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  • Swiss climber's 'greatest' Himalayan ascent | World news | The Observer

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    Swiss climber's 'greatest' Himalayan ascent
    Ueli Steck, in the headlines after a row with Sherpas on Everest earlier this year, has made the first ever solo climb of Annapurna's feared south face, a feat that has amazed his fellow mountaineers
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    Peter Beaumont
    The Observer ,
    Sunday 13 October 2013
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    Swiss mountaineer Ueli Steck, who has conquered the south face of Annapurna solo. Photograph: Jimmy Chin/National Geographic Society/Corbis
    northface This spring the Swiss climber Ueli Steck, one of the world's most accomplished and fastest mountaineers, was thrust into the glare of the media spotlight after he was attacked with two companions by a group of angry Sherpas on Everest.<a href="http://www.northfacetents.com">the north face sale</a> Now Steck, 37, is being talked about for a different reason – a ropeless and lightning-fast solo ascent of Annapurna's gigantic south face – which is already being hailed as one of the greatest in modern Himalayan mountaineering .<a href="http://www.northfacetents.com">the north face outlet online sale</a> Although the details remain sketchy, it appears that Steck – nicknamed the "Swiss machine" – made the 2,500-metre face's first ever solo ascent, without oxygen and in a single push from his base camp to the 8,091-metre summit and back.north face jackets Steck recorded his achievement with a short text message on his return to base camp: "Summit, alone, south face."north face jackets The British climber Jon Griffith – who is a friend of Steck and was with him during the altercation on Everest earlier this year, when they were attacked by a large group of Sherpas, some armed with rocks – confirmed the ascent and described his friend as "shattered".the north face outlet "He has just gone and soloed it," he told the Observer from his home in Chamonix in the French Alps on Friday. "When Ueli releases all the details it will be recognised for what it is – truly phenomenal – a mind-blowing effort."The ascent was quickly applauded by Climbing magazine's Dougald Macdonald as a "landmark ascent in Himalayan mountaineering".Before setting off for Annapurna, Steck wrote of his motivation on his blog : "To walk through life in a comfortable way is not my goal. That is why I want to try to climb Annapurna a third time … I would like to turn my dreams and visions into reality."Steck's ascent last week came at his third attempt on the face in recent years, the details of which put his achievement in context.Although Annapurna was the first of 14 Himalayan 8,000-metre peaks to be climbed – by a French expedition in 1950 – the first ascent of the towering south face would wait another 20 years. Then it was climbed in 1970 by an expedition led by Sir Chris Bonington, whose companions Dougal Haston and Don Whillans reached the summit.Annapurna is regarded as the most dangerous of the 8,000-metre peaks while its south face, which funnels avalanches and rock falls, is regarded as one of its toughest undertakings.Steck's own first attempt on the face in 2007 saw him attempt a hard new unclimbed line. It was first attempted unsuccessfully by Pierre Béghin and Jean-Christophe Lafaille in 1992. Beghin fell to his death and Lafaille was forced to climb down the face alone in one of mountaineering's greatest feats of survival.On that first attempt, however, Steck only narrowly survived himself after falling some 300 metres down the face after being hit by rock fall.He abandoned a second solo attempt the following year to join an effort to rescue another stricken climber, the Spaniard Iñaki Ochoa de Olza, who had suffered a seizure on the mountain and later died. After the tragedy on that attempt, Steck admitted he needed time before returning to the mountain.Steck, who has previously climbed the Eiger's notorious north face in winter in less than four hours, is regarded as one of the leading exponents of extremely fast, lightweight mountaineering, carrying little except food and liquids and climbing non-stop.Bonington, 79, who has met Steck, was effusive in his praise. "He is a fantastic climber as well as a very nice guy," he said. "It is a really spectacular undertaking and a sign that Himalayan climbing is very much alive, despite all the media attention on the queues on Everest each year."Steck's ascent is doubly impressive given that he was forced to quit Everest earlier this year following the Sherpa incident high on the mountain's slopes. He had reportedly left the Himalayas feeling despondent.Speaking to the news website Swissinfo before returning to Nepal , he had been phlegmatic. "After what happened in spring, coming back to Nepal is really important for me … the spring expedition is over, and it was certainly not the greatest story I've ever had, but it happened."The south face of Annapurna is an old project," he added. "I have attempted it twice already and I guess you need patience if you want to climb hard routes on an 8,000-metre peak."On this attempt Steck had been with the Canadian climber Don Bowie , who had accompanied him on several acclimatisation trips lower on the mountain. On Saturday the two men were returning to the town of Pokhara, promising more updates when they arrived.
    ANNAPURNA RECORD-BREAKERS
    1950 First ascent The world's 10th-highest mountain, at 8,091 metres, Annapurna is regarded as the most dangerous, with a fatality to successful ascent ratio of almost 40%. It was the first of the world's 14 8,000-metre peaks to be climbed – by the Frenchmen Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal – three years before Everest was first conquered. Herzog subsequently lost all of his toes and most of his fingers to the frostbite he suffered. 1970 First ascent of the south face The second ascent, by a British army expedition, was overshadowed by the first ascent of the towering south face by Don Whillans and Dougal Haston, part of an expedition led by Chris Bonington and described in his book, Annapurna South Face . A member of the party, Ian Clough, was killed by falling ice. 1987 First winter ascent Polish climbers Jerzy Kukuczka and Artur Hajzer climbed the mountain in 16 days. 2007 First solo ascent of south face to eastern summit The Slovenian alpinist Tomaz Humar, who would die two years later on Langtang Lirung, climbed an already established route that finished on the mountain's subsidiary and slightly lower eastern peak, rather than on the main summit. 2013 First complete solo ascent of south face to the main summit According to a report in the Swiss media, Ueli Steck's new climb follows hard terrain first attempted unsuccessfully by Pierre Béghin and Jean-Christophe Lafaille in 1992, when Béghin died. It follows snow slopes to a prominent rock buttress on the left of the face before joining the British route at the summit ridge.
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    About this article
    Swiss climber's 'greatest' Himalayan ascent
    This article appeared on p20 of the Main section section of
    the Observer
    on Sunday 13 October 2013 .
    It was published on
    the Guardian website
    at 00.06 BST on Sunday 13 October 2013 .
    It was last modified at 06.41 BST on Sunday 13 October 2013 .
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