OURAY – Get ready for "Ueli fever." The famous Swiss rock climber and mountaineer Ueli Steck, nicknamed the “Swiss Machine” for his precision and efficiency, is coming to the 19th Annual Ouray Ice Festival, Jan. 9-12, 2014.
Steck will teach a clinic or two, put on an evening presentation at the Ouray Community Center, and most likely compete in the Elite Mixed Climbing Competition and Hari Berger Speed Comp.
Ouray Ice Park, Inc., the nonprofit organization that oversees the Ouray Ice Park and puts on the annual Ice Fest, is still reeling from the news. “We have been working on trying to get Ueli to the Ouray Ice Festival for the last three years,” said OIPI Board President Mike MacLeod. “Getting Ueli Steck at our event is a coup of epic proportions. The best analogy I can think of is if we were planning a music festival in Ouray, we just booked U2!”
In the world of alpine climbing where amazing feats are being accomplished on a regular basis, Steck, 38, is still in a league of his own. He has won the Piolet d'Or, the Eiger and Karl Unterkircher awards, and holds numerous speed and solo records, including the fastest ascent of the formidable north face of Eiger in 2008.
Steck’s 2005 Khumbu-Express Expedition earned him the title of one of the three best alpinists in Europe from the magazine Climb.
“And his recent solo climb of the South Face of Annapurna is otherworldly,” MacLeod said. “I doubt that there is a climber in the world who does not know who Ueli Steck is.”
Steck summited the treacherous 8,091 meter Annapurna, the 10th highest peak in the world and one of the most difficult to climb, without ropes and oxygen just last month, completing the round trip from advanced base camp to summit and back in just 28 hours.
The feat “stunned” the mountaineering world, according to PlanetMountain.com.
It also helped quell the media frenzy over Steck’s well-publicized fight with a group of Sherpas on an Everest expedition in late April 2013. Steck and two climbing partners committing a perceived breach of climbing etiquette on the Lhotse Face – free climbing near a small team of Sherpas fixing rope for another expedition, and allegedly knocking ice onto them. When they returned to camp later that day, they were assaulted by a large group of angry Sherpas. Steck sustained injuries severe enough that he spent the night in a hospital, and pulled the plug on the expedition.
The issue highlighted the tension roiling for years between commercial and independent climbing on Mt. Everest, and the complicated, often strained relationships between westerners and Nepalis on the iconic, dangerous mountain.
“I cannot erase what happened on Everest,” Steck said in an interview with Redbull.com after his recent Annapurna conquest. “It will always be in my mind. But with this ascent of Annapurna I feel I can now move on. The fire inside me is back!”
Steck is coming to Ouray courtesy of sponsors Petzl and Mountain Hardware. He is just one of five sponsored athletes who will be offering evening presentations at the 19th annual Ouray Ice Festival.
Other presenters include Adrian Ballinger, a well-known guide on Everest at the time of Steck’s embittered Sherpa encounter; young climbing rock star Kyle Dempster presenting his film The Road from Karakol; Wyoming climber Aaron Mulkey (aka Mr. Cody) presenting a multimedia show about his recent Norway expedition, Project Strata; and budding alpinist Kristin Kelliher, who two years ago, at age 17, became the youngest female to summit the 50 high points of the U.S.
CLINIC REGISTRATION FOR 2014 ICE FEST OPENS THURSDAY
The Ouray Ice Park has again partnered with San Juan Mountain Guides to provide interactive climbing clinics and seminars for the 2014 Ouray Ice Festival; online clinic registration opens this Thursday, Nov. 14 at 8 a.m. on SJMG’s website, mtnguide.net.
A total of 90 unique, informative, cutting-edge ice and mixed climbing clinics and seminars are offered this year, with a balanced mix of courses for beginning, intermediate and advanced climbers. Most clinics take place right in the Ice Park, but a handful of backcountry skiing and climbing options are also available.
Half-day clinics cost $59 per person; full-day seminars cost $109 per person; and backcountry ice/ski seminars cost $159 per person.
“What really stands out about the clinics this year is the incredible variety of topics we have to offer,” said SJMG owner Nate Disser. “Without speaking in too much hyperbole, it really is the most unique and diverse clinic schedule in the country, if not North America.”
One standout offering this year is a clinic offered by renowned Ridgway-based climber Steve House, associated with his new book, Training for the New Alpinism, which will be published before the Ice Festival gets underway.
Well-known climbers including Conrad Anker and Vince Anderson will also have offerings, as will Steck.
“Even if you have a ton of experience, you can learn something from one of those athletes,” Disser said. “Or, if you are a total never-ever, you can still come and learn how to ice climb.”
The psych is high for the 2014 Ouray Ice Festival. “It’s going to be one of the best Ice Fests ever,” Disser said. “There is a great list of athletes, clinics, and speakers.”
And, he added, it should be an epic year for backcountry ice climbing, too. The ice is already coming in thick and fat on classic backcountry routes in the area such as Ribbon, Bird Brain Boulevard and Talisman, thanks to a record monsoon season that stretched well into September.
For more information about the Ouray Ice Festival and Ouray Ice Park, visit ourayicepark.com.
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