Ueli Steck's Annapurna South Face: Solo, New Route, 28hrs Round Trip Time

While the summit report of Annapurna South Face ascent is still awaited, more details surface about the incredible climb of Ueli Steck, as he makes it back to the town of Pokhara. The Swiss climber solo climbed a new route in alpine style, in round trip time of 28 hours from Advanced BC. He has reportedly completed the challenging Lafaille route, which was attempted by Jean-Christophe Lafaille and Pierre Beghin in the autumn of 1992. The two climbers reached 7500m on October 11th, when bad weather forced them to retreat. While descending at around 7200m, Beghin fell and died. Injured Lafaille reached BC after four harsh days, when almost everyone considered him dead.

Ueli Steck Annapurna portrait
Ueli Steck after spending 28hrs on Annapurna South Face; Source

Jon Griffith called Ueli when the climber reached Pokhara and noted the details of ascent. Dan Patitucci, the photographer with Annapurna South Face expedition, has also posted the Base Camp details, when Ueli Steck was cruising up the wall.

The Everest Brawl
Jon Griffith, who along with Ueli Steck and Simone Moro, was on Lhotse Face earlier this year, when a scuffle broke between the western climbers and Sherpas. Their dream to do something different on Lhotse and Everest was over. Jon thinks that Everest brawl pushed the Swiss climber to be super-prepared for Annapurna South Face,

“Conditions were one in a hundred years he said, allowing for ice and neve on the headwall. It's also a combination of traditional Steck skill and fitness combined with the disaster of Everest. Everest created a brewing monster within, and like all athletes cheated of their goals he trained and trained and focused for Annapurna.”

“Before leaving for Annapurna Steck and I talked a lot about his coming trip, and the summer post Everest, and I instantly knew that he was going to solo it.” “We may see Annapurna as something incomprehensibly committing and dangerous but I know that he's a meticulous and calculating man and one that is always aware of what he can and can't do - not one to push himself past a limit into the unknown in such a dangerous place.”

Ueli packing the gear for the alpine assault. Source

Ascent
It’s reported that Ueli headed up the wall without any definite announcement about ascent. He said that he may acclimatize to Camp-1. His expedition members went up till the base of South Face to bid him farewell. Once back at ABC, they observed Ueli’s progress through a 1000mm lens.

Ueli Steck Annapurna climb
Heading up the South Face. Source

Dan writes, “By the time we reached our advance basecamp he was nearing what would be camp 2. Strong winds now buffeted the face and spindrift was running like rivers with Ueli between on a sharply defined flute. Huge plumes of snow blew from the face obscuring him from our sight. Through a 1000mm lens we could watch his every step. We paced camp like first time fathers in a waiting room.

Ueli arrived at the rock band just as the day’s last light left his position. Here the wall was both steeper and more exposed to avalanches. The late afternoon had brought increased winds and building clouds. The curtain fell on a great performance, Ueli was gone.

Then, just before nightfall, it cleared and we again found him, but he’d descended about 150 meters. Through the 1000mm lens we could clearly see him digging a snow cave, moments later he disappeared into the face itself.”

Ueli Steck Annapurna climbing route
The view from advance basecamp, Ueli is just visible on the snow slopes leading to the giant rock band. Source

The evening wind stopped an hour after the sunset and Ueli knew he has a chance to go for the summit.

“He headed up the headwall on the Lafaille route which was ok to navigate in the dark; instead of following hard mixed pitches he was just following obvious ice runnels due to these amazing conditions. Topping out at 8091m he down climbed back down the same way putting in just a few raps on the headwall itself.” Explains Jon Griffith.

Observing Ueli's progress; Source

Descent
At night Don Bowie received a message from Ueli, “I am back in camp 2. Long night climbing. I am descending after some food.” In the morning, the BC team could see Ueli coming down C2. They could also see the track to the summit. By the noon, Ueli was back at ABC, to complete the solo ascent in 28 hours.

Don Bowie and Tenji Sherpa welcome Steck. Source

UPDATE:
Ueli Steck has shared the details of ascent, which can be accessed here.
Don Bowie's account of summit push appears here, which also contains a short video.

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