Inside Ueli Steck’s 82 Summits Project
The "Swiss Machine" is halfway through an undertaking to summit 82 peaks across Western Europe in 80 days. How’s he holding up?
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Ueli Steck is called the Swiss Machine for a reason: His mountaineering skill is precise, and his ability to speed climb difficult peaks is exceptional. Steck holds numerous records in the Alps and Himalayas, he holds the solo speed record on the Matterhorn’s north face, and three years ago he hiked to the summit of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen.
Last month, he set off on his latest undertaking, the 82Summits Project, which involves achieving—wait for it—82 summits (higher than 13,000 feet) in the Swiss, Italian, and French Alps in 80 days, with “no engine—just pure human power,” according to the project’s Facebook page. To do it, he's using his bike, feet, and a paraglider.
If he succeeds, he’ll break the speed record for most 4,000-meter peaks climbed in the Alps, which was set in 2006 when Slovenian mountaineer Miha Valic summited the 82 peaks in 102 days. (Valic also drove between the mountains in a van.)
Steck initially set out with German alpinist Michael Wohlleben, but Wohlleben dropped the project in late June after suffering a leg injury on a rough paraglider landing coming off of Schreckhorn in Switzerland. Steck has continued the project, accompanied by friends, alpinist partners, and his wife for different legs—and simply going solo on some peaks. Just a week after this interview took place, on July 22, the project suffered another tragedy when one of Steck's partners, Dutchman Martijn Seuren, died in a fall on the border of France and Italy. These incidents serve as reminders that even though Steck and his partners are pros, these expeditions are serious undertakings.
With Steck past the halfway mark, we checked in to get a sense of how he's getting through and what his days look like.
OUTSIDE: What is a typical day like?
STECK: Most days I start very early, between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Each day involves lots of cycling, running, hiking, climbing, and flying [paragliders]. Some days I climb by myself and sometimes I have partners. I’ve been finishing between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. every night and by then I’m usually ready to eat and sleep.
What’s been the longest day so far?
The Monte Rosa Traverse. We climbed 18 summits in one day. This section of climbing and hiking is often called the Spaghetti Traverse become for most of the days the huts are on the Italian side, so often you get pasta for dinner.
What have you been eating?
Tons of food. Lots of Powerbars, but lots of real food. I’ve been staying in a lot of mountain huts so dinner is anything from pasta with potatoes, to vegetables, to meat and salad. Whatever we can get. Breakfast is usually bread, butter, and jam.
Do you have a favorite peak or section?
No, I just enjoy every day. All in all, it’s just a great journey. Meeting people in the huts, running through the mountains, and just being outside every day.
Did the project change when Wohlleben was injured?
Since Michi was injured, everything changed. He walked out alone after the crash and climbed for the next couple days but he had too much pain and was moving way too slow. Now I climb with different people all the time. Some days I climb easy with my wife, Nicole. Other days I climb alone. I had a great day climbing with Andreas Stendl, a mountain guide from Zermatt and part of the Swiss Ski Alpinism Team. It was so great to run through the mountains with him.