Ueli Steck finds himself in perfect physical conditions. For the past few weeks, the weather in the Alps has been beautiful and the conditions on the great Northfaces in the Alps have been great . After Ueli Steck's speed record on the Grandes Jorasses over the Colton-Macintyre route, it was very likely, that he was also going to try to establish a new speed record on the Matterhorn. Although in 2006 Ueli set up a new record on the difficult Bonatti
route in 25 hours, this time he would try to break the record on the
classic Schmid route on the Matterhorn Northface. The first ascent on
the Matterhorn Northface was done by Franz and Toni Schmid in 1936.
Ueli Steck has never climbed this route before. Therefore, Ueli faced
the same challenges as during his speed ascent on the Grandes Jorasses.
He reached the Hörnli hut in the early afternoon of January 12, 2009. Ueli Steck takes his time to concentrate himself on the Matterhorn Northface. The conditions are perfect. The lower part of the wall is covered with corn snow, in the upper part bare ice. The ramp – the actual crux in the route – is continually covered with ice. Perfect conditions for a speed ascent.
Nevertheless Ueli Steck has some doubts. Will this speed ascent succeed as well? Did he have enough time to recover from the speed record on the Grandes Jorasses only 2 weeks ago? He tries to get off the pressure and just climb. On January 13, 2009, the day of his try, he enjoys a nice breakfast with a good cup of coffee.
Just before 8 am he leaves towards the foot of the face. The sun is rising from the east slowly over the great summits of the Alps in the Valais. The magnificent light and the winter landscape are breathtaking. He sits in the snow and controls his gear. He checks that the crampons fit perfectly on his shoes.
Also this time he starts with his two Suunto watches. He wants to be very sure, that the time is correct at the end. His position: 3350 m above sea level. The climbing distance between Ueli Steck and the summit is about 1100 meters. Old traces allow him a quick ascent in the wall. He finds immediately his rhythm. His has to watch out that he doesn't miss the ramp. He checks if he sees any pitons or hooks. "Is this the crossing to the ramp?” There are quickdraws and hooks stuck in the rock. This must be the right route. Some of the passages are quite exposed, the ice conditions are great. Ueli Steck consistently checks the way up. Is it still going to go without being secured? It is a continuous process while climbing. Also the cold is not too bad. Minus 7 degrees. The thin ice is holding perfectly, but his ice tools hit again and again on the hard rock.
He finds himself in the upper part of the route. He climbs the alternative route of Michal Pitelka of 1983. This route does not follow - such as the original one - to the Zmuttgrat (Zmutt ridge), but moves toward the Hörnligrat (Hörnli ridge). All over he finds good belaying stations. A sign that many alpinists have climbed over here. The route in these passages is very challenging. Much more than in the actual crux, which he already passed. Ueli Steck still doesn't use the rope. He always finds good structures, which give his ice gear enough hold in the rock. The channel goes in the height over the so called shoulder on the Hörnligrat (Hörnli ridge). The brothers Schmid got off the route in 1936 on the same height on the right hand side over the Zmuttgrat.
Ueli Steck climbs on. Fast. The ice turns again to corn snow and he can move really fast. At the Saint Bernhard (Heiliger Bernhard), he stops both his watches.
1 hour and 56 minutes and a few seconds.
“I am completely exhausted. And I am happy that it's over,” says Ueli Steck after his speed ascent.
In the past three years, he has occupied himself with these speed ascents. He started with the Eiger Northface on the Heckmair route. 2007 with rope belaying. 2008 without rope belaying and withouth having any traces to follow. Then the Grandes Jorasses at the end of 2008. On sight, what means that he never climbed this route ever before and again without rope belaying and with the additional alternative of Alexis. Two impressive pitches in the vertical with slightly overhanging ice. And to complete the last one of the three big Northfaces in the Alps: the Matterhorn.
During all three speed ascents Ueli Steck used the rope only as a possibility for returning safely in case he had to back off. He had the chance to study many times the Eiger's North face. The North faces of the Grandes Jorasses and the Matterhorn he climbed without having explored them before.
For Ueli Steck this is a very important fact. That he is able to climb fast in unknown territory. He is fully aware that these speed ascents are nothing new. But for him personally they remain very particular and personal impressions and very high athletic performances. A success that will remain for a lifetime.
The fact to be able to climb a wall without additional means gives him a lot. Speed ascents also mean a big risk. They are not only the result of fitness but also of strategy, technique and high risk. Ueli Steck has sometimes trusted only on his crampons. This is extremely efficient and fast, is going well, until your foot slips away. With the necessary concentration and focus on the goal, this does not happen. But the more often you do these things the greater is the chance that the concentration may not be so high…
For Ueli Steck it's clear: these speed records are a chapter in his career as alpinist. His main goal is to move on. If possible, quickly. And if necessary without rope belays.
Ø 13.2.2008 Eiger Northface, Route Heckmair: 2 hours 47 min
Ø 28.12.2008 Grandes Jorasses Northface, Route Macintyre : 2 hours 21 min
Ø 13.01.2009 Matterhorn Northface, Route Schmid : 1 hour 56 min