A new approach to technical outerwear for fast and light ascents in the mountains!
The world of mountaineering has undergone a shift in the last few decades. While traditional climbing tactics called for laying siege to the great mountains, spending extended time establishing camps, ferrying supplies, and battling against weather windows and fatigue to incrementally advance on a peak, modern Alpinism is characterized by minimalism and speed. Mountains that once required hundreds of pounds of gear and food, months of work setting fixed lines and stocking camps, and long, multiday summit pushes are now conquered in record-setting speed by capable Alpinists with lightweight, essential equipment, minimal supplies and fast movement. Perhaps no other climber embodies the tenets of speed-Alpinism quite as wholly and successfully as Swiss mountaineer Ueli Steck.
The Swiss Machine
Nicknamed “The Swiss Machine,” Ueli Steck has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments over the course of the last two decades. As an 18 year old, Steck began a dominant run of ascents on the classic peaks of the Alps, beginning with the Heckmair route on the north face of the Eiger. He followed soon after with a speed ascent of the Mönch in 1998, a solo ascent of the Lauper route on the northeast face of the Eiger in 1999, the first ascent of the Direttissima route on the north face of the Mönch in 2000 as well as the first ascent of the west face of Pumori in the Himalayas and the first ascent of “The Young Spider” on the Eiger north face in 2001. Steck continued to climb hard routes in the Alps, Himalayas and elsewhere over the next few years, establishing his reputation as a consistent, gifted young Alpinist.
However, in 2004, Steck distinguished himself as one of the world’s elite climbers, with consecutive ascents of the north faces of the Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau. Steck completed all three routes, which are known as some of the hardest ascents in the Alps, in just twenty-five hours. At this point in his career, Ueli Steck was a prominent figure in the climbing world and was gaining popularity from the general public as well. In 2007 he soloed the Heckmair route on the north face of the Eiger in three hours and fifty-four minutes to break the standing speed record. Though this was an incredible feat, Steck was not satisfied. He knew that he could climb the route faster and devoted the next year to intense, specific training in preparation for another attempt. In 2008, he returned to the Eiger and annihilated his own speed record by ascending the north face in just two hours and forty-seven minutes. It was this feat, on one of the classic test pieces of Alpinism, that Ueli Steck began to transcend his sport and take his place among the greatest adventurers in mountaineering history.
Ueli Steck has continued to push the limits of Alpinism, attempting to climb harder, more technical and dangerous routes quickly and in good style. in 2008, he began focusing his talents and time on the high mountains of the Himalayas as well. that year, he completed the first Alpine-style ascent of Teng Kang Poche, for which he and his partner were awarded the “Piolet d’Or.” In 2009, he soloed Gasherbrum II in fourteen hours and thirty minutes, for his first 8,000 meter peak. In 2011, he climbed Shishapangma, followed just eighteen days later by a successful summit of Cho Oyu! The next year, he climbed Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen, yet his greatest achievement was still to come.
In 2013, Ueli Steck climbed Annapurna, a mountain with a reputation as the deadliest and most difficult climb in the world. He climbed alone through the night on the south face, reaching the summit and returning to base camp in just 28 hours. In an era where prestigious mountains like Everest have become commercialized and watered-down, Steck completed one of the most notable and impressive ascents in mountaineering history on a mountain as inaccessible and difficult as Annapurna. In 2014, he was awarded his second “Piolet d’Or” for his achievement.
Innovation Born of Alpine Achievement
Early in his career, Ueli Steck partnered with Mountain Hardwear. Since Steck climbed with a high-intensity, efficient and minimalist style, Mountain Hardwear knew that they needed to take a different approach when designing his apparel and gear. Steck’s climbing style is characterized by efficiency, so Mountain Hardwear worked to create a line of products that are as light as possible and exceptionally breathable for temperature regulation during high output activities, while still providing the best possible level of weather protection. By eliminating pockets, vents, extra zippers and unneccesary features, as well as opting for anorak or half-zip jackets and midlayers they were able to cut the weight of Steck’s apparel and other gear down to impressively minimal weights. Efficient layering systems and highly packable, segmented outerwear pieces, as well as innovative packs sleeping systems and accessories allow Steck to move fast on his ascents, while remaining prepared in the event of unexpected weather or poor conditions. With input from Steck himself, Mountain Hardwear created a cutting edge line that challenged traditional thinking about outerwear for high-level Alpinism.
