The Washington Post reports the speed-climber, a hero to the international Alpinist community, died from a fall on Sunday.
The last time Ueli Steck traversed the route near Mount Everest that would eventually kill him, the famed Swiss climber was forced to flee from a brawl with angry Sherpas.
That was in 2013, and the incident made Steck â€” considered the most accomplished mountaineer of his time â€” question whether heâ€™d ever again return to Everest.
But this month, he gave the worldâ€™s highest peak another shot, plotting out a route in Nepal that had been completed only once before. It connects the summits of Everest and Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain, a course Steck, 40, told a Swiss newspaper was more about the physical challenge than the adventure checklist.
â€œFailure for me,â€ he said, â€œwould be to die and not come home.â€
So it came as a shock to the climbing world Sunday when Nepalese officials announced that Steck, a man nicknamed the â€œSwiss Machineâ€ for his unparalleled athletic abilities, had died.
His was the first casualty of the Everest climbing season.
â€œI canâ€™t express what a loss this is to the mountaineering community,â€ renowned climber Alan Arnette of Colorado told the Himalayan Times. â€œUeli loved Nepal, Everest and the Himalaya.â€
Mingma Sherpa of Seven Summit Treks told the Associated Press that Steck died at Camp 1 of Mount Nuptse. He reportedly fell 3,280 feet down the mountain, which he had climbed to acclimate to the altitude before tackling Everest and Lhotse in May. Steck was alone because his trekking partner, Tenji Sherpa, had stayed behind at Everest Base Camp with a frostbitten hand, reported the New York Times.
Steckâ€™s body was recovered from the site and flown by helicopter to Lukla, the only town near Everest with an airport.
Nick Paumgarten, in the New Yorker:
I was surprised to hear that he had returned to a place he disdained for its crowds and its bitter base-camp politics. Steck was forty. He reportedly fell on Nuptse, an adjacent peak, which he was climbing in order to acclimatize to the altitude. He was in Nepal for another attempt at a routeâ€”one connecting the summits of Everest and Lhotseâ€”that heâ€™d had to abandon in 2013, after being attacked by Sherpas.
He and his climbing partner that year, the Italian Simone Moro, had got into a dispute with a group of Sherpas who were fixing ropes on the Lhotse Face and felt that the climbers were endangering them. Moro called one of them a â€œmotherfuckerâ€ in Nepali, a grave insult. A group of Sherpas later attacked Steck and Moro with rocks, at Camp 2. The climbers, convinced that their lives were in danger, fled down the Khumbu Icefall.
Many armchair observers, including me, tried to parse this incident, but, in the final accounting, I think itâ€™s safe to say that Steck was not the cultural imperialist that some critics (including the Swiss papers) made him out to be. But he was certainly hardheaded and single-minded, to the point of being relatively heedless of the opinions of others, be they Sherpa or Swiss. He was an extraordinarily fit and talented alpine athlete, a bit of a freak, really. He didnâ€™t love his nicknameâ€”the Swiss Machineâ€”but it suited him.
Steck achieved fame, first, for his record speed climbs of the great north faces of the Alps, most notably the Eiger. His bewildering solo ascent, in the fall of 2013, of the south face of Annapurna, perhaps the greatest challenge in mountaineering, was a kind of a career capstone.