Lynne and I visited the Big Smoke on Thursday to see Ueli Steck give a lecture at the Royal Geographic Society.
If you haven't heard of him, he is the bloke that climbed the Eiger in 2 hours 38 mins, enchained the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau in a day (with the help of a paraglider), soloed Shishapangma in 10.5 hours, and recently successfully soloed the South Face of Annupurna in 28 hours.
So a fairly accomplished climber, and one whom I was eager to hear speak about his experiences.
I won't go through the whole thing here, for obvious reasons, but I will say that he is a very inspiring speaker, and a really humble guy. There are a couple of things that will stick in my mind about the talk and slideshow.
The first is his readiness to recognise when he is not up to a task. He turned back from the summit of Everest, not all that far from the top. Why? Because no mountain is worth losing your toes for. He knew he was dangerously close to frostbite, and turned back. No big deal.
He turned back on Annupurna a few times because conditions weren't right for his style of climbing. Others may have gone on- potentially to their detriment. He took intelligent, calculated decisions, and they were the right ones, as he was able to go back at another time and realise his ambitions.
The second was his concentration on weight training, rather than necessarily just going out and running and climbing all the time - which is what most people imagine him doing. The reason for it is to be as strong as possible when the going gets tough. He put the demise of a fellow mountaineer down to not being strong enough, and attempting to keep up with another party that was stronger. The unfortunate bloke basically got wasted and was not able to continue climbing, got altitude sickness and passed away. Had he been stronger, it might not have gone that way.
The last thing (yes, there are loads more, but I'm not going to go on and on), was his feeling of embarassment
when others refer to him as "the swiss machine", and put him on a pedestal of greatness. In his words, he is "just an ordinary guy". Which is great. But if he is ordinary, I'd quite like to be that ordinary as well.
He is driven, able to hone his concentration to a sharp point, and has the ability to focus on his objective to the exclusion of virtually everything else. All while being a thoroughly nice guy.
If you get a chance to see Ueli speak, I'd highly recommend it. He is inspiring, amusing, and seems to have this constant astonishment that people find his exploits and stories interesting enough to listen to him.
Thanks to Mountain Hardwear for organising the evening, and thanks to Ueli for sharing his story with us.