We all learned yesterday that Ueli Steck died yesterday while climbing on Mt. Nuptse near Mt. Everest in preparation for an ambitious project connecting the two mountains. The NY Times has an obituary but the more personal one from GearJunkie helps you understand the loss the climbing community is feeling.
If you do not know who Ueli Steck is, Mountain Hardwear's video titled "The Swiss Machine" is a solid introduction to this amazing climber. There simply was no one like him. This is the man who climbed the Eiger in less than 2 hours and 23 minutes. The man who did 82 summits in the Alps in 62 days, entirely human powered, no driving. Ueli not only had skill and speed, he had incredible endurance with seemingly inhuman abilities to push himself.
It was mind boggling that a human could do what he did. But he was meticulous and trained constantly. Climbing was his passion and his life. He found his purpose and lived it. The fact that he died in the mountains does not change that, it simply means it was cut short far sooner than we all would have liked.
Dying in the mountains is one of those things that I am intellectually aware of but on a day-to-day basis I just accept as an acceptable risk and move on, not unlike driving. While on the Denali Prep course on Mt. Rainier, the guides openly talked about people they know who had died in the mountains. One of the guides had lost two of his climbing partners.
Things happen. A cornice collapses, a momentary lack of focus causes a slip, an anchor fails. There are jokes, turn of phrases, and philosophical points of view that try to soften the blow or attempt to find sense in it...but it just is. You can be the strongest climber in the world with decades of experience but things just happen. And then you are gone.
Opposed to focusing on the loss, I think it is important to focus on the privilege and joy you can find in still having the opportunity to do what you love. Oh, you're still around? Go find an adventure.