The Thinking Man's
High Altitude Climber[Click for Post-Climb Interview]
Ed Viesturs became America's best known high-altitude climber as a result of both David Breashears' seminal IMAX film, Everest, and the NOVA film project, Into the Death Zone. During both film projects, in 1996 and 1997, respectively, Viesturs climbed Everest on cue. His final ascent put his successful Everest summits at five, a figure still unbeaten by any other non-Sherpa climber.
"I can still walk down the street without getting mobbed," laughed Viesturs when queried on his new-found fame, "but people often come up to me and say, 'You look familiar, where have I seen you before...'"
With partner Veikka Gustafsson, Viesturs will attempt in April to climb
Manaslu, at 26,781 feet, the eighth highest mountain in the world. The
ascent will be made by carrying loads and establishing three camps, but
no high altitude Sherpas will assist the two climbers. Then, if they are
successful, the pair plans to fly by helicopter to Dhaulagiri Base Camp,
saving several weeks of trekking while preserving the acclimatization
they earned on Manaslu.
Viesturs and Gustafsson plan to climb Dhaulagiri (at 26,795 feet, the seventh highest mountain in the world) in virtual alpine style, carrying all their own gear and moving up camp to camp without returning to Base Camp.
Going to the Himalayas as if it were a weekend climbing trip in the Cascades is the sort of climbing few people dare among the biggest mountains on the planet. But Viesturs has been there before.
"It's not very common," agreed Viesturs, " but some people are doing it.
Messner and Habeler did it first, and it shocked the climbing world. Now
there are a few people who can do it. If you're healthy and everything
clicks and you're stong and conditions are right, it's so much fun, it
is like climbing in the Cascades or Alaska with your best friend, just
the two of you. There's no drudgery, you just go up, get to the top, and
come down. But you have to be fit, you have to be determined, you have
to be acclimatized and you have to be fast."
Viesturs in fact was on Dhaulagiri just last year. He and Gustafsson got close to the top when they encountered dangerous avalanche conditions. "We spent two or three nights at high camp waiting on weather," remembers Viesturs. "Finally we got a calm, clear night, a beautiful night for climbing, but slab avalanche potential 1500 feet below the top turned us back. We just looked at each other and knew the smart thing was to go down.
"We hope for better conditions this year, but
there's no way to tell except to go and look. There are no guarantees,
you just keep trying. The important thing is not to do anything stupid," Viesturs said.
Viesturs is looking forward to another spring in the big mountains, but he is glad to have some of his challenges behind him. "Of the 8,000 meter peaks I've already climbed," said Viesturs, "I guess the one I'm most glad to have behind me is K2. You've got to be in the right frame of mind to succeed on K2."
With four more peaks to go, Viesturs is philosophical on his personal quest:
"It's been a goal of mine since 1994. I decided I wanted to climb all 14 of the 8,000-meter peaks," he told The Mountain Zone. "And I'm quite goal oriented, once I decide to do something or accomplish something, I get pretty stubborn and try to complete the goal. So I'm pretty determined to finish this. But I'm not going to do it for the sake of satisfying anybody else. This is something just for me."
Peter Potterfield, Mountain Zone Staff
[Viesturs Photo Gallery]