Ueli Steck – The decision that cost, one of the best mountaineer’s life on Everest
Uli Steck

Ueli Steck was a Swiss rock climber and alpinist known for his remarkable achievements in the mountaineering world. He was credited as the first person to ascend Annapurna solo via its South Face, although some have contested this claim. Furthermore, Steck set impressive speed records on the North Face trilogy in the Alps, showcasing his skill and determination. His exceptional accomplishments were recognized with two Piolet d’Or awards, in 2009 and 2014. Tragically, Steck met his untimely end on 30th April 2017, after a fatal fall during a preparatory climb for an ambitious attempt on the Hornbein route of the West Ridge of Everest, all done without the use of supplemental oxygen.

Renowned for his quick ascents in the Alps and Himalayas, the then 41-year-old alpinist, dubbed the “Swiss Machine”, tragically lost his life on Sunday, April 30th, 2017 after falling near Mount Everest. He was gearing up to tackle a fresh route on Everest without the use of additional oxygen when the accident happened. Reports indicate that Steck plummeted approximately 1,000 meters, around 3,000 feet, close to Nuptse. The recovery of his body has been confirmed. Ang Tsering Sherpa, the founder of Asian Trekking, shared, “I believe he lost his footing on the icy slope. Both the tourism department and basecamp notified me of the heartbreaking news.”

Ueli Steck, a renowned Swiss mountaineer, achieved numerous notable feats in his climbing career. Here is a summary of his key accomplishments:

Early Achievements

  • Age 17: Achieved the 9th difficulty rating (UIAA) in climbing.
  • Age 18: Climbed the North Face of the Eiger and the Bonatti Pillar in the Mont Blanc massif.


  • June 2004: Climbed the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau within 25 hours with Stephan Siegrist.
  • 2005: Completed the “Khumbu-Express Expedition,” solo climbing the north wall of Cholatse (6,440 m) and the east wall of Taboche (6,505 m).
  • 2007: Set a speed record on the North Face of the Eiger, climbing it in 3 hours and 54 minutes.
  • 2008: Broke his own Eiger North Face record with a time of 2 hours 47 minutes 33 seconds.
  • May 2008: Aborted an ascent of Annapurna due to avalanche threat but assisted the ailing Spanish climber Iñaki Ochoa de Olza, who unfortunately died.
  • 2008: Received the inaugural Eiger Award for his mountaineering achievements.


  • April 2013: Involved in a widely publicized altercation with Sherpas on Everest.
  • October 2013: Soloed the Lafaille route on the South Face of Annapurna in 28 hours. This feat was met with both praise and skepticism due to lack of photographic or GPS evidence. It earned him his second Piolet d’Or.
  • Winter 2014/15: Along with Michael Wohlleben, linked up the three north faces of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo/Drei Zinnen in 16 hours.
  • Summer 2015: Climbed all 82 summits in the Alps over 4000 meters in 62 days without motorized travel. This achievement included a pause due to the death of his climbing partner, Martijn Seuren.
  • 2015: Set a new record for the North Face of the Eiger, soloing it in 2 hours 22 minutes and 50 seconds.
  • April 2016: Found the bodies of Alex Lowe and David Bridges on Shishapangma with his partner David Göttler.

Notable Recognitions

  • Piolet d’Or: Won twice, including for his solo ascent of Annapurna.

Ueli Steck’s career was marked by his extraordinary speed climbing records and solo ascents, which solidified his reputation as one of the greatest alpinists of his time.

