Although renowned for his extraordinary speed ascents of alpine giants, what characterised his talk last night was really his attitude to managing risk. Of course we all marvel at his incredible focus and rate of ascent (his pace ascending the Eiger North face was quicker than I had jogged up Exhibition Road to arrive at his lecture on time!). However, it his humility and realistic attitude towards risk in the mountains that made the greatest impression on most of us last night.
He has clearly been affected by the loss of life he has encountered in the mountains and places great emphasis on following your own instincts and using your own judgement. The signs are always there – don’t ignore them. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Don’t be afraid to turn back – it can mean you live to climb another day.
When asked if he would repeat his speed ascents if others surpassed his various records, his response was an emphatic NO. He knows that course can only end one way.
He is not comfortable with the media’s “Swiss Machine” label. Whilst he is flattered by the attention and it has obviously helped him to do what he loves, he was also at pains to stress that he really is just an ordinary person.
Ueli Steck is certainly not reckless, far from it. He is very focused and trains incredibly hard (80% training for 20% climbing) to ensure that he has the strength and stamina in reserve when he needs it on the hill.
“Summit or bust” is just not in his repertoire, as demonstrated by his smart decision to turn around just below the summit of Everest on an earlier attempt without supplementary oxygen. He knew he was too cold and keeping his toes for future climbs was more important than summiting.
He sets a great example. Don’t judge yourself by the best that others can do on a particular day. Few of us could ever climb as fast or hard as Ueli Steck but we can all learn a great deal from his attitude and approach.
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