|Wally Berg: Quiet American Hardguy
May 20, 1998
Wally Berg, 43, who yesterday reached the summit of Mount Everest (29,028') for the
fourth time, is considered the "quiet American" by many of the world's
best high altitude climbers. He not only reached the summit, but was
able to spend two hours on top doing critical science-related work for
Bradford Washburn of The Boston Museum of Science.
It was an amazing feat, but very much in Berg's style. While other veterans of Himalayan
climbing are flashier, Berg keeps a low profile and keeps getting to
the top. Among non-Sherpa climbers, only Ed Viesturs and Pete Athans, with five each, have more Everest summits than Berg.
"This climb definitely confirms Wally Berg's place among America's elite
high altitude climbers," said Everest guide Todd Burleson of Alpine
Ascents International. "And it was very much in character for Wally.
When the first attempt was unsuccessful because of intolerable conditions and a lack of rope, Wally saw there was work to do, so he went out and did it. Two hours on top! There just aren't many
climbers around with that kind of ability and commitment."
"Other climbers try to be sexier," said Brent Bishop, who is the son of Barry
Bishop and an Everest veteran who climbed with Berg last year in
Antarctica. "But Wally is methodical and committed. The guy is just so dialed in, so focused, and so confident in his ability. It doesn't
surprise me at all that he pulled it off. Other climbers could learn a
lot from Wally Berg."
It's one thing to climb Everest, but quite another to do something
useful while you're there. Brad Washburn was elated at Berg's success.
"Wally can get it done," said Washburn from Boston, "that's why he's the
leader of the expedition. It's as simple as that. When he got up there,
the first task was to drill a hole in the highest rock in the world,
some people call it Bishop Rock after Barry Bishop. Well, it turned out
to be a lot harder than anybody predicted, and it took an hour to drill
the holes to mount the plate for the GPS receiver. So we got that done; we
didn't get everything we wanted accomplished, but we got that, and
that's the most important. For that, we're grateful to Wally Berg. He's
a guy who knows how to handle bad-going up high."
"He's a guy who knows how to handle bad-going up high..."
Berg became the first American to reach the summit of Lhotse when he
climbed the peak with the late Scott Fischer on May 13, 1990. (Fischer, who had
unusually high regard for Berg, once told me: "Wally is incredible,
together we just totally smoked Lhotse.") Berg has also climbed Cho Oyu,
giving him three of the world's 14 8,000-meter Himalayan peaks.
Wally Berg on the South Col (26,300') with GPS gear in '97
"You just have to be impressed by what Berg accomplished," said
Burleson. "He's got the experience, and he's got the strength to pull it
off. When things got tough, Wally got tougher. He's one in a million.
And just a couple of weeks after he gets home, he'll be guiding a Denali
climb for us. There just aren't many people who can do that two weeks
after he climbs Mount Everest."
Berg lives with his wife, Sally, in Copper Mountain, Colorado, where he
works ski patrol when he's not guiding clients on peaks
around the world. Last year, Berg lead successful trips to Mounts
Elbrus, Kilimanjaro and the Vinson Massif in Antarctica. This year Berg will
guide Denali climbs and four Kilimanjaro trips for Alpine Ascents
Peter Potterfield, Mountain Zone Editor