Two 8,000-Meter Peak Attempts in Four Weeks
September 14, 2001- Seattle, Washington
In his ongoing endeavor to climb all 14 of the world's 8,000-meter peaksa personal quest reported live on MountainZone.com each year since 1997Seattle climber Ed Viesturs during the spring and summer of 2001 once again visited two disparate areas of the Himalaya to attempt two big mountains.
Viesturs was successful on 8,027-meter Shishapangma, a peak on which he had previously reached the slightly lower central summit, but was turned back by bad weather on Nanga Parbat.
But the American alpinist became the focus of media attention during the Shishapangma climb for a reason outside of climbing. It seems the popular press took more interest in the fact that for the first time in five years, live coverage of Viesturs' attempts was interrupted mid-climb. Quokka Sports, Inc., which purchased MountainZone.com in April of 2000, filed for bankruptcy in the middle of the Shishapangma expedition, leaving, literally, no one to answer the calls when Viesturs made his dispatches by satellite telephone.
Unbeknownst to Viesturs, Quokka had failed financially; people had been laid off, and the dispatch phones were left unmanned. Thousands of people following Viesturs efforts on the Quokka site suddenly, on April 18, 2001, discovered a notice saying that the company was ceasing operations, and no further updates would be available. A new site, edviesturs.com, was quickly put together so that live coverage of the climb could continue.
Forum messages emailed to the new site by viewers, long accustomed to years of reliable reports on MountainZone.com, railed against the sudden interruption of the cybercast. Since then, the episode has been the subject of a cartoon in Climbing magazine, and a story in . (MountainZone.com is once again in the hands of its original founders, click here for the story of how the pioneering web site was sold to Quokka, then repurchased this summer by many of the people who started it.)
"I guess the climbing action sort of got buried with all that going on," said Viesturs ruefully. "I think it demonstrates just how accustomed people were to being able to follow along with Veikka (Gustafsson) and me with a few clicks of the mouse."
Gustafsson, with whom Viesturs has made multiple ascents of 8,000-meter peaks, met up with Viesturs once again last April in Kathmandu for the pair's attempt on Shishapangma. Viesturs had climbed the mountain once before, in 1993, but had stopped at the central summit. He wanted to return with Gustafsson and reach the 8,027-meter true high point.
"On Shishapangma," recalled Viesturs, "you don't really just climb up to the summit, but you embark on this long, high, graceful, S-shaped route to the summit. Base camp is high, almost 18,000 feet, so it's the length and circuitous nature of the route that makes it interesting."
The pair put in only two camps on their 16-day climb, taking that length of time to acclimate for the final push to the summit.
With Shishapangma, the 13th highest mountain in the world unequivocally climbed, Viesturs and Gustafsson undertook a strategy they had used successfully in the past: Of going to another 8,000-meter peak in the same season. That technique, which proved successful in 1999 when the two climbers summitted both Manaslu and Dhaulagiri, has the benefit of both saving time and maximizing the climbing enjoyment.
In 1999, Gustafsson and Viesturs climbed Dhaulagiri like a weekend party doing Washington's Mount Rainier, ascending in a matter of days that 8,000-meter peak only weeks after climbing Manaslu.
This year's "two-fer" featured 8,124-meter Nanga Parbat as the second act. The two climbers traveled to Islamabad, Pakistan, in June, then by jeep to the villages below the Diamiri Face of Nanga Parbat (which translates from "Naked Mountain," symbolic of the fact the peak stands apart from the rest of the range). From there, the climbers made the two-day march to base camp, where the locals told them the weather had been incredibly great for the past two months. As they settled in, however, heavy snows began to fall on this ninth highest mountain in the world, and continued for several weeks. The upper mountain was covered in several feet of freshly fallen snow while base camp suffered daily spells of both rain and snow.
"I was going nuts," said Viesturs. "We were really pumped to try to climb Nanga Parbat, but the weather just kept us pinned down. We made one trip to Camp I, that was it. I was convinced the upper mountain was so loaded with snow that it would take weeks to come into safe climbing shape. After a lot of thought and discussion with Veikka, I decided to leave the mountain. My instinct was telling me that something just wasn't right.
"Thoughts of my family back home were also weighing on my mind. It was time for me to leave. Veikka could climb with a group of German climbers, some of whom had climbed K2 with him. Veikka was totally supportive of my decisions and was content to climb with his German friends."
Two days after Viesturs returned home to the United States, the climber got a satellite phone call from Gustafsson saying that he had been successful on the mountain just days after Viesturs had left. Gustafsson and the German group had managed to reach the top in marginal conditions.
"I was elated to hear the Veikka had made it," Viesturs said. "I can see how people can try to second guess my own decision to leave, but for me it was the right call. I was concerned about the safety of the upper mountain after the snowfall we had received, and Veikka confirmed that in the deep snow near the top, turning around would have been the prudent decision. But they went for it, and it's great that they succeeded.
"For me, coming home was the right decision, but I'll be back on Nanga Parbat perhaps as soon as next summer."
To read the dispatches sent during the climbs, check out edviesturs.com.
Peter Potterfield, MountainZone.com Staff