Here’s a story that I didn’t expect to be writing. Ueli Steck, the amazing Swiss mountaineer who has put together some of the most impressive climbs in the Alps and Himalaya in recent memory is back in Nepal this fall and preparing to take on one of the most notoriously tough mountains in the world. Ueli, along with his climbing partner Don Bowie, have set their sights on Annapurna this fall. They hope that the post-monsoon climbing season will provide more stability on the mountain, allowing Ueli to reach the summit that has eluded him twice in the past.
The reason I’m surprised to be writing this story is because of the now infamous showdown between Steck and his two teammates (Simone Moro and Jonathan Griffith) with an angry mob of Sherpas this past spring. That incident got plenty of coverage even outside the traditional mountaineering community and after he had returned home, Ueli was fairly vocal about his feelings, even going so far as to say that he would possibly not ever return to Nepal or the Himalaya. Obviously a little time and perspective have changed those feelings and it is good to see him return to the big mountains.
Ueli and Don should now be in Kathmandu where they’ll spend the next few days organizing their gear and preparing for the climb. By the weekend they will be off to Pokhara where they’ll begin their trek to Annapurna Base Camp. Once on the mountain, they intend to survey the conditions there and decide which is the best route to take to the top. They’ll also be shuttling their own gear up and down the mountain, so it sounds like they’ll be making this climb with little or now Sherpa assistance.
As mentioned, this will be Ueli’s third attempt on Annapurna having been turned back from the summit in both 2007 and 2008. Both of those expeditions took place in the spring however where there warmer weather brings unstable conditions and deadly avalanches. Additionally, pre-monsoon moisture brings plenty of snow to the mountain, which makes it even more unsafe to climb.
With an altitude of 8091 meters (26,545 ft), Annapurna isn’t even close to being as tall as Everest or K2. But what it lacks in height it makes up for in pure challenge. The mountain has a fearsome reputation for being one of the most difficult in the world to climb and for having the highest death rate of any of the 8000 meter peaks. The fatality-to-summit ratio exceeds 38%, which means that more than a third of those who attempt reach the top die in the process.
It will take some time before Ueli and Don actually begin the climb itself but their permit is good until November 15. That means they have the better part of two months to get settled into Base Camp, acclimatize to the altitude and launch their summit bid. Hopefully they’ll find fall in the Himalaya to their liking and Annapurna more forgiving than it has been in the past. I’ll certainly be watching this one unfold with great interest. Stay tuned for more updates soon.