Climber Ed Viesturs Reflects on His Himalayan Quest

Ryan Mitchell
National Geographic News
October 22, 2003

Ed Viesturs is on a quest to join only a handful of mountaineers who have climbed all 14 of the world's 8,000-meter (26,000-foot) peaks. In June, Viesturs summited Pakistan's Nanga Parbat, the world's ninth highest mountain and the 13th of the suite for him.

He will attempt the 14th—Nepal's Annapurna—in spring 2004. The mountain has eluded him twice before, but this only makes for a more fitting finalé. It was Maurice Herzog's Annapurna, an account of the first ascent of the mountain in 1950, that first fired his passion for mountaineering.

Only ten people have climbed all 14 of the peaks. With near-legendary lung capacity, Viesturs will be only the second to do it without using supplemental oxygen.

Viesturs is now on a lecture tour in support of his book Himalayan Quest, published in February by National Geographic Books. He spoke with National Geographic News during a recent stop in Washington, D.C.

Did you have any problems on Nanga Parbat or did everything go smoothly?

Nanga Parbat went very smoothly. We did the climb in about three weeks, which is relatively quick. We had a great group of people that I was climbing with. There were some Italians and Spanish and French—kind of an international cast of really phenomenal climbers and great friends.

You tried [Nanga Parbat] originally, or you planned to try it, in 2001, but did not. Is that right?

I went there in 2001, to Nanga Parbat, but when we got there—the weather had been phenomenal—but once we got there, we had a two-week storm, and it dumped a lot of snow. After that storm I just felt that there was so much avalanche potential and danger, that I just didn't feel good about the whole situation so I decided to leave and go home.

You get a lot of attention from the media and the climbing community about your conservative approach toward climbing. Do you ever get tired of having to address that?

No, I'm glad I'm conservative. I think that's a big reason that I'm alive today. I'd also say that I'm fairly successful at what I do. So I think there's a way to combine the two. You don't need to risk your life to climb these mountains. I climb for myself, and it's basically irrelevant what people think of what I do or how I do it. That doesn't matter to me. I make my own decisions. I'm doing this for myself. If people want to applaud what I do, great, if they want to criticize it, that's fine as well. It's not going to affect what I do.

It seems like it's a good opportunity to set an example to others that you don't have to be peak hungry?

My motto has always been that it's got to be a round-trip. Getting down is much more important than getting up. It's quite irrelevant if you get to the summit and never get down. And that also has to do with how you plan your climb. Not only do you have to plan for going up. You have to plan for going down, which is what a lot of people forget to do.

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