Uli Steck speed climbingThe final – second decision

On the evening of April 29, 2017 about 15 hours before the tragic death of well-known alpinist Ueli Steck in Nepal last month, he used his satellite phone to send a message to his climbing partner, 26-year-old Tenji Sherpa. Originally planning to climb to the South Col of Everest for acclimatization that day, Steck was now at Camp 2 alone as Tenji had been recovering from frostbite at Base Camp on the mountain’s south side since April 16. Tenji received Steck’s message at 5 p.m., where Steck informed him of his decision to climb Nuptse, a 25,791-foot peak located about a mile southwest of Everest, the following morning. He planned to return to Base Camp afterwards to meet friends from Switzerland. Tenji was taken aback, aware that Steck had a permit for Nuptse but had initially intended to attempt it after completing a challenging Everest-Lhotse traverse. Describing Nuptse as “the dessert”, Steck had mentioned the possibility of attempting it the first week of May, but this new plan came as a surprise.

“If you want to climb in the high altitude without oxygen, you can’t go higher. That’s why it’s interesting.”

Tenji replied to Ueli Steck. “Are you going to climb alone or with friends?” 

But Steck never replied. 

At approximately 8 a.m. the following morning on April 30, Tenji recounts how he was offering prayers in Base Camp, anxiously awaiting his companion, when he received a call from a friend and fellow Sherpa located in Camp 2. The distressing news was that a third Sherpa had observed a climber plummeting around 3,000 feet down Nuptse’s north face. The fall was witnessed by members of other climbing groups as well. The climbers soon confirmed that the fallen individual was Steck, as they located his body in the Western Cwm between camps 1 and 2. Despite the passing of close to a month, the cause of Steck’s fall remains unknown. The terrain he fell on was a combination of snow and ice at higher altitudes. It was noted that Steck had no previous experience climbing Nuptse. Speculations were made that he might have slipped, a surprising yet not entirely implausible occurrence, even for someone of Steck’s caliber. At the age of 40, Steck claimed to be in the best physical condition of his career. He had dedicated two weeks in February to high-altitude trail running in the Khumbu Valley as part of his training for the Lhotse Traverse, pushing his body to new limits. “I feel significantly stronger,” he shared. “My heart rate can withstand more strain now.” This particular expedition marked Steck’s 25th trip to Nepal in a span of 16 years.

Steck expressed his contemplation upon returning home in February, considering the possibility of spending the rest of his life exploring the Khumbu region and conquering its numerous mountains and routes. He felt confident in his familiarity with the area, believing that it would allow him to push his climbing limits further than anywhere else. Steck and Tenji reunited in Kathmandu in mid-April and journeyed to Lukla before making the trek to Everest Base Camp over three days. On April 16, they moved supplies from Base Camp to Camp 2, a task that unfortunately led to Tenji suffering frostbite on two fingers. Shortly after, Steck fell ill with a fever, prompting the duo to fly to Lukla for recovery before returning to Base Camp. Steck quickly regained his strength, impressing Tenji with his swift recovery and climbing abilities. Steck embarked on solo expeditions to the West Ridge, while also tackling the route from Base Camp to Camp 3 in a fraction of the time it usually takes climbers. Throughout their preparations, Steck emphasized that the Lhotse Traverse was not about speed but rather completing the challenging route, which included sections that had never been repeated. It may have seemed unexpected that Steck chose Tenji as his partner for the traverse, but their friendship and mutual respect had grown over the years. Steck had played a pivotal role in mentoring Tenji, even inviting him to climb Everest without supplemental oxygen after an unfortunate incident with Tenji’s previous clients. Their bond was solidified during their shared climbing experiences, solidifying their partnership on the upcoming expedition.

