Across the room I saw a group of climbers, some of whom I knew, so I went over to say hi. One of them I had not met before but he looked strangely familiar from somewhere. The context of the gym wasn't helping, for good reason, as it turned out. I worked in with the group on a problem that had a hard move at the top, one that I attempted and fell from trying to set a high heelhook to reach the top. The unknown climber said, in a European accent, "That's how to do it" and sent the next try. Then it clicked; I had just given beta to Ueli Steck, recent soloist of the South Face of Annapurna and achiever of too many crazy things to list here. In the confines of The Spot, a normal looking guy in climbing shoes looks very different from someone running up the North Face of the Eiger in under 3 hours.
|Ueli Steck taking a break between burns at The Spot|
I try not to be too overawed by world-class climbers. You meet a lot of them in Boulder and the average OR show has enough to stage a production of A Chorus Line. What they can do is amazing to me. As it happens, most of them are very nice people as well. For me however Ueli Steck is really a breed apart. And frankly, trying to make the leap from the guy I was trying the purple 5 minus with and the guy who charged up and down Annapurna in just over 24 hours was no easy feat. (Neither of us sent BTW)
We chatted about various things, climbing training, balancing family and climbing time, future plans, pretty normal stuff. And really, besides the sheer insanity of his climbing résumé, he struck me as perhaps the most normal climber I have met in a very long time. Which in its own way was the most inspiring aspect of this meeting; that there might actually be less separation between the great and the rest of us than you might think and that this encounter is much more possible in the climbing world than pretty much anywhere else that I can think of.
I left the gym pondering how I could make the best use of this meeting (besides a quick blog post) for the future. I don't really believe in New Year's resolutions but a good one for this year might be to keep your eyes open for your inspiration and your mind in a state of open-ended expectation. That inspiration may come from out of nowhere, in the least expected fashion. It may be meeting a climbing idol or it may be someone trying their hardest on a three spot. And also train harder. A lot harder. I took a rest day the day after. For his part, Ueli onsighted Octopussy, a classic Jeff Lowe M8 in Vail before heading to Ouray.
This interview and others in the same series gives a good view of Annapurna and Ueli's mindset. Epic TV hasn't organized these well but it's worth searching around for all of them. Also his account of the Annapurna in the latest issue of Alpinist (#45) is well worth the read, an instant classic really.