Ueli Steck is hard to please. The man, known as “the Swiss Machine,” seems insatiable in his quest to push the limits of speed climbing. His latest vision led him to learn to paraglide in his home country of Switzerland. The goal was to climb three peaks—the Alps’ iconic Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau—in one day, connecting from summit to the base of the next mountain by paraglider. Watch on. Ueli is days from departing for the Himalaya, where last year he climbed Everest without supplemental oxygen. His objectives this year are yet unknown …. Below Ueli talks about his experience learning to fly, learning to land, and Everest.
Adventure: You are fastidious in the design of your gear to be extra light. Did you develop a paraglider that is extra light as well?
Ueli Steck: No, I just used a regular glider from Ozone. They already make light gliders designed for hiking and flying.
A: How much weight does your paraglider add to your pack? Do you feel it when you are climbing? Does it slow you down?
U.S.: The glider and the harness together weigh around 2.6 kilograms. Of course that’s extra weight. But I didn’t care about how fast I would be. It was all about the adventure to climb all three peaks combined with the paragliding.
A: Is it hard to control the paraglider in the strong winds at the summit? Then how difficult is it to steer to your next peak and land?
U.S.: You need the perfect conditions, otherwise you can not take off. The wind has to be from the right direction. If there is wind from the back you can not start. So it means the wind needs to be from north/northwest. Otherwise you have to walk. This makes this kind a project so interesting. There are not many days with the correct wind and good conditions on the mountain. You see flying and paragliding gets more complicated ….
The difficult part is to start and fly off the mountain. After flying is not too difficult, but you need to know how the winds are and be sure you do not fly into a bad wind system! Then the next step is landing. On Mönch and also on Eiger, I landed on the glacier. Specially on the Mönch, you have to make sure you not land on a crevasse! Some Eiger crevasses were covered with snow. So I also needed good knowledge about glaciers ….
A: You climbed Everest without supplemental oxygen last year. How did you get down that time? Would you have preferred to fly?
U.S.: This would be really hard. I don’t think ever somebody climbed Everest without oxygen and then flew off the summit. All the instances I know of were with supplemental oxygen. On Everest there are very strong winds and a more complicated weather system. I don’t think I would have been ready to fly off Everest last year! I preferred to walk down. The descent was not too bad. It took me just 2.5 hours to reach South Col … easy.
A: It would be more safe to fly down Everest, right? You could skip the lines of people! Or did you stay away from other people anyway?
U.S.: The discussion about the line of people is endless. I have to say this is not a problem for every climber who is able to climb! Everest is low-angle terrain. I basically used two ski poles. And I brought one ice axe which I did not use a lot. So it means everybody who can not go up without using the fix ropes is your problem. I didn’t see a big deal on it. If I want I just climb beside the fixed lines. And every average climber should be able to do that. This is my opinion. Also on Hillary Step, what’s the point? If there are not too bad conditions you can go straight on the right, no need to pull on the fixed lines.
A: What’s the plan for the Himalaya this season? Or is it a secret?
U.S. For sure it’s not the normal route without using supplemental oxygen. I have done that. We will see. I have different ideas. We decide after we see the conditions on the mountain. I promise we will try hard ….
A: What’s the one adventure you dream of doing someday? One that will mean the most to you?
U.S. Each adventure is special for me. For now is my next Everest trip. That’s what I think about every day now. And I am very happy to be leaving in a couple days!