What do you do when you’re a world-class climber coming off a disappointing season in the Himalaya where you were caught up in one of the biggest Everest stories in recent memory? If you’re Ueli Steck, you look for new challenges in your own backyard. In this case, that means speed-climbing the longest and toughest ridge in the Alps in impressive fashion.
Last week, Ueli set his sights on the Intégrale de Peuterey, a very long and difficult ridge that culminates at the summit of Mont Blanc du Courmayuer. This route features a vertical gain of 4500 meters (14,764 ft) and typically takes about 2-3 days for most climbers to complete. But most climbers aren’t Ueli Steck, a man who has made a career out of going light and ver fast in the Alps. This time out he managed to knock of the entire climb – both up and down – in a little over 16 hours.
The ascent began well before dawn on August 12. With his camp located an additional 1000 meters (3280 ft) below the Intégrale de Peuterey, Ueli set off in running shoes traveling as quickly as he could. He covered that first 1000 meters in about an hour and then moved out onto the ridge itself. His pack was filled with only the bare essentials including a light down jacket, 60 meters or rope and assorted other climbing gear. He chewed through the early stages of the ascent in typical fashion – which is to say very fast – and switched over to his climbing shoes as he transitioned off the trail and onto the mixed rock, snow and ice that would be the crux of the challenge.
Traveling solo, Ueli was able to go at his own pace and made great progress, even when he encountered a pair of other climbers making the same ascent. He gave them a wide berth so as to not kick rocks back down upon them as he went by, leaving those climbers to wonder who was the speed demon that just left them in the dust.
The Swiss climber reached the summit of the Mont Blanc du Courmayuer just before 3:00 PM local time. That meant he had gone from his tent to the summit in under 11 hours. He took a few moments o enjoy the accomplishment before starting back down, crossing over to Mont Blanc proper and heading to the Dome de Gouter before descending into the Chamonix valley. By the time he passed the church in the village of Les Houches he had been on the move for just over 16 hours. He arrived back at his tent a short time later and immediately climbed into his sleeping bag for a much deserved nap. It had been a good day to climb in the Alps.
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