Observers speculated that he may have slipped, a surprising but not implausible outcome, especially given his assertion at 40 years old that he was in the best physical condition of his entire climbing career. Following a successful climb to the summit, the subsequent year he returned with fellow climbers Simone Moro and Jonathan Griffith to attempt the challenging Lhotse Traverse. Once again, he extended an invitation to Tenji, a local Sherpa, to join their team, even though Griffith and Tenji were not planning to undertake the entire route. On April 27, 2013, Tenji had just arrived back at Base Camp from Camp 2 when a violent altercation broke out between Steck’s team and a group of Sherpas. The confrontation escalated to the point where Steck was physically assaulted. Ultimately, Steck attributed the incident to bad timing and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Despite Steck’s superior technical climbing abilities, he often found it challenging to locate partners who could match his pace at high altitudes. Tenji, who hailed from the Solokhumbu District below Everest, proved to be a suitable companion. The two climbers tackled several peaks together in Nepal, including Cholatse and Lobuche in 2015, before embarking on a second endeavor of the Lhotse Traverse. Steck, who preferred to finance his expeditions independently to avoid obligations to sponsors, covered Tenji’s costs without any additional expenses. According to Steck, Tenji typically earned a significant amount during a typical Everest climbing season, but he admired Tenji’s dedication to climbing for the love of the sport rather than solely for financial gain.

On the morning of April 30th, Steck departed Camp 2 before sunrise, accompanied by a French climber named Yannick Graziani who was also attempting Everest without the aid of oxygen. As Graziani continued towards Camp 3, Steck veered off to the right and began the ascent of Nuptse. Witnesses glimpsed him partway up the imposing face as the first light of dawn illuminated the surroundings. It is believed that he fell from a position approximately 1,000 feet below the summit, although no one actually observed the tragic incident. Steck’s close friend, Griffith, who had been in communication with him regularly throughout the expedition, expressed that it was not out of character for him to undertake the challenge of climbing Nuptse on a sudden impulse. Griffith mentioned that it made sense for Steck to choose Nuptse as an alternative for acclimatization instead of the conventional Lhotse Face to the South Col, given that both routes offered a similar elevation gain, but Nuptse provided a fresh new adventure and a more engaging climb.

Upon receiving the devastating news that the fallen climber was Steck, Tenji experienced an emotional turmoil. He assisted in the transportation of Steck’s body by helicopter to Lukla and subsequently to Kathmandu, where memorial services were held at the Tengboche Monastery and in the city. Tenji expressed the profound grief he felt, admitting that Steck was one of his closest friends, and his passing left a void in his heart. Reflecting on a previous interview with Steck, the renowned alpinist expressed his fascination with climbing in high altitudes without the reliance on supplemental oxygen. He highlighted the allure of the challenge posed by Everest, emphasizing that the journey and the routes chosen to reach the summit were of greater importance to him than the summit itself. Steck described the mountain as a captivating and beautiful place, brimming with opportunities for exploration and adventure.

Death of Uli Steck

Steck passed away on the 30th of April in 2017 while acclimatizing for an ambitious climb on the West Ridge of Everest. This particular route, known as the Hornbein route, had been conquered only a handful of times, with the most recent successful attempt taking place in 1991. Steck’s plan was to ascend the Hornbein Couloir to reach the summit of Everest, and then continue on to summit Lhotse, which is the fourth-highest peak in the world. This challenging combination of climbs had never been accomplished before. During the preparations for the climb on the 16th of April, Steck’s climbing partner, Tenji Sherpa, suffered from frostbite, delaying the attempt as he needed time to recover. Steck carried on with his acclimatization and exploration, making his way up to Camp 2 on Everest’s route towards the South Col. However, on the 29th of April, Steck decided to change his plans and notified Tenji that he would instead climb the nearby peak of Nuptse, choosing a different path and objective. On the morning of the 30th of April, Steck set out to climb Nuptse with another climber named Yannick Graziani, who was aiming to reach the summit of Everest. As Graziani continued towards Camp 3, Steck veered off to the right to begin his ascent of Nuptse. Several Sherpas and members of the expedition saw him partway up the face of the mountain before dawn. Unfortunately, Steck fell from a height of approximately 1,000 meters, around 300 meters below the summit. The cause of the fall remains unknown. His body was later discovered in the Western Cwm, between camps 1 and 2, and transported to Kathmandu for memorial services. Steck left behind his wife, Nicole Steck, following his tragic accident on the slopes of Nuptse.


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