Growing up in Illinois, Ed Viesturs read the book, Annapurna, and decided he too wanted to climb mountains.
That he did. Over the next 30 years, Viesturs would go on to become one of the world’s most famous mountaineers. He has summited all fourteen 8000 meter peaks, Mount Everest seven times, and Mount Rainier over 200 times.
Viesturs recently spoke at the American Alpine Club in Golden, CO. Well-known for climbing without the use of supplemental oxygen, he began the evening with the topic of oxygen.
“I don’t personally have anything against oxygen.”
While acknowledging the benefits of using supplemental oxygen, Viesturs decided against climbing while using oxygen prior to attempting his first 8000 meter peak.
“Today, well over 3000 people have climbed to the summit of Mt Everest. This is what you look like taking those last few steps to the top of Mt Everest. It looks like you are in outer space. You have this down suit on, it’s 30 below zero, you’ve got an oxygen mask on, you have tubes and regulators, you’ve got a couple of bottles on your back, and you can barely see your feet. That’s how much stuff is in front of you.
I don’t personally have anything against oxygen. I just felt that if I had the chance to go on one of these climbs, I didn’t want to be hiding behind a mask. I wanted to remove the mask and take the bottles away and climb unencumbered.
It would be a lot harder. I didn’t know if I had the physiology or the strength or the skill to climb to 29,000 ft without oxygen, but I said that’s my rule. If I can’t get to the top of Everest without oxygen, I won’t go to the top of Everest. I’m not going to use oxygen just to get there. It was more in respect. If I’m going to climb a mountain, climb it at its level, rather than reduce it to mine.”
“The mountain decides.”
Viesturs first attempted Everest in 1987. 300 feet from the summit, a storm blew in and stopped the climbers. With a decision as to whether to move forward with a summit attempt and the possibility of not getting back down, or retreating to safety, they chose to abandon the climb.
“The mountain shut us down. I don’t call that a failure. It’s simply a non-success. The mountain decides.
But, imagine what a lot of people do in that situation. They go to the top. Summiting at all costs. And, that’s why you have problems in the mountains. You have to listen to the mountain. You have to temper your ambition. You’ve got to be a little bit more patient. And, if conditions don’t allow, you just walk away.”
“We can climb Everest and live to talk about it”
In 1996, Viesturs joined noted mountaineer & filmmaker, David Breashears, on a project to film a climb on Mount Everest, which would require taking an IMAX camera to the summit.
Viesturs was with the IMAX team on Everest during the 1996 disaster that claimed the lives of eight people. Viesturs and the team assisted with rescues to aid the stranded climbers.
Following a memorial service and a team meeting, Viesturs wanted to continue.
“I decided I wanted to go back up. I didn’t want to quit. Not in spite of what happened, but in respect of the mountain. I wanted to turn that season into something more positive and show people that, under the right conditions, we can climb Everest and live to talk about it.”
On May 23, 1996, they reached the top, which was Viesturs’ 4th Everest summit, having successfully transported the IMAX camera to the summit.
“We all have our own Annapurnas”
After Viesturs’ summit of four of the 8,000 meter peaks, Kangchenjunga, Everest, K2, and Lhotse, he formed a plan to climb the remaining ten 8,000 meter peaks, still without the use of supplemental oxygen, and named his planned adventure, Endeavor 8000.
On May 12, 2005, Viesturs successfully summited Annapurna, completing his 18 year Endeavor 8000 adventure. He became the first American to have climbed all 14 of the 8000 meter peaks and the 5th person to do so without oxygen.
“I had a dream that this book (Annapurna) put me on and the last sentence of the book is that ‘We all have our own Annapurnas.’ I think that is so true in life. It’s such an amazing thing to have something to strive for – a goal, a dream, a challenge – that makes life exciting.”
More on Ed Viesturs
Ed Viesturs continues to climb, works as a design consultant for several prominent outdoor equipment manufacturers and speaks at corporate events.
He has written three books, “No Shortcuts To The Top”, “K-2, Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountains”, and “The Will to Climb: Obsession and Commitment and the Quest to Climb Annapurna–the World’s Deadliest Peak”.
Learn more on EdViesturs.com.