Ed Viesturs: What I’ve Learned

Ed Viesturs: The only American to climb all 14 of the 8,000-meter peaks, sixth person overall to do it without supplemental oxygen.

By Seth Heller (Interview) | August 1st, 2020

Ed Viesturs during an expedition to Baffin Island. Photo: John Stetson.

 

I started guiding on Mount Rainier in 1982, and it became the perfect classroom. It taught me to think about the future while I’m on a climb, not the present moment. When I got to the big peaks, I had learned to live by a set of rules.

***

I had to walk away from Annapurna twice, because the danger was off the charts. But once I finished the other 13 8,000-meter peaks, I knew I had to go back. I knew [returning] wasn’t the smart thing to do, and I tried to be content with 13, but when I finished Cho Oyu the conditions were perfect, and I just went for it.

***

The Endeavor 8000 project was all about the process; it didn’t matter how long it took. When I finally got to the summit of Annapurna after 18 years, it was one of the high points of my life. It was also a huge letdown as well, because this thing had been a part of me for 18 years. I wrote about it, and I talked about it, but I couldn’t live it anymore. I learned I had to be content.

***

Big mountains are going to be there for a long time. If it doesn’t work out one year, go back the next. I always thought about that as a positive: “I get to go back,” not “I have to go back.” If you approach a mountain as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it will change how you assess risk.

***

Summiting Mount Everest seven times was never to try and see how many times I could climb it. Sometimes Everest was an acclimatization process for something else. When I summited it without supplemental oxygen, it broke mental and physical barriers; I knew the remaining [8,000-meter peaks] were hard, but they were also a little lower.

***

Rob Hall’s death taught me to be more conservative when guiding clients. When you start to break the rules for the sake of success … You can’t let that trickle into how you make decisions. Whether I’m guiding Rainier or Everest, the rules are going to be the same.

***

The rescue on K2 [of Chantal Mauduit of France, done with Scott Fischer in 1992, ending Viesturs’ and Fischer’s summit chances] was a moral obligation to do the right thing. If someone needs help, and I can help him or her, I will. You can always go back to the mountain again, but [that’s] someone’s life, and they can’t get it back. I can’t fathom walking away from someone; it would destroy me from the inside.

***

Trusting your gut is huge. In the moment, when others want to continue, you have to stop and think. People don’t want to raise their hand and question the situation, but you have to. On K2, I thought I should turn around, but I put it off and ended up summiting. When I got back to camp I was angry; I shouldn’t have summited that day. I always listened to myself from then on. Your gut is what keeps you alive.

***

My career taught me that if you dedicate yourself to something, and you have passion for it, you can do it. But you have to be patient after you’ve set your sights. You have to look down at your feet, not too far ahead, and take it step by step.

***

I learned a lot from the Sherpa people: Mountains are entities; you get to climb them, but you can’t conquer them. Put your arrogance aside. You can never beat a mountain into submission. If I summit it’s because I was in the right place at the right time.

 


This interview with Ed Viesturs appeared in Rock and Ice issue 239 (January 2017).


 

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