Ed Viesturs: A Matter of Judgment
'No Summit is Worth Dying For'
Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Ed Viesturs Summits Annapurna on May 12, 2005!
Ed Viesturs Endeavor 8000 Index

» Go to: [Page 2]
» Check Out Annapurna: [Intro] [Dispatches] [Photos/Maps] [Ed's 8K Peaks]

Ed Viesturs
On Lhotse, 1994
Viesturs Gallery

Over the past two years, American high-altitude climber Ed Viesturs has set a new standard for making mountaineering decisions with a bias toward safety as much as making an all-out push for the summit. While some have questioned his commitment to the climbs involved, Viesturs' actions have brought praise from many, who see his rational approach as a welcome foil to more aggressive styles. That's particularly true in the wake of tragic deaths by avalanche, such as the one that claimed the life of Alex Lowe on Shishapangma in 1999.

"No summit is worth dying for," said Viesturs. "If I encounter conditions on a climb that indicate a high probability of avalanche or other dangers I can't control, I'm going to turn around. Some people might accept conditions like that, and climb on, but I won't. That's just the way I think, and it's probably the reason why I've been as successful as I have."

Last May, for the second time in two season, Viesturs decided to turn back while making an attempt on one of the world's highest peaks. His retreat from high on Annapurna because of what he calls "unacceptable" objective dangers followed his decision in the summer of 2001 to turn around from his high point on Nanga Parbat for similar reasons. Viesturs, who so far has climbed 12 of the world's 14 8,000 meter peaks, concedes he's had bad luck in encountering unreasonably dangerous conditions on his recent attempts, but he remains secure in his own judgment.

" can avoid walking right into the most blatant and obvious risks. The key is understanding the consequences of each decision...."
"If you make the right calls, you live longer," he recently told "That way, you can keep climbing."

Viesturs has always brought a high degree of individuality to his ongoing endeavor to climb all 14 of the world's 8,000-meter peaks — a quest reported live on each year since 1997. Climbing the highest mountains in the world is something that has appealed to Viesturs on a personal level.

"It's been a goal of mine since 1994," Viesturs said. "I decided I wanted to climb all 14 of the 8,000-meter peaks and I'm quite goal oriented. Once I decide to do something or accomplish something, I get pretty stubborn and try to complete the goal so I'm pretty determined to finish this. But I'm not going to do it for the sake of satisfying anybody else; this is something just for me, so I'll do it my way."

His climbing style has, so far, served him well. In an obviously dangerous environment, the highest mountains on earth, dubbed by Joe Tasker as the "savage arena," Viesturs has survived an aggressive process of natural selection. He has reached 12 of the world's 14 highest summits, including multiple ascents of Everest, without serious mishap. Viesturs points to that long career as proof of the viability of his approach.

"You can't eliminate the risk of climbing Himalayan peaks," Viesturs says. "Mountains are potentially dangerous. But you can avoid walking right into the most blatant and obvious risks. The key is understanding the consequences of each decision."

Continued on PAGE 2 »

Peter Potterfield, Staff