Ed Viesturs
Ed Viesturs
Ed Viesturs' Quest for the 8,000 meter peaks

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Post-Climb Interview with Ed Viesturs
May 15, 2000

Interview Segments:
[Part I] [Part II]

Viesturs talks about his recent attempt on Annapurna
In March of 2000, Ed Viesturs set off for Nepal to attempt Annapurna, at 26,545 feet, the tenth highest mountain on earth.

Annapurna Attempt
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With his regular climbing partner, Veikka Gustafsson, and Neal Beidleman (a guide for Scott Fischer on Everest in 1996) and Michael Kennedy (former editor and owner of Climbing magazine), Ed arrived at Annapurna Base Camp in early April. But route conditions were, as Viesturs says, "untenable," with calving ice cliffs sending avalanches into a glacier basin the group would have had to cross multiple times.

After searching for alternative routes, including one that would have involved traversing the east peak, the climbers eventually concluded there was no safe route up the mountain this year, and returned to the United States.

Viesturs, who will be giving three slide shows in Boulder, Denver and Seattle in early June (click here for the show schedule), sat down in MountainZone.com's offices in Seattle to speak with Editor Peter Potterfield about his experiences on Annapurna.

What was it like going to Annapurna, a mountain steeped in climbing lore?
"Going in, nobody, unless you're climbing the north side, goes in there; it's not like a well-beaten path. It's way off the popular Annapurna circuit route, so it's a very challenging, difficult trek to get into Base Camp. I mean, in a single day you'll descend 2,000 feet then gain 5,000 feet, then descend another 4,000 feet all on a steep, narrow trail with slippery grass, a lot of exposure, but you come up over this one pass and 'boom' there you are, right in front of Annapurna.

"So it's quite a difficult route to get into Base Camp and you have to admire what they did in the '50s, when the French went in there to find a way to get into the north side — it's very difficult.

Were you camped within the famous Annapurna sanctuary, near the site of the 1950 French Base Camp?
"Exactly. I mean we basically followed the route that the French went in, from Base Camp to Camp I to Camp II and that's where we started. Our thinking, and looking at a different possibility, in the end we almost thought the French route, of all the routes, looked to be the safest. But still, for us, it wasn't quite safe enough.

But then if you go back and look at the photos from the '50s, the mountain is fairly different, and whether that is from glaciers that are receding, creating more ice cliffs up high or whatever, the route now appears quite a bit different than it was in the '50s."

Tell us how the climbing went and how you made the decision to turn around?
(see the video WATCH THE VIDEO)
On the Climbing
Ed Viesturs
(28k) (56k) (100k)
"We eventually climbed up to the site of Camp II, established it at about 18,500 feet. We spent two nights there. The next day we climbed higher into this basin so we could see what the bottom, and what the approaches to all these routes, looked like: the Northeast Buttress, the French Route, the Dutch Rib; and when you get in this basin you can see what you're up against. You still have to cross this glacial basin to get to the base of all these routes, and the whole basin is threatened by a series of ice cliffs that totally surround the upper part of the mountain.

"We watched these things calve off and create these huge avalanches and thought, you know, 'there's no way, we're not going to spend one minute in this basin let alone repeatedly going back and forth day after day after day to establish this route and carry loads.' The risks were just too great. And I think what people do to come climb from the north side is just accept the risks. They say, 'hey, it's worth it for me, I'm willing to run to get to the bottom of this route.' But for us it just wasn't worth it; we couldn't justify doing it. If something were to happen, you know, what do you do? You can't run."

So everyone on the team was of the same mind?
(see the video WATCH THE VIDEO)
Of the Same Mind
Ed Viesturs
(28k) (56k) (100k)
"Oh yeah, we could see what was going on — we could evaluate the objective hazards. It was more than obvious to us. I think we were just thinking on the same lines, it just wasn't worth the risk, whereas other people either accept the risks or they don't realize the dangers that are lurking up there.

"But for us ... just couldn't see ourselves doing it, it was scary and we weren't having fun at that point and then you say, 'why are we doing this? Let's turn around, let's come back down.' We pulled everything down from Camp II, put it all at Camp I and then we started to look at different options further to the left, to the east. And we snooped around there and the bases of those ridges were equally threatened by avalanches.

"And so we made the decision, you know 'hey, we're not going to be able to climb the mountain from this side — or we don't want to.' And we spent our last night at Camp I and it was during the night, at about 11:30 under a full moon, we heard this massive ice cliff cut loose and looking out of the tent door saw this monster avalanche completely obliterate the whole basin and, you know, 30 seconds later our tents were dusted with wind and snow.

"We were quite safe from all of the debris but in the morning you could just see the devastation this avalanche had caused on the whole basin and we were glad that nobody was up there at the time. And to us that sealed the deal. We knew at that point we made the right decision."

Was there disappointment?
"You're certainly a little bit disappointed but you say 'hey, this is the only logical decision.' So we were quite happy with it. We could say 'we're having a great time, this was an enjoyable experience, we came to look at the mountain, some place we'd never been before. We did a little bit of climbing, but the risks were too great.' And you can easily walk away from that. All of us had done that before so it wasn't something new to us, it was something that we knew we could live with and that's the whole idea. You've got to be able to walk away.


Peter Potterfield, MountainZone.com Staff

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