Ketchum man shares his Everest stories

A new book details his experiences and the historyof the famous mountain.

rphillips@idahostatesman.comNovember 7, 2013 

Ketchum may hold some per capita record for the most Everest ascents by its residents, thanks to Ed Viesturs and Melissa Arnot.

Combined, the two have 12 summits on the world’s highest and most famous mountain. Viesturs writes about his 11 expeditions to Everest in his new book, “The Mountain: My Time on Everest.”

“I think I know how to deal with what happens on Everest, but I’ve never taken it for granted or said ‘I’ve got this figured out; this is a piece of cake,’” Viesturs said last week in a phone interview.

Viesturs first attempted to climb Everest in 1987 when he was a 27-year-old climbing guide on Mount Rainier in Washington.

He came within 300 feet of Everest’s summit before Viesturs and his partner, Eric Simonson, realized they probably wouldn’t survive the down climb from the summit because they’d used all their ropes and safety anchors to get that far.

He returned again in 1989 and tried a different route, but the expedition imploded 10,000 feet shy of the summit.

But Viesturs’ reputation as a workhorse guide with good judgment on the mountain got him invited on another expedition with Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Everest.

Whitaker was putting together a massive “Everest International Peace Climb” as an effort to get Cold War enemies to work together to climb Everest.

That’s a story unto itself — told in Viesturs’ book — but it also allowed Viesturs to reach the summit for the first time and launched his career as a professional mountaineer, even though such a thing didn’t really exist at the time.

Viesturs walked away from a potentially lucrative veterinarian practice to chase his dreams on the highest peaks in the world, and he became the first American to summit all 14 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen.

Viesturs hasn’t retired from mountain climbing, but said he now takes on smaller projects and doesn’t try to top his seven Everest summits or other major ascents.

“I did something I am very happy with,” he said. “I’m not going to go outdo myself.

But it’s those 11 trips to Everest and seven summits he focuses on in his new book. It’s his fourth book on mountaineering, and he said despite the numerous books written about Everest, people are still fascinated by it because it’s the tallest and a household name.

He’s seen the mountain literally from all sides and in both the spring and fall seasons, which are typically when the mountain is climbed (except for Polish climbers, who made an audacious climb during winter).

Viesturs has been on the mountain practically by himself, and also seen the human train of guided climbers slowly snaking toward the summit.

He takes a very libertarian view of what some people see as an annual circus on Everest as hordes of people try to add the world’s tallest summit to their adventure resume.

Viesturs says those who want to climb Everest should have the opportunity, whether buying their way on a guided expedition or doing it on their own.

“Mountaineering is about freedom,” he said. “If the gates are open, go climbing.”

He also points out that however they get to the top, people will be pushed both physically and mentally.

“They have to perform every single day,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to push yourself when you’re very uncomfortable. That’s the price you pay when you climb that mountain.”

But he’s also wistful of those early explorers on the mountain, which he chronicles in the book.

“I’ve always been intrigued with the history of Everest,” he said. “It’s kind of a romantic notion, but I would have loved to be part of those early expeditions.”

He puts the reader on the mountain and shows the various characters, the boredom of days stuck in tents, subzero temperatures and gale-force winds, incredible scenery, personality clashes, competition between expeditions, and all the other drama on top of the world.

But for him, it’s all worth it for the chance to make that final push on summit day after weeks and months of preparation, and make all that work pay off by reaching the top.

“You break that huge day into small, tangible steps,” he said. “You’ve got to pick these small goals along the way. You’ve got to say, ‘This is my day to prove that all that work was worth it.’”

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service