Ueli Steck Blazes Matterhorn North Face

Steck’s third speed record on the biggest north faces of the Alps

One hour, fifty-six minutes. And a few seconds. For most of us, that’s enough time to watch a movie or go grocery shopping, but for the 32-year-old Swiss climber Ueli Steck, that’s enough to get up the classic Schmidt Route (1100m, TD/ED) on the north face of the Matterhorn. That’s around 1800 vertical feet per hour. Steck set this record on January 13th of this year, polishing off his three-year goal to speed solo the three biggest north faces of the Alps, starting with the north face of the Eiger via the 1800-meter Heckmair Route in two hours and forty-seven minutes on February 13th of last year and the north face of the Grandes Jorasses via the Colton-Macintyre Route, 1100 meters of technical ice and mixed climbing, in two hours and twenty-one minutes.

Steck’s career goes far beyond his recent enthusiasm for alpine speed soloing. In a previous issue of Rock and Ice (The Lone Warrior, #156), Martin Guttman interviews Steck about “one of the most impressive alpine resumes of his generation.” Steck has tucked under his belt a new route on the north face of Gasherbrum II East (25,499 feet), a solo of the Young Spiders (5.11d A2 WI6 M7) on the Eiger North Face, and a 25-hour record soloing the Bonatti Route on the Matterhorn. In 2006, he soloed new routes on the north face of Cholatse (21,129 feet) and the east face of Tawoche (21,341 feet). When he and Sean Easton established a heinously difficult new route on the east face of Mount Dickey (A1 M7+ WI6 X), Easton referred to him as “the most talented alpine climber I have yet tied into a rope with.” Despite his impressive partnered climbs, Steck prefers to solo, carrying a rope only in case he needs to bail off. In response to a question about his affinity for soloing, Steck says that “climbing with such a large group is not quite real climbing.”

Steck, originally a carpenter, is now a full-time climber with, as he puts it, “always some paperwork to take care of.” In an interview with Planet Mountain, he says that he wants to change directions a bit. Satisfied with his European conquests, he mentions the Himalayas, where “with this background, I feel a new dimension is possible. We’ll see.”

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