Climb of the Week: Ueli Steck’s 82 Alpine Summits

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August 16, 2015 - This past week’s most inpirational climb was actually a bunch of climbs, concluding two months of serious effort in the Alps. Early Tuesday morning, Swiss speedster Ueli Steck finished his goal of climbing all 82 of the Alps’ 4,000-meter peaks without motorized assistance. Alone or with partners, he hiked, climbed, biked, skied, and paraglided up and down all 82 peaks in 61 days, starting in mid-June.

Steck had hoped to do the whole effort with a single partner, Michi Wohlleben, but the German climber injured his leg in a hard paraglider landing after the fourth summit of the push. A much worse setback occurred on July 22, when Dutch mountaineer Martijn Seuren, climbing unroped with Steck on the Grandes Jorasses, fell to his death.

The Alps span three countries and, in addition to the hiking and climbing required (an estimated 100,000 meters in all), Steck cycled more than 1,000 kilometers, or about 620 miles.

The history of climbing all the Alpine 4,000’ers dates back to 1993, when English climbers Simon Jenkins and Martin Moran climbed 75 peaks in 52 days. The following year, the UIAA named an official list of 82 4,000-meter summits. In 2004, French climbers Patrick Berhault and Phillippe Magnin set out to climb all of the peaks on the new list in 82 days, all by foot or ski, starting in March, but Berhault was killed three-quarters of the way through the journey when he fell from the Dom, the second-highest peak in Switzerland.

Steck did not intend to set a record with his own odyssey around the Alps, though his was the second-fastest time recorded. In 2008, Italians Diego Giovannini and Franz Nicolini, accompanied much of the time by Mirco Mezzanote, completed the human-powered enchainment of the Alpine 4,000’ers in 60 days. The year before, Slovenian climber Miha Valic climbed the 82 peaks in 102 days with various partners, using a van to move from valley to valley—a feat notable because he climbed most of the peaks in winter.

Below is the GPS track of Steck’s final day in the mountains, climbing Barre des Ecrins—watch Steck start up the wrong valley, causing a 3.5-hour detour—or, as Steck called it, a "warm-up"! More such tracks and many photos are available at Facebook.com/82summits.

4 am is not my time. My little warmup on Barres les Ecrins before climbing the actual mountain.

Posted by Ueli Steck on Wednesday, August 12, 2015