In August, 2015, famed Swiss 26-year-old mountain-runner Andreas Steindl set a stunning new record in a breath-taking setting.
He ran up five 4,000-metre peaks within seven hours and 45 minutes – his kind of a perfect nine-to-five day in his alpine office. He improved his previous best time from 2013 by 77 minutes.
The ski instructor, mountain guide, carpenter and world cup participant in ski mountaineering from Zermatt clearly raised the bar with his run – 30.66 kilometres (19.05 miles) in distance, 4,015 vertical metres (13,172 ft) uphill, 3,900 vertical metres (12,795 ft) downhill, difficulties grade S (“severe”) respective III+/IV: these are the parameters of the record which Andreas Steindl undertook in the Swiss Alps in August.
The start line of his project was situated at Zermatt’s church square at 1,610 m (5,282 ft) above sea-level while the finish sits at Saas-Fee’s church square at 1,800 m (5,905 ft). In between, the extreme athlete conquered five massive peaks in incredible fashion: Alphubel (4,206 m / 13,799 ft), Täschhorn (4,491 m / 14,734 ft), Dom (4,545m / 14,911 ft), Lenzspitze (4,294 m / 14,087 ft), and Nadelhorn (4,327 m / 14,196 ft).
The night before his speed crossing Andy Steindl is nervous. His legs felt a bit sore during his last run. But as he stepped outside his home at 2:55 a.m. he was confident. Dressed in a ¾ tight, a long sleeve shirt and trail running shoes, he followed the shine of his headlight to Zermatt’s church square.
In his small backpack he carried what was absolutely necessary: a light jacket, a headband, gloves, sunglasses, crampons, a lightweight ice pick, three carbo bars and gels as well as a camelback with an isotonic drink. It was supposed to get hot during the day.
Steindl grew up in Zermatt, surrounded by 38 4,000-metre high peaks. His father is a mountain guide, his mother a passionate amateur mountaineer. At the age of 14, he did his first 4,000 m ascent on the Matterhorn. Twelve years later, now a mountain guide himself, he has stood more than 80 times on the summit of this iconic mountain. Steindl even holds the Matterhorn speed record for the ascent from Zermatt in two hours and 57 minutes.
Climbing up Matterhorn is like a training session for the passionate mountaineer. The mountains are his playing field, both in summer and in winter. In 2013, Steindl won the Ski Mountaineering World Championship with the Swiss National Team. He likes speedy ascents and descents, just to fit in more climbs in a day.
“This project evolved, because I always see the Taeschhorn and the Dom from my home, two beautiful pyramids that glow in the evening sun”, Andy Steindl explains. “I was eager to climb them. But the descent from the Dom is quite tricky. I wanted to find a safe way down to the valley, since I’m on my own out there.
“That’s whey I chose the route across the five peaks. Many factors have to come together to realize this project. The conditions on the mountain must be perfect, meaning the exposed ridges must free of snow and the firn must be frozen at the same time, which is why I start at night; the weather needs to be good and I must be in excellent shape, both physically and mentally.”
The church clock said 3:15 a.m. Andy Steindl started his stopwatch and ran off into the dark. The first one-and-a-half hours led on hiking trails through the forest to Taeschalp and then onwards to the Taesch hut, where most mountaineers start their ascents to Alphubel or Taeschhorn.
As Steindl reached the glacier at Alphubeljoch, the sun came up. He mounted his crampons and continues across the ice. On the summit of Alphubel, his first checkpoint, he was 22 minutes ahead of time, on the summit of Taeschhorn the advance is already 41 minutes. The camera crew had a tough time following him and spotting the tiny human being in the monumental landscape. Crossing from Taeschhorn to Dom is what Andy Steindl was most concerned about.
“The rock of the ridge is extremely brittle. It is the high risk section and I must be very focused”, he says.
Nevertheless he managed to traverse from Taeschhorn to Dom in one-hour and five minutes. As he ran down the glacier towards Lenzjoch, the 26-year-old passed several roped parties, who seemed staggered watching his downhill run. After six hours and seven minutes Andy Steindl stood on top of his fourth 4,000-metre peak, after six hours and 37 minutes he reached the fifth summit.
“Of course I wanted to be faster than last time, but I had the feeling that I wasn’t as fit as I was two years ago. I just wanted to do my best, but I never expected such a time. In the beginning I thought my watch is faulty. It was an amazing day for me, I am tired but satisfied and happy. You cannot top such a perfect day in the mountains. And now it has been captured it forever.”