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14 x 8000: Ed Viesturs joins the world's most exclusive climbing club
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May 13, 2005 13: 15 EST
(Previously published May 12, 2005 03.00 pm EST, corrected May 13)

What did Ed Viesturs find on the summit of Annapurna? Wind, cold, and a sea of clouds below. But also success, gratification and an invitation to the world’s most exclusive club of mountaineer's: The one consisting of those who have stood atop all 14 8000+ peaks on Earth.

The 12 altitude knights

Viesturs became the 12th member of an elite council inaugurated in 1986* by Tyrolean legend Reinhold Messner on the summit of Lhotse.

Messner was not the first to covet such a goal. The second 14 summit knight was Jerzy Kukuczka, now considered perhaps the best climber in history. Jerzy made all the 8000er summits in less than eight years, setting a record that has yet to be broken. In addition, many of his climbs were first- or winter ascents.

Jerzy finnished 11 months after Messner but it would take nine years before the next climber completed the list of the 14, 8000ers - that's when Loretan came in, at spot number 3.

With or without O2?

Kukuzcka’s only “fault” was using supplementary O2 on Everest. Since Messner accomplished his goal without gas, he established something of a sub-classification of “best of the best.” Only five** climbers (including Viesturs) among the 12 chosen ones have summited the Great 14 without bottled O2.

Even Juan Oiarzabal, after completing his list on Annapurna in 1999, decided to take on Everest again, this time without O2. He summited in spring, 2001.

Aces by surprise

Both Messner and Viesturs were already very well-known before they got the ‘final confirmation of excellence’ by completing the 14, 8000ers.

However, some relatively unknown climbers have astonished the international community when they stood on the summit of their final 8000er. Such was the case for the three Koreans on the list; and Alberto Iñurrategi, who summited them all in elegant style and without O2 when he was only in his early thirties.

Viesturs will never forget Alberto. They were together, on Annapurna, when Alberto completed the list by bagging the second-ever ascent of the SE ridge – along with Jean Christophe Lafaille. It was a bold climb, so risky that Ed opted to retreat before the definite summit push: Conditions were far from safe.

Viesturs is NOT the first American to make it

Well, he is, but only if you consider ‘Americans’ those living in the US. Actually, the first American who summited all the 8000ers was from Mexico: The amazing Carlos Carsolio** accomplished the goal and became the youngest to complete all 14. He held that distinction until the Basque climber Alberto snatched the title from him. Both were 33 when they completed, but Alberto was a couple of months younger.

Carlos climbed all 14 without oxygen, but emergency oxygen on Makalu dropped him from the no O2 list.

Next in line

Viesturs is the first new member in the prestigious club, but probably not the last one this year. To begin with, keep an eye out for Abele Blanc and Christian Kuntner, currently on Annapurna, ready to repeat Viesturs success on the very same route. Weather permitting, of course.

By the way, Annapurna seems to be the last obstacle for many climbers on the 14, 8000+ quest. Difficult and dangerous, many tend to climb every other mountain before heading for the fatal Anna. The mountain often requires many attempts (the third for Viesturs, for instance) and, sadly, it has cut the hopes and the life of not so few altitude dreamers. Another reason for Viesturs to be happy, and relieved.

For further details on the 14 x 8000 club members, check out the brand new table on ExplorersWeb's AdventureStats.

Corrections May 13:
*Messner climbed his first 8000er in 1970, and his final in 1986.
**Carlos Carsolio required emergency oxygen on his descent from Makalu.

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