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ExWeb interview: Ed Viesturs - "I should have gone to Golf!"
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Mar 3, 2005 10: 16 EST
Previously published on Mar 2, 2005

The biggest American event in Himalaya this spring is Ed Viestur's final summit - Annapurna. When he scales the 26,545 foot mountain, Ed will become the first American to join the small number of climbers who have stood atop the summits of all 14 8,000 meter peaks in the world, and climbed them without oxygen.

Ed plans a double header to minimize his time on the very avalanche prone Annapurna. He'll acclimatize on Cho Oyu in Tibet, head back to Kathmandu, where he'll get a chopper and fly straight to Anna for a hopefully rapid ascent via the North Face. Ed's expedition partner is once again long time friend Veikka Gustafsson. They will use no oxygen or Sherpa support, and this will be their third attempt on the mountain.

In an interview with ExplorersWeb, Ed shares a few thoughts on the past climbing years, the how’s and the why’s, the money and the fame, what lies ahead, and why it ultimately should be only between you and the mountain:

ExWeb: This is the last one, and statistically the most dangerous, how do you feel?

"I have mixed feelings obviously. Primarily I am very excited to be going to Annapurna for the final 8000 meter peak. 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."

"But, I can't yet assume that it will be done this spring. Annapurna is a tricky peak to climb and we need to be very careful. I will approach this climb as I have all of my other climbs-very thoughtfully and carefully. It has to be safe and feel right. I feel no extra pressure on this last climb to succeed and I will not change how I have be doing things for the sake of getting to the top of Annapurna. 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."

Kangchenjunga was your first (in 1989). How have you changed in 16 years?

"I have learned a tremendous amount not only about myself but about the mountains in general. When you start out, you don't know what you don't know. Now I know a lot more. I feel fortunate to have been surrounded early on by great mentors - Eric Simonson, Phile Ershler, George Dunn, Lou Whittaker, Jim Whittaker. I learned so much from these guys and because of their handing down knowledge I was able to take things to next level."

"Also, 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. One thing that I hope has not changed is why I climb: I love being with friends in the mountains and pushing myself. Climbing for me is a personal thing and it does not matter who is watching or what people are saying."

You climb without oxygen. Do you have advantage of superior lung capacity (genes/experience), or do you struggle (like Kukuczka did) - or neither?

"I have been tested at the University of Washington by Respiratory Physiologist Browne Schoene and Tom Hornbein. They showed that I have several things going for me; a larger than normal lung capacity - 7 liters vs. the normal 5 liters; high VO2 Max; and a high Anaerobic Threshold. In essence, genetically, I have a bit of an advantage at high altitude and therefore I suffer a little less. But this is not the only key; to climb without oxygen you also need desire, training, knowledge how to move efficiently, and a bit of luck."

You made Everest without oxygen on your third attempt, and you've said it has been your most rewarding climb. Do you think a final summit of Anna will top that?

"Annapurna will be similar yet different. 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."

"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. It is probably also appropriate that, being the trickiest to climb, I will need all of the experience that I have gained to do it safely."

You often climb with Veikka. Finn's are famous to be men of few words. Do you prefer him for a partner because he shuts up? : )

"Veikka and I are very compatible. I don't talk much either, so there are no awkward moments of silence between us. We think alike, work hard and have fun. He is the perfect partner. He is always willing to do his share and never complains. He also has the same ideas about risk and what is acceptable and what is not. Either going up, or when we decide to back off, we are always on the same wavelength. He understands that there is more to life than just climbing, and we both want to be around for a long time to live the other parts."

Why did you start climbing? If you weren't a climber - would you have been a carpenter?

"As I said, Annapurna inspired me. I originally wanted to be a Veterinarian - which I became after 8 years of school. But climbing kept getting in the way, so I quit my job as a vet and started to focus entirely on climbing. So to pay my bills in the early days I worked as a guide and also as a carpenter. I lived cheaply in a friends' basement. I still do carpentry around my home and would love to go to wood working school perhaps to learn to build furniture."

Afterwards, what? A void? Polar areas? Making money? Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

"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."

Money often trail excellence. You are the foremost American high altitude mountaineer. Have you made a fortune of your climbing (like Krakauer)? Or should you have done Golf instead?

"I should have gone to Golf! Professional climbing is not a fortune making occupation. Annually, I am able to support my family and pay for my expeditions primarily because of the support of my sponsors. In return I work for them by doing design and testing, lectures, appearances, promotions, etc. This keeps me very busy."

"In spite of my "foremostness" new sponsors are not beating down the door. I still need to actively approach and pursue new opportunities with various companies, but it is still a hard sell. I spend a lot of time on the phone and writing proposals. I have to keep looking for new opportunities, but more importantly I need to nurture my current sponsors and make sure I give them what they need."

"Not many companies can utilize the abilities or marketing message of a mountaineer. Basically what it comes down to is marketing - if there is no benefit to them, then there is no reason they should sponsor me. One of my new sponsors, that get the marketing aspect, is Cisco Systems. They will have me showcase their technology at Annapurna Base camp."

Any cool tech features planned?

"Cisco will help with the uplinks at base camp - i.e. getting a wider data "pipe" to send images and video from base camp. MSN will be hosting my dispatches during the Annapurna expedition and they want media rich content. Cisco will coordinate with them on this. Cisco will also set up a wireless network at base camp so we can write emails from our personal tents, and then wirelessly send them to the main uplink in the coms tent."

"Another cool item they have is a computer video phone. This software is integrated into a laptop and it turns your laptop into a video phone via the internet. With a small camera positioned at each end I can talk to and see my family and they can see me as well, live. Very cool!"

"We will do this at base camp. Obviously this stuff will be too much to carry up high on the climb. Up high we will carry a small sat phone to call in our dispatches."

What would be your single most important advice to a new generation of climbers?

"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 13 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 share 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. The climbers might be working together on the mountain if all reach BC simultaneously, which might not be an easy feat.

Ed and Veikka will drive back from Cho Oyu (Tibet) to Kathmandu, and then get a helicopter there to fly out to Annapurna BC in Nepal. The climbers did the Annapurna trek in 2000 - this year they need to maintain their Cho Oyu acclimatization and for that reason, they will fly to Anna BC, instead of walking there.

Images courtesy of edviesturs.com.
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