Behind the Scenes: Lobuche

Behind the Scenes: Three Things About Ueli

Ueli Steck’s Project: Himalaya
Part 5: Lobuche
Chronicled by Freddie Wilkinson

The nice thing about trekking and acclimatizing is that there’s plenty of time to talk. Ueli, Rob, Jim, Ongchhu and I left Namche and headed up-valley; it took another two days of trail time to reach Lobuche, a small cluster of sheet-metal and stone buildings tucked behind the lateral moraine of the Khumbu glacier. We rested there for a day, then scrambled to the summit ridge of Lobuche East, at around 6000 meters, to sleep for the night. Along the way, I learned three things about Ueli Steck:

The Importance of Sweat Equity
It’s no secret by now that the foundation for Ueli’s alpine achievements is an old fashioned work ethic – to prepare for his 8,000 meter projects this year, for instance, Ueli logged 1,200 hours of cardio training over the last 12 months. Think about it: over two and half hours of running or nordic skiing. Every. Single. Day. Not surprisingly, the value of hard work and commitment are something he learned at a young age, from his parents. The youngest of three boys, Ueli compelled himself to keep up with his older siblings: “We grew up in this small Swiss town, and ice hockey was just the sport to do…”, he told me. “My father was strict, but to play ice hockey, he was always fully behind us, my parents always supported us.” When Ueli’s athletic imagination turned him towards climbing, his Dad had only one piece of advice. “’He said, ‘I don’t care what you do, but I’m happy when you do something, and not just hang around… But, I’ll tell you something, if you do a sport, you should try to do it as good as you can.”

Comics + the Caffeine Gene
Last year, I was quoted in Sender Films’ movie about Ueli, The Swiss Machine, asking a rhetorical question… Does he ever go out and get drunk? Does the guy have any vices? Well, it didn’t take long to find the answer. Ueli’s a serious caffeine freak. I’m talking about a dude who takes zippers out of sleeping bags to shave weight, but isn’t afraid to carry a stainless steel espresso-maker and related paraphernalia with him everywhere. Then, there’s his weird affinity for cartoons and comics. At nearly 20,000 feet, as we were settling in for a night on the summit of Lobuche, the “world’s fastest alpinist” reached into his pack and pulled out… a comic book?!? Late into the night, as I lay curled in my sleeping bag trying to stave off a bout of chain-stokes breathing and finally get some sleep, muffled giggles drifted from his side of the tent.

“No Matter What Happens, The World Will Still Turn”
True to his meticulous Swiss nature, Ueli has planned for Project: Himalaya for over a year. And you can be certain – when the time comes – he will channel every ounce of energy towards getting to the summit. But Ueli also has a decade worth of hardcore Himalayan experience to remind him that no matter how hard you try, failure is sometimes part of the game. Having lived through harrowing experiences such as his heroic (and ultimately, tragic) rescue attempt of Inaki Ochoa de Olza on Annapurna in 2008, he is intimately aware of the consequences of poor decision-making and pushing the limits too far. This knowledge will keep him grounded in the coming months – as Ueli told me when I asked about any pressure he might be feeling : “No matter what happens, the world will still turn in the same direction… that is the most important thing to remember.”

2 Comments

  1. Szabi
    Posted May 5, 2011 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    Mister Wilkinson you can forward this message to Ueli ? He can be sure that the world can turn regardless what we do, but our world (mankind ) can “turn” only because explorers like Ueli “really push the limit” . Otherwise we were now in stone age.

    Best regards,

    Szabolcs

  2. Tom
    Posted May 5, 2011 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    MountSalute for ChoOyu now Ueli. If anybody deserve is you and all team. I am so happy for your such a great crystal clear ascents in comparison with heavy – trashy, crazy so called “expeditions” of this modern commercial era.

    Best regards. Tom

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