On April 30th, Ueli Steck fell 1,000 metres off the side of a mountain in the Nepalese Himalaya and died. A mountain climber, he was supposedly climbing Mount Nuptse to acclimatize to the altitude before attempting an Everest ascent nearby. I’m writing about it because I have something to say about this sentence he’s quoted as having said in several tribute articles and obituaries: “Failure for me would be to die and not come home.” I guess it’s attractive because of this tragic sort of irony.
But it’s also the complete opposite of what Steck represents to me.
I know about him from his Annapurna I ascent. I’m not a mountaineer or even a big fan of the sport, but some mountains have a certain magic about them and Annapurna is one of those. It’s dangerous, over 8,000 metres high, unforgiving, with a south face wall of ice supplemented with snowstorms and avalanches. It’s just terrible, but breathtaking and beautiful too.
While there are people that climb it through the “beaten” track of sherpas and oxygen (and an astounding percentage of them doesn’t make it back), Steck did it the way mountaineers and non (hello!) alike would only dream to do. He set out for the ascent himself, solo, unassisted, summited and got back down in just over a day.
I can’t imagine the thrill, but that’s really not why I googled him today and found out of his passing or why he’s stayed with me. I like Steck because to me he represents someone who follows his dreams relentlessly and without judgement.
About his quote, I wish I could tell him that it’s nothing but honourable to die in service to the dreams that choose us. That while not going home would have been a failure to climb Everest (or another mountain), staying home would be a failure to live. Somehow, I’m sure he knew that…
He remains an inspiration to me, not to climb mountains, but to live fearlessly, go full throttle, and risk it all for the things—the dreams, paths, and adventures—that call our souls.