Rest Easy, Ueli

Swiss Mountaineer Ueli Steck

I woke up this morning in Guatape, Colombia, to the news that Swiss climber Ueli Steck had been killed in an accident on the Nepali side of Mount Everest. Guatape is as peaceful a place as they come. And yet, this event, literally three continents away, has ruined my day.

¿Que un mundo extraño, no?

Ueli Steck was a Swiss mountaineer, famous for his solo and speed ascents. I could list some of his achievements here, but ultimately, it would just be a list of names to most of you. He was one of the best climbers in the world.

Recently, I met a Swiss woman down here in Colombia, and the first thing I asked her was: “You’re Swiss? Do you know of Ueli Steck?”

Her response: “Of course. All Swiss do.”

Rest easy, Ueli. Switzerland mourns you.

The death of a climber — especially a pioneering climber like Ueli — will always bring out people who will say the entire sport is selfish. They’re right, of course. Older climbers will tell you this: climb long enough, and you will start to see friends die.

There is nothing accomplished by climbing a mountain. It doesn’t push the human race forward, it doesn’t help people or save lives or educate anyone except the climber. It’s a solitary experience, undertaken for the purely arbitrary reason of, ‘it makes me feel good.’

It’s a little like traveling, in that way. Once it gets into you, you don’t want to stop. Even if you know it’s selfish.

For years now, I’ve had a picture of Ueli saved to my desktop. He stands, slanted, on a steep mountain somewhere. His ice ax is sunk into the snow, his feet are planted, and he’s looking up. Onwards, toward his next summit. His next adventure.

I’m not sure why I have the picture — probably I used it for a blog post, or an article or something. But every time I clean off my desktop, I make a conscious decision to keep it there. Every time I look at it, it reminds me to keep on striving. Keep practicing, keep looking up. Because if this man could do the climbs he did, I can do whatever I want.

Now, every time I look at it, it’ll have one more message for me: be careful.

***

For further reading on Ueli and the life of a professional climber, check out this New Yorker article from 2013.

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11 thoughts on “Rest Easy, Ueli

  1. I read the article in national geographic about the news and though I am not familiar with him, knowing him as a climber in that news, I admired and respected him immediately, I understand the risk every time you climb a mountain, your life itself is at risk but even you are aware of it, you still do it, there is something in nature why human does it, and others may not understand but people who loves mountains and love to climb mountains doesn’t need words of reasons or even explanations, we just understand it in silence, hardcore or occasional climbers will understand in silence. You honoured him here through this post. My thoughts of this, he’d doing what he loves at the very end and that is something, not all people had that chance. And we all have our own way to the end.

  2. A friend of mine shared a post about his death yesterday on Facebook – it made me think of you. It is always strange when such a personnage dissappears. May he rest in peace.

  3. He died doing what he loved best. If I have to go that’s how I’d want to go doing something that I loved rather than be stuck in a hospital room with drains and tubes.

  4. I had just finished reading the New Yorker piece about his death when I saw your post. Sad news even while admiring his spirit and skill, and a sharp reminder of what can happen. But in the end, we all pass, so enjoy and challenge ourselves while we’re here. Of course, he may be on to even bigger and better adventure. Someday, maybe we’ll know.

    Safe travels.

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