World's Premier High-Altitude Climber
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Al G. Langford Chaparral Center
"The mountain decides whether you climb or not. The art of mountaineering is knowing when to go, when to stay, and when to retreat." -Ed Viesturs
Ed Viesturs is widely regarded as this country's foremost high-altitude mountaineer. He has successfully reached the summits of the world's 14 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen, an 18-year project he christened Endeavor 8,000. His goal was completed on May 12, 2005 with his ascent of Annapurna, one of the world's most treacherous peaks. He is one of only a handful of climbers in history and the only American to accomplish this feat. A professional mountaineer, Viesturs works as a design consultant for several prominent outdoor equipment manufacturers such as Eddie Bauer/First Ascent and Grandoe Gloves. He also represents companies such as Rolex and the Seattle Seahawks. Familiar to many from the 1996 IMAX Everest Expedition documentary, Viesturs is also powerful motivational speaker, covering subjects such as teamwork, overcoming major obstacles, and planning and preparation.
During the 18-year span to climb the world's highest peaks he went on 29 Himalayan expeditions and reached the summit on 20 of these occasions and stood on the top of Everest seven times. He climbs without benefit of an oxygen tank, which can be burdensome and potentially troublesome. Only a superior conditioned athlete can scale heights of 25,000 feet without artificial oxygen—a fact Viesturs has turned into an important metaphor for his audiences, emphasizing that the key to the journey is in the time and energy invested in the preparation.
He recounts his three attempts to climb Annapurna before ultimately succeeding in his 2011 book, The Will to Climb: Obsession and Commitment and the Quest to Climb Annapurna--the World's Deadliest Peak, co-written with David Roberts. "Of all fourteen of the world's highest mountains, which I climbed between 1989 and 2005," writes Viesturs, "the one that came the closest to defeating my best efforts was Annapurna." In the book, Viesturs and Roberts also chronicle the journeys of other mountaineers who have attempted to summit the mountain. In his 2010 book, K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain, he chronicles six historic expeditions on the world's second highest peak, and discusses the risks of success and the costs thereof. He is also the best-selling author of his autobiography No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks, published by Random House Books in 2007. The book covers in detail his career as a mountaineer, how he prepared for his expeditions, and his philosophy about how he managed the inherent risks.
His motto has always been that climbing has to be round trip. All of his planning and focus during his climbs maintains this ethic and he is not shy about turning back from a climb if conditions are too severe. In spite of his conservative attitude, Viesturs has been one of the most successful Himalayan climbers in American history. His story is about risk management as well as being patient enough for conditions to allow an ascent.
According to Viesturs, regardless of the industry, teamwork is the same: "It is an implicit trust in, and recognition that the person next to you is No. 1," he explains. "If we're climbing a mountain together and you slip and fall, I'm there to save your life" - which is the ultimate definition of teamwork. Viesturs relayed this idea to the Seattle Seahawks start of their 2005 season. The team and coaches incorporated some of his messages and ideas into their practices and games and went on to play in the Super Bowl that season. Another lesson Viesturs espouses is the importance of perseverance, or going step by step and not getting discouraged when working toward your goal. Viesturs recalls once being just 300 feet away from the top of Mount Everest when he had to turn back.
In 2005, Viesturs was awarded National Geographic's Adventurer of the Year for his summit of Annapurna. In 2002, he was awarded the historic Lowell Thomas Award by the Explorer's Club for outstanding achievement in the field of mountaineering. In winning the award, he joined an elite group of climbers including Sir Edmund Hillary. And in 1992, he was awarded the American Alpine Club Sowles Awards for his participation in two rescues on K-2.
Viesturs was born in 1959 and now lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington. He continues to go on adventures. On May 19, 2009, he made his seventh ascent of Everest, and in January 2011, he lead a climb of Vinson Massiff, the highest peak in Antarctica, at 16,066 feet. In August 2011, he made his 208th ascent of 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier.