I returned from a trip to Snowdonia this weekend to see the sad news about Ueli Steck, a legend within the mountaineering community, and a man who consistently pushed boundaries and redefined man’s relationship with the mountains. Steck had returned to Everest to undertake the Everest – Lhotse route that he had been forced to abandon over the, widely reported, base camp saga in 2013.
Throughout his illustrious climbing career, Ueli had been a trailblazer, pushing the limits over and over again. His speed climbs of the Eiger were well known within the aplinist community, and his solo ascent of Annapurna’s south face seemed almost super human. His most staggering feat of endurance however, must be climbing every 4,000m peak in Western Europe in a mere 62 days.
In a sport that is becoming more and more popular and mainstream, where guided and supported tours have increased accessibility and reduced the expertise needed to experience the majesty of the mountains, Steck still stood out as an indomitable figure. Where we walk, he ran; and we should be grateful that he did so as without people with his grit, his determination, we would live in a world without heroes.
There are many that lament the commercialisation of the mountains, and there are those that believe that increased accessibility has led to people needing to push the boundaries more to stay relevant. I don’t believe that to be the case with Steck. His passion for his craft was endless, and his love for his work genuine. Only weeks ago, on his website here and here, Steck wrote romantically about his motivations:
“When I’m in the mountains, I’m where I want to be. That’s where I feel happy and content. I feel free and can do what I want. I set my own parametres….
…Even though I feel small and insignificant, I the mountains I can live life to the full and play like a child! This is where I feel most comfortable and do what I think needs to be done.
…I have repeatedly asked myself, why I do this. The answer is pretty simple: because I want to do it and because I like it. I don’t like being restricted. When I climb, I feel free and unrestricted; away from any social commitments. This is what I am looking for.
…joy is the essence to the success”
Steck had found what many of us who share his passion strive for: freedom. The mountains are beautiful, inspiring and non-complicated places where the frustrations of 21st century life cease to exist. They are medicinal to the rat race that many of us find ourselves trapped within; to Quote Steck himself: “mountains are honest”.
While the news is sad, we should be grateful for the inspiration that Steck provided. Many will have pulled on their first pair of hiking boots thanks to him, and that can only be a good thing. Steck should be remembered not only for his many triumphs, but for the many lessons he taught us, not least of which is the lesson of passion: In every piece of footage, every interview, every photograph, the love of his craft was etched firmly on his face. If we take nothing else from Ueli’s legacy we should take heed of this. Our lives are fleeting, and if we are not committing ourselves to our passions, then why have life at all? And if we get to the top of a mountain and have hated every step of it, then is the journey ever, really, worth it?