A famed Swiss climber has died in Nepal’s Everest region after falling 1,000 metres from a ridge during preparations to scale the world’s highest mountain.
Ueli Steck, 40, died on Sunday after falling to the foot of Mount Nuptse, a smaller peak in the area, officials said.
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“He skidded off about 1,000 metres from camp … Other climbers ascending Everest saw him and asked for his rescue,” said Dinesh Bhattarai, director-general at Nepal’s Department of Tourism.
Steck, one of the most renowned mountaineers of his generation, was acclimatising before a bid to ascend Everest through the less-climbed West Ridge route and nearby Mount Lhotse next month – all without the use of oxygen supplies.
His body was recovered from the site and taken to an airport in Lukla.
Steck’s family said the exact circumstances of his death were still unclear.
“The family is infinitely sad and asks that the media refrain from speculating about his death out of respect and consideration for Ueli,” it said in a statement on Steck’s website.
“As soon as reliable information about Ueli Steck’s death becomes available, the media will be informed.”
He was climbing alone when he died. His partner, Tenji Sherpa, had sustained severe frostbite and was recovering at a lower camp.
Famed for pioneering new mountaineering routes and setting speed records, Steck had won several awards for his feats.
In 2013, he achieved the first solo climb of Mount Annapurna, the world’s 10th highest peak, via its steep South Face wall. For that, he received the Piolet d’Or, mountaineering’s top accolade.
In 2015, Steck climbed all 82 peaks in the Alps higher than 4,000 metres, travelling between mountains by foot, bike, and paraglider only. He completed the feat in 62 days, helping cement his reputation as the “Swiss Machine”.
He suffered a setback during his last trip to Everest, in 2013, when he and two other Western climbers traded blows with a group of furious Nepali guides over a climbing dispute. The brawl shocked the mountaineering community, causing a rift between Western climbers and the often lowly paid Nepali guides.
On his return this year, he aimed to perform a quick climb of Everest and Lhotse, including an overnight stop at more than 8,000 metres, an altitude known as the “death zone” because the human body’s performance is reduced to 20 percent of its normal rate.
Asked about the upcoming expedition, Steck told Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger in an interview last month: “When I’m on Everest I can stop at any point. The risk is therefore quite small. For me it’s primarily a physical project. Either I get through, or I don’t have the strength for the whole traversal.”
“Of course I want to climb Everest and Lhotse,” Steck told the newspaper when asked about his measure of success. “But that’s a very high goal. Failure for me would be to die and not come home.”