Ueli Steck’s solo attempt to climb a new route on Annapurna’s (8091m) south face ended last week on May 21, when he survived a 300-meter fall.
After waiting many days for heavy storms to dissipate and a weather window to open, Steck began his attempt up the 3,000-meter face on May 21. Approximately 300 meters up the face on his first day, he was struck by rockfall, which knocked him to the base of the wall. He descended on his own to base camp with only minor injuries.
His line of choice was the one Jean-Christophe Lafaille and Pierre Beghin began fifteen years ago; their unsuccessful 1992 attempt ended with even greater tragedy, as Beghin fell to his death from 7100 meters (see Lafaille’s “A Climber’s Tale” in Issue 14). Laifalle spent five days returning to base camp. Annapurna, especially the south face, is known for its dangerous terrain and avalanche-prone slopes. Statistically, Annapurna is the deadliest peak in the world.
Steck is one of the world’s most accomplished light and extremely fast solo climbers. A long-time proponent of shredding every ounce of weight and a long-time critic of supplemental oxygen, Steck carried fewer than twenty pounds of gear and food for the planned four or five-day solo ascent on Annapurna.
Of recent note Steck soloed the Eiger Nordwand (3970m) in a record time of 3:54 this February (see the March 6 NewsWire for more information). In 2004 he made the first solo ascent of Cholatse’s (6440m) north face (ca. 1500m) and then climbed Taboche’s (6501m) east face, back to back. Poor conditions kept him at the base of Ama Dablam’s (6812m) northeast face, which he also hoped to solo for a triple enchainment. He called the project “Khumbu Express,” and on that trip he decided he would attempt an 8000-meter peak solo. “The south face of Annapurna looked most appealing,” he said, comparing it to his “home mountain,” the Eiger. After his speed ascent on the Eiger in February, Steck studied the south face of Annapurna for a month and acclimatized by trekking and climbing in the Khumbu, where he made another ascent of Cholatse.
Steck has called off his plans on Annapurna since the accident. He will fly back to Switzerland later this week.