The Legends of Climbing (page 2 of 4)
Jim Wickwire, who's putting the finishing touches on his new book, Addicted to Danger, was in a reflective mood: "It's not the successes you've had that stay in your mind, it's the failures. I think life is about striving, but nobody is successful 100 percent of the time — not even Ed Viesturs, who has to be the most successful high altitude climber of the period. [Wickwire was with Viesturs on Kanchenchunga, Viesturs first 8,000 meter peak.]

In my own climbing, I've detected a consistent pattern. You get into a tight situation, you get hurt; a friend gets killed, and you think you're going to stop climbing. But, after a few weeks at home, you start planning your next climb. That process is very interesting to me.

The other thing is that while I've climbed with some of the best climbers in the world, more importantly, to me, they are some of the best people in the world. That's another reason why I climb. But it's been a tough balancing act, climbing, having a law practice and having a family, too. There's no question that it's selfish, and I think I could have been a better lawyer, a better climber, a better husband and father, if I hadn't tried to do it all. But, maybe that's what separates climbers from other people."

Wickwire & Viesturs

  Ed Viesturs: "K2 for me, in 1992, after three 8,000 meter summits, I felt like I was ready — and that's important. You shouldn't go to K2 until you feel prepared. I climbed with Scott Fischer, and we had no luck getting sponsorship and in fact sneaked out of town $15,000 in debt, but we both badly wanted to try K2, and we wanted to climb it together.

After months of bad weather, we were finally at Camp IV ready to go to the summit the next day. We both were climbing without supplemental oxygen. We were expecting to leave at one in the morning, but the weather was bad and we ended up spending three nights and three days at 26,000 feet. Finally, the weather cleared and we left the tent before one in the morning so we could reach the summit as early as possible. We could see these big black clouds rising up to meet us, and it started snowing. I knew that this accumulating snow would make conditions dangerous, but Scott was so focused on the summit that he wanted to go on.

"So I just kept saying to myself, okay, I'll go for 10 minutes more, then 10 minutes more, and that went on all day. Phil Ershler had been in a similar situation a year before and had turned around, and I kept thinking about that. But we finally reached the summit, and both Scott and I were overjoyed to be on top, but I was really worried about the descent. On the way down I was convinced that we were going to die in an avalanche, or get lost in the storm.

Well, obviously we got down, but later I was really angry with myself. If there's one mistake I ever made in climbing it was that summit day. I always considered myself a very cautious climber, but that day I think I just pushed it too hard, just going along with Scott, when I probably should have just turned around. I learned a huge lesson that day: follow your gut instincts. Now I feel that every climb I go on is a safer climb for me because I take what I've learned on all the other mountains."

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