Climber Ed Viesturs Reflects on His Himalayan Quest

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Your passion for climbing and your career are coming back around full circle. It was inspired by Herzog's book and now this is the last of the 14. Does this one have any special meaning to you?

Well Annapurna does have meaning in that the book that I read that inspired me to become a climber was titled Annapurna—about the first ascent of the mountain. Not that I planned or scheduled to have Annapurna as the last peak. I've been there twice already in previous years. It just so happens that it's going to be the last peak in the series, so maybe it's appropriate. But it's kind of a sting in the tail as well. It's—although not the most difficult or technical mountain—it's probably one of the most dangerous. So I'm going to have to use all my experience and all my wisdom and all my conservatism to climb this mountain. So it's going to take all I know to do it safely. It's probably like the ultimate test. Did I learn enough along these last 16 years to do this climb safely?

If you don't make it this time, will this be your last attempt or do you think you'll go back for another try?

Oh, I'll go back. If I don't make it this time, I've still got a few more tries in me. Then I'll have to kind of play it by every expedition. I've told people I may get to the point where I feel that Annapurna is just too dangerous of a mountain for me at my level of acceptable risk. If that's that, if I climb 13 of the 14, I'll be quite happy. Fourteen would be great but 13 is pretty good as well.

After you get this 14th one, whether it's this time or the next time, will it be a bit anti-climactic for you?

I'm sure it will be, because this is something I've been working on for 16 years and I'm kind of looking forward to it being over… You know it's something that's kept me motivated and something to look forward to. But there are other climbs I want to do as well. So I can kick it down a notch. I can climb lower peaks. I can think about 24,000-foot peaks or 25,000-foot peaks. I don't have to always go over 26,000.

Do you have any specific plans for what's next after the 14 summits?

No, just smaller adventure trips—northern India, Tibet, with a group of friends. Just kind of low-key climbing, adventuring, trekking. But hopefully some exotic places.

So what does a guy who has climbed 13 of the 14 highest mountains in the world do to relax? Do you ever just take the kids and go camping by a lake somewhere without summiting a mountain?

Yes, we do a lot of car camping, believe it or not. We have a Westfalia—we just back it up, pop the top, and we're there. I've got two little kids and so that's a more reasonable approach to going into the outdoors. I also love fly fishing, sea kayaking, road biking. Other things. I like carpentry. Many things I can stay busy with when I'm not climbing.

What was your most rewarding climb?

I would have to say my first time to the summit of Everest which was 1990. I worked so long and hard and thought about getting to the summit of Everest without oxygen and had made two previous attempts. Then finally in 1990 I got to the summit without using oxygen. It had been fixed in my mind for three years because three years earlier I missed the summit by 200 feet and it was something I thought about every single day. And just to get to the summit and to be on the highest place on Earth and having done it without oxygen, it was so rewarding. Everything else after that I figured is easier.

Do you have a spiritual connection with the mountains? Is it something spiritual for you?

The thing I've absorbed from [the Sherpas] is their Buddhist culture and their belief that these mountains are entities or there's some entity on the summits of some of these sacred places. And I think what I've learned from them is that when you go to the mountains, you climb with respect and with honor. You don't conquer these mountains. You're kind of allowed, if you're respectful, to go up.

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