Ueli Steck, the famed Swiss mountain climber who died in an accident near Mount Everest on Sunday, almost died in very different circumstances the last time he was in the area. The 40-year-old "Swiss Machine" was one of three European climbers who fled to base camp after brawling with around 100 Sherpas at more than 20,000 feet. Despite how the 2013 incident was portrayed, Steck was no "cultural imperialist," writes Nick Paumgarten in a tribute at the New Yorker, though he was "certainly hardheaded and single-minded, to the point of being relatively heedless of the opinions of others, be they Sherpa or Swiss." Paumgarten describes Steck as the most accomplished mountaineer of his generation.
Paumgarten notes that last year, Steck found the body of Alex Lowe—considered the best mountaineer of his generation when he was killed by an avalanche in 1999—and the two "are now forever linked, in the alpinists' circle of death." Authorities in Nepal say Steck fell more than 3,000 feet while climbing the 25,791-foot Nuptse peak ahead of a planned attempt to scale Everest on a route only successfully used once before, the New York Times reports. British mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington tells the BBC that Steck was known for speed climbing, though he doesn't believe that put him at greater risk. "The death rate among the very best mountaineers is very high, particularly in the Himalayas," he says. (Read more Mount Everest stories.)