Ed Viesturs Describes His Retreat on Dhaulagiri
Tragedy of Chantal Mauduit shocks climbers

Ed Viesturs, probably America's best known high-altitude climber, has just returned to his home in Seattle after turning around short of the summit on 8,167-meter Dhaulagiri on May 17. "The trip was fun," Viesturs told The Mountain Zone. "We had a great time even though we had to turn around below the top because of avalanche conditions."

"Everybody on the mountain was deeply affected by the death..."
Viesturs, along with Veikka Gustafsson and Guy Cotter, were making an attempt on the Northeast Ridge as a small, self-contained team without Sherpa support. Gustafsson had climbed Makalu and Broad Peak with Viesturs; Cotter and Viesturs had guided together on Everest. (Cotter last year took over Adventure Consultants, the guiding climbing company formerly owned by Rob Hall.) "It was a great trip," said Viesturs. "We carried our own loads, it was a totally small and light expedition, and despite not getting to the top we really had a good climb. But everybody on the mountain was deeply affected by the death of Chantal Mauduit."

"It was unlikely that they both would perish at the same time..."
Mauduit, who was found with her Sherpa, Ang Tshering from the village of Thame, in a tent at Camp II, apparently died of asphyxiation, said Viesturs. "It was really weird," Viesturs said. "Nobody had seen her in about a week and everybody was saying, 'Where's Chantal?' We knew she was doing her own thing with her Sherpa, and since she didn't have a radio she was not in touch with anybody. After a while people started thinking that she had been caught in an avalanche or fell in a crevasse, but it seemed to us that it was unlikely that they both would perish at the same time." Viesturs and Gustafsson had looked in Mauduit's tent at Camp III but found no sign of her. People at base camp said she wasn't in her tent there, either.

"It got to be a huge mystery," said Viesturs, "until finally, the Italians looked in her tent at Camp II, which supposedly had already been searched, and found Mauduit and Ang Tshering. It was just so sad."

Viesturs had met Chantal Mauduit in 1992 when he and Scott Fischer were climbing K2. In fact, Fischer and Viesturs helped bring an exhausted Mauduit down after she became virtually incapacitated after a bold summit climb.

"We walked into the bowl...and I thought, 'ah, I don't like this'..."
As for his own attempt on the summit, Viesturs said that Cotter had gone back down but he and Gustafsson were poised for a summit bid on one of the calmest days he had ever seen in the Himalaya. "Veikka and I were alone at camp III, that's just under 24,000 feet. Above that is a ridge you climb for a couple hundred meters, then there's a big bowl, which was clearly loaded with a big slab. We walked into the bowl a little ways and I thought, 'ah, I don't like this, not at all.' Veikka agreed, so we turned around. It was two in the morning, really warm, really calm, a full moon, just awesome. But, finally, we just couldn't do it, couldn't go farther, it wasn't safe. We ended up turning around at about 25,000 feet."

Viesturs and his party then made the decision to return home. "The conditions didn't seem like they were going to change in the next week or two, so there was no sense waiting around."

Ed Viesturs, who currently has climbed 10 of the world's 14 8,000-meter peaks, has no plans to return to Asia soon. "I'll be busy with lectures and IMAX Everest premieres," he said, "and I might do some guiding on Rainier this year."

Peter Potterfield, Mountain Zone Editor

[Viesturs IMAX Interview] [Mauduit News] [Everest] [Climbing]