The Ueli Steck collection has seen multiple iterations. Just as Steck himself has grown and evolved as a climber —attempting bolder ascents, harder routes and larger mountains— his requirements for his gear and outerwear have also changed. Currently the Ueli Steck collection contains a few essential, staple pieces for high-end Alpinism:
The ultralight, yet durable and breathable Quasar has been a staple piece of the Ueli Steck collection for years. The Quasar jacket features a 3-layer Dry.Q Elite waterproof/breathable membrane that provides excellent weather protection, yet allows air to permeate the shell for excellent moisture transfer and temperature regulation. A 15 denier ripstop face fabric is super lightweight, while resisting snags and withstanding abrasion. Additionally, the Quasar features climbing specific design elements, like a helmet compatible hood and pockets with waterproof zippers that can be accessed easily while wearing a harness. For high-level, ultralight Alpinism, the Quasar is an excellent hardshell.
The Nilas jacket is a high-performance down insulated jacket designed to serve as an outer layer for fast moving Alpine or ice climbing in cold weather, or as an efficient belay jacket. The Nilas jacket utilizes high-quality 850-fill Q.Shield hydrophobic down that is extremely warm, yet highly packable. The Q.Shield hydrophobic treatment resists moisture, thereby retaining loft and warmth even in nasty conditions. Additionally, 15 denier face fabric with AirShield Elite technology is windproof, yet highly breathable for temperature regulation, while baffled construction traps heat and eliminates cold spots. Essential features like soft, elastic cuffs that fit inside of gloves, a waterproof zipper, two internal mesh water bottle pockets, as well as a low profile hood round make the Nilas a highly functional down jacket for technical Alpine pursuits.
The Nilas bibs feature the same 850-fill Q.Shield hydrophobic down, 15 denier AirShield Elite windproof face fabric and baffled construction as the Nilas jacket. The Nilas bibs feature a stretchy fleece bib with adjustable suspenders and a zippered chest pocket for keeping essential items warm, as well as a two-way waterproof front zipper. These lightweight and highly packable bibs compress for easy storage in a pack and can be deployed easily over mountaineering boots when the weather turns nasty. Paired with the Nilas jacket, the Nilas bibs complete an insulated down system that can handle anything from cold climbing in New England to winter ascents in the Alps and beyond.
The fully-featured Summit Rocket 30 is an ultralight climbing pack designed to carry essential gear and clothing while moving quickly in the mountains. The Summit Rocket 30 is a top-access pack that can hold 30 liters inside, with additional ice tool lash points and a zippered top pocket for easy access to an essential layer or piece of gear. Compression straps on the sides keep the pack secure when fully loaded and cinch down to reduce volume. The compression straps, as well as the framesheet, are removable to cut weight. The Summit Rocket 30 also features tough, durable construction, with a polyester and Dyneema blend body fabric called HardWear X-Ply Ripstop that can take a beating. The Summit Rocket 30 also weighs in at under 1 pound, which makes it the perfect pack to compliment the apparel in the Ueli Steck collection. This is a burly, yet ultra-light alpine pack with all of the essential features for moving quickly and efficiently in the mountains.
The ultralight Direkt 2 is a compact mountaineering tent with essential features that make it the ideal choice for high-speed, minimalist ascents. This 4-season tent sets-up quickly, due to an internal pitch pole system. Welded zipper flaps and watertight zippers defend against the elements, while DAC Featherlight NSL poles and the Evolution Tension Arch system to reduce the number of poles needed keep the tent weight low. The Direkt 2 can be set up in tight spots, but stays secure and will protect against the harshest weather.
Want to hear Ueli Steck talk about his experiences and passion for the mountains? Check out his U.S. tour, sponsored by Mountain Hardwear and benefiting the American Alpine Club. Ueli will be in 8 cities around the country in December 2014, talking about light and fast Alpinism on the world’s hardest and most incredible peaks, as well as presenting an interactive slideshow. Check out the poster for the tour below, or go to the event page on the American Alpine Club’s website for more information and to buy tickets!