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ExWeb Special: Ed Viesturs "I still have peaks that I want to climb"
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May 19, 2005 10: 39 EST
Previously published May 12, 2005 12: 44 EST

A while back, ExWeb interviewed Ed Viesturs about his upcoming climb. His last summit was the biggest climbing event in the U.S. this year, and Ed was weary: "If it looks good when we get there, we will make our attempt. If it looks bad or feels wrong, we'll head home. I am doing this for myself and for no one else," he told ExWeb.

The six-time Everest summiteer had been rejected by Annapurna twice already, and this season didn't start out great either: First, Ed was forced down on Cho Oyu to help Jimmy Chin who was suffering from AMS. Next, he was pinned down in Camp 3 on Annapurna for two nights, as the jet wind howled above. Two weather forecasts predicted the very high wind to continue; but one offered a glimpse of hope - a temporary decrease in winds last night - a chance!

Triumph - in BC

And this morning, ExWeb broke the news: At 2:30 p.m., local time, Ed Viesturs and Veikka Gustafsson reached the summit with Mario Merelli, Mario Panzeri, and Daniele Bernasconi, after an 11 hour push. The news came over satellite phone from Mario Merelli, relayed to ExWeb by his wife. Silvio Mondinelli did not make it to the summit due to cold. A bitter decision for the great climber, who had been instrumental in fixing ropes and paving the way for the summiteers.

The Italians had been fighting the mountain for two months, fixing the route up to Camp 3. Viesturs and Veikka reached the mountain only a week ago after climbing Cho Oyu, and joined the Italian climbers for their summit bid.

Yet the summiteer's triumph won't be complete until the climbers actually reach BC. AdventureWeather forecasts warn that the wind will increase again this morning, and the final celebration can't be held until all climbers are safely back down.

Second only to Juanito

With this morning's summit, Ed Viesturs has become the first American to summit all 14 8000ers - and he's the 12th climber in the world to accomplish that feat. He is one of only five in the world to have done it without oxygen. Ed has now also completed 20 summits in total on the world's 8000ers (Everest 6 times, Cho Oyu twice).

Only Spanish climber Juan Oiarzabal has more; his Annapurna climb made him the sixth climber in the world to bag the 14 eight-thousanders on Earth. His recent K2 summit (2004) gave Juanito the world record of summiting 21, 8000+ peaks.

Himalayan Odyssey

Ed's Himalayan odyssey has been anything but easy. In 1993, his attempt on Shisha Pangma ended at the middle summit, a mere 19 meters below the true summit but a long and nasty ridge of unstable snow in between. He returned in 2001 to finish the job.

Again In 1997, on Broad Peak, Viesturs made it to Rocky fore summit – 23 meters below but half a km away from the main summit. Fast forward through the next five years (which include the successful ascents of Manaslu, Dhaulagiri, and Shishapangma and two summitless ascents of Annapurna) to spring 2003.

Viesturs and climbing partner Jean-Christophe Lafaille achieved the summit of the difficult Nanga Parbat on June 23, 2003 and, less than a month later, scaled the slopes of Broad Peak and reached the true summit on July 15, 2003. It was official: 8000 Meter Peak Number Thirteen.

By the time the pair descended Broad Peak to Camp 3 at 7200m, Lafaille was suffering from breathing problems, suspected to be the early stages of pulmonary edema. Viesturs rallied the help of Kazakh climber Denis Urubko and together, the three embarked on a 10-hour nighttime descent with Viesturs leading the way guided only by his headlamp and Denis securing Lafaille with a rope.

Everest was special

Ed made Everest without oxygen on his third attempt, and said it was his most rewarding climb: "The first time on the summit of Everest without oxygen was a dream come true: Physically and mentally I can't think of anything harder. But Annapurna will be the culmination of a massive project and it will be a special moment as well," he told us.

The final goal set in 1994

Ed's long quest began in Himalaya 16 years ago, starting with Ed's first Himalayan summit - Kangchenjunga - considered by many climbers as the most difficult of the 14, 8000ers. Ed summited the mountain on May 18, 1989.

Ed told ExWeb: "I have learned a tremendous amount not only about myself but about the mountains in general since then. When you start out, you don't know what you don't know. Now I know a lot more...as I gained more experience, I was able to change how I went about climbing these big peaks - smaller teams, quicker alpine style ascents, and tandem ascents - i.e. two or more 8000 meter peaks in succession."

In 1994, Ed finally set the personal goal for himself to climb the 14, 8000m peaks without oxygen. Although the dream had been born much earlier, ignited by the pages of a book: "As a kid, the book Annapurna inspired me to become a climber. Never did I think that that book would have pushed me this far and for this long. It seems appropriate that Annapurna is the final 8000 meter peak."

Success on Annapurna this morning is the finale to a remarkable life of climbing:

"It has taken me 16 years to get to this point and it will be so rewarding to finish. At the same time, this has also been a huge part of my life for these last 16 years and when it's done, there will be something missing," Ed told us.

Now, what?

Originally, Ed wanted to be a veterinarian, "but climbing kept getting in the way, so I quit my job as a vet and started to focus entirely on climbing." He worked as a guide and also a carpenter to pay his bills, and lived cheaply in a friend's basement.

As for the future, he told ExWeb: "I still do carpentry around my home and would love to go to wood working school perhaps to learn to build furniture." But he won't stop climbing:

"I still have peaks that I want to climb and adventures that I want to go on with my climbing friends. I see myself staying involved in the outdoor industry. I work now with a great group of companies and see myself staying involved with them in design or testing. I do some motivational speaking now as well and perhaps that will continue in some fashion. But, I don't really know where my career will go. It's something that I definitely think about, because I will still need to make a living and provide for my family."

With this ultimate summit, we asked Ed for an ultimate advice to the new generation of climbers. Here goes:

"Climb for the fun of climbing and do it only for yourself."

Ed Viesturs 45, lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington with Wife Paula, son Gilbert (7), and daughters Ella (4), and Anabel (5 months). He has summited 14 of the 14 8000ers, all without oxygen. He has six ascents of Everest, 3 times without supplementary oxygen, and Cho Oyu twice.

Last year, Ed summited Everest for the sixth time together with Veikka Gustafsson, David Breashears, Robert Schauer, Jimmy Chin, Amy Bullard and seven climbing Sherpa's. Ed was co-expedition leader (with David Breashears) of an Everest film project for Working Title Films and Universal Pictures.

This year, Ed and Veikka shared route and climbing permit on Annapurna with Iñaki Ochoa, Nives Meroi, Romano Benet, Luca Vuerich, and German Peter Guggemos who will attempt Annapurna’s north side after Dhaulagiri.

Image courtesy of edviesturs.com.

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