With a laundry list of speed records, link ups, and solo missions, including this year’s staggering ascent of the Eiger North Face on Feb. 13 in 2:47:33, Swiss Alpinist and SCARPA athlete Ueli Steck has earned a place in climbing’s haloed ground by taking light-and-fast alpinism to a new dimension.
The 36-year-old says he’s getting old, but that doesn’t seem the case, as he has hushed plans for the coming year. We caught up with him briefly to chat about his views on speed ascents and what it takes to make quick work of some of the world’s classic test pieces.
He’s sparse on words, preferring to let his climbs do the talking, but what he does say speaks volumes.
When did you first get into speed climbing? What was the allure?
I first got into speed climbing in 2007 on the Eiger. I liked the French in the early 80s—Christophe Profit climbed the Eiger, Matterhorn, and Jorasses in 25 hours. The whole French nation was very clear about style.
Has your training changed over the years? What part of training has helped you the most?
I work very precisely now. It’s about 1,200 hours per year, climbing a lot, indoors too, and running. In winter, I add cross-country skiing.
What’s the hardest part of the mental game for you?
It’s about not looking too much to the left, too much to the right, but just believing you are doing a good job.
What are the different dangers and/or rewards with this sort of climbing?
It’s fast. You have do be able to decide very fast. There is a lot of potential danger in it.
Is this the trend in state-of-the-art mountaineering? Why or why not?
The absolute speed is not the state-of-the-art, but to be able to climb something fast because you know how to move fast is state-of-the-art. What is nicer, climbing El Cap in a day and having pizza at the restaurant, or hanging up there for days, and run out of food and water, and get hit by a thunderstorm?
How does equipment choice play a part in speed climbing and what SCARPA boots are you currently using? Why?
The best shoe I have is still a prototype, and maybe some day SCARPA will bring it to the market. Other than that shoe, the Phantom 6000 and Phantom Ultra are my favorites.
What are your plans for the coming winter?
First I climb, then I talk!