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Ines Papert on Ueli Steck’s death: “It was HIS life!”

Ueli Steck a few days before his fall to death

Why did Ueli Steck choose Nuptse to acclimatize himself? This is a question I ask myself, since on Sunday the news of the death of the Swiss spread like a run-fire. A few days earlier, the 40-year-old had climbed towards the West Shoulder of Everest. That made sense. After all, he planned to climb on his Everest-Lhotse traverse via the West Ridge and the Hornbein Couloir to the highest. But Nuptse? Not exactly the classic tour to get acclimatized. What was the added value besides making additional height meters?

Reinhold Messner speculated in several interviews that Ueli might have planned to try the “great horseshoe”, the never-attempted round trip form Nuptse to Lhotse and Everest across the ridges between the mountains. I see no evidence for this after all I have heard and read. The Frenchman Yannick Graziani wrote in his blog that Ueli had asked him three days before his death, if he wanted to accompany him on Nuptse. The 43-year-old, who wants to climb Everest without bottled oxygen this spring, declined. It was really just an acclimatization trip, Yannick’s team told me on request: “Ueli never said or wrote about Nuptse or horseshoe. He was waiting for his Sherpa friend Tenji to recover from frostbite and reach together the West Shoulder.”

On Monday, I had written to some top climbers asking how they had experienced Ueli. Two other answers reached me.

Auer: “Steck inspired and encouraged us”

Hansjoerg Auer

The 33-year-old Austrian Hansjoerg Auer was shocked by the news of Steck’s death during a trip in the USA:

“Ueli was someone who did his climbing with full passion and personal commitment. He did not only inspire many alpinists, but also encouraged us with his ideas to continue going the next step to redefine our culture of mountaineering. I was able to discuss this topic with him a few times. And I will never forget his very personal, respectful and encouraging email after my loss of Gerry [Fiegl] on Nilgiri South [In fall 2015, the Austrian Fiegl fell to death on the descent from the 6839-meter-high mountain in the West of Nepal]. Good-bye, Ueli!”

Papert: “To the limits of the humanly possible”

Ines Papert

The 43-year-old German top-climber Ines Papert sent me these thoughtful words:

“I shed tears over Ueli’s loss. He has moved unbelievable things in alpinism and set new standards.

But no man is immortal, neither is Ueli. Nevertheless the news has hit me very hard, even if it did not come completely unexpected. Over the years, I’ve always been a bit worried and I wondered how far you can push the limits without running the risk of losing your life. I’m sure he knew how close he was to the edge. Criticizing this is absolutely presumptuous, because it was HIS life, a life in the mountains. He LIVED this life and was certainly happy.

But I always hoped that he would not find too many imitators with his access to alpinism. Light and fast can considerably reduce the risk on high mountains, to a certain extent. But the further you play the game, the closer you are to death. Ueli was aware of this, because he was not only incredibly motivated and strong but also an intelligent man.

It is many years back that we climbed together the route “Blaue Lagune” on the Wendenstöcke  [mountain massive in the Uri Alps in Switzerland] and that we were sitting in a Pizzeria in the Val di Cogne [side valley of the Aosta Valley in Italy] discussing ethical issues in mixed climbing. At the time, he was at the beginning of his career, but his enthusiasm, almost obsession for climbing and his ambition of exceeding limits was clearly noticeable. Later I could follow his successes only from the media, he had developed into a completely different direction than myself.

I always admired how far he was able to push his body and mind to the limits of the humanly possible. At the same time, I always feared that one day it would go wrong. It is a little comforting that he stayed where his home was: in the mountains of the world.”


3. May 2017 | 13:06