On April 30, while climbing on Nuptse, near Everest, alpinist and speed mountaineer Ueli Steck fell to his death. In the hours following, notes and remembrances from the climbers and athletes who knew him best began pouring in through social media and emails to Outside. Here’s how the man known as the “Swiss Machine” will be remembered by the community.
Thank you Ueli for being a mentor in alpinism and a constant source of inspiration. Every climb with you was a learning to keep improving along with a mountain lover. My thoughts are with Ueli’s family and friends. In loving memory Ueli Steck
Phil Powers, CEO of the American Alpine Club, via Facebook:
Ueli was one of those rare people who changed our ideas of what is possible in the mountains. His fast ascents of giant peaks inspired us all. Mostly though, I will remember Ueli as a kind and generous man with whom I was honored to share a rope. I’m terribly sorry for his wife and family.
Alex Honnold, professional rock climber, in a phone call to Outside:
Last summer, I was in Switzerland and we climbed together. It feels like we were just at his house having dinner. We had some rice and veggie dish. Fondue was not his jam. It’s fair to call him one of the most cutting-edge climbers and certainly one of the fastest. He was the first to bring Olympic-style training to the sport. I think the thing that I took away from spending time with him was his dedication to training. Climbing is a lifestyle, but he was one of the first to systematically take the sport to another level. He was at such a high level and so disciplined. We’d go climbing together, and he’d be climbing as hard as we were, but then he’d go for a really long trail run. The climbing was just one tiny piece of his day. He’d be the first to tell you he wasn’t the most talented climber, but he worked and worked at it until he became the climber he wanted to be. Ueli was so solid. I’m starting to realize, though, that doesn’t matter. I though the same about Dean Potter. There’s always a degree of randomness involved.
Dan Patitucci, photographer and Steck’s training partner, in a phone call to Outside:
Before Ueli left, I’d never seen him so happy. He was by far in the best shape I’ve ever seen him. The guy was never not fit, but this was a whole new level. He was so comfortable in his own skin and had just recognized how hard he’d been working. A message came through a few days ago that he’d run from base camp to Camp II in 4.5 hours. It’d take most people days to do that.
We trained a lot together. I remember one time, I passed him on a run up the Harder (a steep ridge run over Interlaken). I joked, “You’re getting passed by a 48-year-old man!” and he grumbled something. Who knows, maybe he was having a slow day.
Sometimes, after he came back from big expeditions, he’d kind of go through an almost PTSD period. He’d question what do to next. Should he retire or become a professional in the working world, thoughts like that. His training would drop off for a bit. His coach would tell him to rest. Then all of a sudden, he’d get this idea, and it would come out of the blue—I know what I’m going to do next!—and it’d be full-steam ahead again. Everything was 100 percent.
Adrian Ballinger, mountaineer and Everest guide, via Instagram:
Today we climbed 12 miles and 5,000 feet of vertical back up to 21,000 feet, without connectivity. We walked into ABC tired and worked, and then received the news that took the light out of the day. Ueli inspired every climber I know. His fitness, passion, talent, and ultimately his dedication to the mountains were something I could only aspire to, never reach. Thank you for pushing us through your example. We will continue to strive.
Melissa Arnot Reid, mountaineer, in an email to Outside:
The first time I believed in myself in the mountains was when Ueli told me he believed I could climb Everest without oxygen. He said he saw the drive and knew I could do it. That season (2013), we shared Swiss rostis and a lot of laughs. The most important thing about him, to me, was that he truly felt happiness even without success, he loved the pursuit. Last season, as I was on my way to summit Everest without oxygen, I texted his sat phone (he was on Shishapangma) and told him I was going for it. He said, “Do it!” and I knew he was with me.
This season, he was pursuing a longtime goal. I was planning to meet him at BC, and we had been exchanging text messages, mostly me calling him the Eiger Tiger and telling him he was pretty fast for an old guy (both of which annoyed him in a friendly way). He asked me to wait for him to come down today, Sunday. My life is immeasurably better for having known his passion and encouragement. There is a place in climbing and in life that no one can fill.
Jonathan Siegrist, professional rock climber, via Instagram:
I had the pleasure to spend some days climbing and bullshitting with Ueli last year while I lived in Switzerland. I was struck by his generosity, his enthusiasm, and his kindness. He inspired me. Apart from his absolutely legendary resume, Ueli was a damn good human. One of the good ones. You’ll be missed my friend.
The Swiss Machine. Forever a Legend. R.I.P. Ueli Steck. He was in the process of establishing a new route up #Everest without the supplemental aid of oxygen. Ueli was one of the most recognizable #alpinists in the world. His stamina and strength were unparalleled, yet nothing is certain. The mountains are unpredictable. Ueli lived his life to the limit. Each day, anything can happen; whether you are crossing the street or have a sudden health issue. Live each day being the person you want to be and surrounded by the souls you love. You never know when it will be your last. #legendsneverdie
Peter Mortimer, founder of Sender Films, in a phone call to Outside:
Writer Tim Neville contributed reporting for this article.