Ueli Steck Is Just A Dude.

Up at Mt Hood on Saturday evening, Taylor got a text from a connected friend: “Do you guys want to climb with Ueli Steck tomorrow?”

ueli steck signs belay card

Even if you climb thousands of meters ropeless, you still need to sign the belay card.

For those of you less familiar with Ueli: he is a Swiss alpinist best known for speed soloing the North face of the Eiger in 2 hours and 47 minutes. The film about the climb earned him the nickname “The Swiss Machine” for his relentless organization, drive, and power output. He is a two-time winner of the highest honor in climbing, and he recently completed a long-time project, making a first ascent on Annapurna and down-climbing the route solo in 28 hours.

Late Sunday morning, the climbing gym was busy, but not packed. Taylor and I threw on our harnesses and started to climb around, glancing with anticipation towards the door. Midway through a pitch, I heard Taylor call up to me: “He’s here!”

When I lowered off, sure enough, there was the guy I’ve seen in movies, in ads, and across the climbing internet. He was stooped over the iPad at the desk, filling out a waiver. Ushered by Heidi from the local American Alpine Club chapter, he headed to the locker room. He’s short. He’s not duck-footed, as I’d heard, but he does have bowlegs that would make a cowboy jealous. Returning from the locker room, he smiled his way through a perfunctory top-rope belay test with nervous laughter before tying in with the assistant manager, JB Graham, to take a lead test.

JB took a whipper onto Ueli’s belay while a gym member shyly backed-up the Swiss legend. After lowering JB, Ueli tied in and hiked an 11b as a warmup. Not one to miss out on the action, I walked over and started chatting with JB as Ueli lowered. Perfect timing: next thing I know, I’m making small talk with the man who speed soloed the Eiger in under three hours.

ueli steck belaying

JB takes Ueli and his flip-flops for a ride.

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