Behind the Scenes: Kathmandu

Mountain Hardwear Proudly Presents:
Ueli Steck’s Project: Himalaya
Part 2: Kathmandu
Chronicled by Freddie Wilkinson

The world first heard of Ueli Steck in the inaugural issue of Alpinist Magazine, back in 2002. Ueli, with Canadian badass Sean Easton, had pulled off an incredible ascent on East Face of Mount Dickey, a mixed horror show they dubbed “Blood From Stone”. In only three days, the pair merged big-wall climbing with cutting edge mixed-techniques – the equivalent of ascending a face half-again as big as El Cap with ice tools and crampons. Because the ascent was so startling, and occurred on a relatively low-altitude peak lacking big-name stature, it escaped attention for many mainstream adventure media outlets. Only the true alpine crazies recognized the achievement for what it was: a ground-breaking achievement that heralded the arrival of a world class talent.

In the ten years since then, Ueli has racked up one of the most impressive and diverse list of climbing accomplishments . With 5.13 solos, 5.14 and M12 redpoints, a heartbreakingly close near-miss at the coveted first free onsight of an El Cap route, and a trilogy of speed records on the Alps three great North faces, he’s done it all. The breadth and athletic mastery of his climbing resume is a thrilling look at the future of the sport, and it’s fair to say Ueli may well be the first alpine great of the 21st century.

Now, he’s turning his talent to the highest mountains on earth – which is why Rob, Jim and I are here in Nepal after flying half way around the world. Our mission over the next month is to document Ueli’s final preparations as he readies for a five month odyssey he’s dubbed Project: Himalaya.

Anyway — truth be told — I felt a long way removed from the majestic world above 8,000 meters and histrionic sound-bites about the future of alpinism as we navigated the teeming streets of Kathmandu. It’s easy to idealize the city, and the place is, in a very deep sense, romantic. Walking the streets of Nepal’s capital city gives a glimpse at the rich pageant of culture created by the country’s more than hundred-fifty ethnic identities, a way of life that is both mesmerizing and indecipherable. But such enriching global interactions come hand-in-hand with mind-numbing poverty and fist-clenching inefficiency. As with most expeditions bound for the Nepalese Himalaya, we tried to get in and out of Kathmandu as quickly as possible.

Ueli’s already been in-country for ten days, enjoying a much-needed trekking holiday with his wife. Meanwhile we busied ourselves with a laundry list of last minute shopping missions, meetings with local logistics captains to arrange our permits and itinerary, the necessary homework of any successful Himalayan expedition.

Freddie getting a last shave in.

The sure highlight of Kathmandu was the opportunity to connect with old friends – chief among them Tendi Sherpa, who is both the co-proprietor, with Jamling Norgay, of Mountain Hardwear Nepal, and owner of Air Dynasty helicopter service (Please Link: Next time you are in Kathmandu, be sure to stop by Tendi’s flagship Mountain Hardwear store, located in the heart of Thamel.

Tendi’s flagship Mountain Hardwear store in Thamel

Here’s a quick down-and-dirty video blog of our Kathmandu escapades provided by our own Jim Aikman:

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