When Ed Viesturs returned to the United States from what he calls his "most successful climbing trip ever," he sat down with MountainZone.com to fill us in on the details. Among the topics he covered: how it feels to have climbed 12 of the 14 8,000-meter peaks (without supplemental oxygen), what it's like to climb a Himalayan giant alpine style, his dangerous descent from Dhaulagiri, and his thoughts on the discovery of Mallory.
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Viesturs, probably America's most proficient and best known high-altitude climber, says "our motivation was up the whole time, and we just kind of rolled along with it, and
the next thing you know, we had two peaks under our belt."
Viesturs is so adept at what he does there's a real risk that he makes it look too easy. But as anyone who has done so will attest, climbing 8,000-meter mountains isn't for the faint of heart. His casual remarks about objective dangers, high winds, or a whiteout just below the summit should be taken with the source in mind: Ed Viesturs has been there many, many times before including five successful summits of Everestand what may be old hat for him would test the mettle of most other climbers.
The route followed straightforward glaciers, dangerous ice falls (in fact, the climbers scouted round-about detours to avoid crossing through the most dangerous sections four times). Steep, hard ice guarded the way to Camp III, but Viesturs and Gustafsson trust each other so implicitly they climbed roped together without placing protection.
Summit day started out cold and windy, but the pair was successful anyway. The two men had the summit to themselves.
From Manaslu Base Camp, Viesturs and Gustafsson trekked a couple of days down valley so they could catch a ride in a helicopter (in order to maintain their acclimatization) to their next objective: Dhaulagiri. The big Russian helicopter they had chartered was being used by the Nepali government for elections, so the pair had to shuttle their gear over four or five trips via a smaller machine. But, by flying from Manaslu to Dhaulagiri, Viesturs and Gustafsson preserved the hard-won acclimatization they had achieved on Manaslu, which opened the possibility of a very fast, alpine-style ascent.
For Dhaulagiri, Viesturs and Gustafsson had yet another advantage. Just one year earlier, the two climbers had turned back high on the route when conditions seemed ripe for avalanche. So this time, they both knew the mountain and the route.
"We were hoping we could just zip up," said Viesturs. When they got there, nobody had been high on the mountain, there was no route established. They once again had the peak to themselves. So Viesturs and Gustafsson put everything they'd need for the ascent, and with 42-pound packs they set off to climb an 8,000-meter peak the way weekend climbers set out for the summit of Mount Rainier.
Climbing alpine style you take everything you need in one push. The first day they Base Camp and reached 20,000 feet. They set up camp, spent the night, then carried it as high as they could get the second day 24,000 feet, the site of the normal Camp III. Last year, above this point is where they had turned around, but this year it was all hard snow. On hard neve, the climbers set out on a steep traverse leading to a broad summit ridge. By 11:00 a.m., they were on top.
"It was a perfect day, no snow, no wind," said Viesturs. "It was a great day in the mountains."
But on the descent, heavy snow began to fall. The wands they had placed on their ascent enabled them to reach their high camp through the bad conditions. The following day they were able to complete their descent to Base Camp, having climbed Dhaulagiri in four days and three nights, an incredible achievement. And it was Ed Viesturs 12th out of 14 8,000 meter summits.
"This is one of those season you look forward to," he said. "And to have two more 8,000-meter peaks is big for me. It's not like I'm checking them off or anything, but climbing all 14 remains a personal goal of mine and I am committed to doing it."
While Viesturs and Gustafsson were, on May 2, at 20,400 feet on Dhaulagiri, astonishing news was reported from Mount Everest. Members of the Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition had found the remains of George Leigh Mallory, missing on the mountain for 75 years and the subject of one of mountaineering's greatest mysteries.
Viesturs' opinion: "If they find photos of him and Irvine on the summit, great, but I've always said this, and I agree with Hillary that, it's got to be a round trip."
Two more of the 8,000-meter giants remain for Viesturs: Nanga Parbat and Annapurna. He hopes to climb at least one of those by next year.
Peter Potterfield, MountainZone.com Staff
[Viesturs Photo Gallery]