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.