfortunately, Stecks’s project wasn’t without tragedy. One of his climbing partners – Steck was accompanied by a number of other mountaineers along the way – fell 290 meters down a ridge while on the Mont Blanc.
However, the Swiss alpinist didn’t let this unfortunate loss hold him back, although he acknowledged Matijn Seuren’s passing and declared he won’t further comment on the loss.
Steck noted that although his project may seem like an easy one, considering it doesn’t involve Everest, there is a lot of risk involved in his endeavor, as also evidenced by the loss of Seuren. But if you think that the greatest danger is in tackling the steep, snowy inclines, think again.
“What’s really difficult is that you think it’s just easy peaks, and that’s when it gets super dangerous,” he said in another interview. “In easy terrain, you might lose your respect for the situation. That’s exactly the moment when something happens.”
What the Future Holds
So, what’s next for the “Swiss machine”? Considering he has already turned 40, Steck has since re-evaluated his mountaineering options and choices. He has since walked away from making each summiting challenge harder and faster.
“My next project has to show a progression of some climbing skills – maybe less risk, more performance,” he noted.
Whatever his next challenges may be, one thing is for sure: he will never stop climbing.
“I will never stop climbing, I love it too much,” he emphasized. “But it will play a different part in my life than it has the last 20 years.”
Steck still climbs in and around the Swiss Alps. Perhaps you’ll bump into him on one of your hikes at Switzerland’s best summits?