Steck en route during his speed ascent of the Ginat route (ED: V M4+ 85 degrees, 1000m) above Chamonix on January 19. Though his time of 2 hours and 8 minutes is not a confirmed record, it is faster than Christophe Profit’s previous speed record on Ginat, 2:30. [Photo] Jonathan Griffith
Ueli Steck, the talented and speedy Swiss mountaineer, has soloed the Ginat route (ED: V M4+ 85 degrees, 1000m), the classic north-face line on Les Droites (4001m) in the French Alps above Chamonix. Though the ice route has been solo climbed numerous times, Steck made the ascent on January 19 in what may be record time: 2 hours and 8 minutes.
Photographer Jonathan Griffith said that Steck climbed the route for fun, not speed. Prior to the ascent, Steck had neither alpine climbed for two months nor fully acclimatized. Griffith added that Steck’s speed is particularly notable when considering that “the route was pretty inundated with powder, which made progress pretty slow for him at times.”
“There was no track and the route had not seen an ascent yet this year,” Griffith wrote on his blog. “Once up on the headwall Ueli picked up speed again and cruised through the difficulties. Thin ice on the final pitch of the headwall forced him to take the harder mixed variation which 1000m off the deck is a serious proposition. As we sat barely 100m away in a helicopter filming even Pascal Brun, the legendary heli pilot from Chamonix who must have seen everything there is to see in the Alps, commented about how amazingly agile and at home he looked on even this hard section.”
Christophe Profit, the French alpinist famous for his difficult solo climbs and enchainments, previously held the fastest recorded ascent of the Ginat route with a time of 2:30.
Steck transitions into a steep section of mixed climbing on his solo ascent of the Ginat route. [Photo] Jonathan Griffith
Last year Steck summited two 8000-meter peaks, Gasherbrum II and Makalu, and nearly onsighted El Capitan’s Golden Gate (5.13b). Before that he climbed the Eigernordwand’s hardest free route, Paciencia (8a [5.13b], 23 pitches, 900m), and set speed records on that face in both 2007 and 2008. His biggest accomplishment may still be his solo enchainment of Cholatse’s north face (a 1500-meter first ascent) and Tawoche’s east face in 2004; and some would consider his most amazing feat not a climb, but a fall: he survived a 1,000-foot plunge off Annapurna’s south face in 2007.
Quite a streak. Despite his accomplishments and recent speed solo of Ginat, Steck said he intends to crank back his Himalayan aspirations temporarily. “My goal is to develop my climbing performance and my endurance,” Steck wrote on his website in December. “I do not plan any great expedition for . So I can focus on my workout seriously and I will also have more time for my sponsors. I will concentrate on my projects in the Alps and a trip to the Yosemite is also planned. For 2011 I will focus again on projects in the Himalaya.”
Steck nears the col that marks the end of the Ginat route. [Photo] Jonathan Griffith