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No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks
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61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There are 14 mountain peaks in the world that tower to 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), and when Ed Viesturs finally conquered Annapurna, a peak on which one climber dies for every two who try, he joined an elite group of five people who have accomplished that feat without using supplemental oxygen. He's the only American to have done so. It took 18 years and 30 expeditions to the 8,000ers; on 10 trips he turned back short of the summit, once when he was only 100 feet away, exercising extraordinary willpower to follow his "deepest article of faith" that "getting to the top is optional; getting down is mandatory." Not bad for a man who in 1992 at the age of 33 had quit his practice as a vetinarian, was living in a windowless basement apartment, had $25,000 of school debt, and was banging nails as a construction worker to make ends meet.

No Shortcuts is a fun read because it is about more than mountain climbing, which, of course, almost none of his readers will ever attempt. But everyone has their personal Annapurna, as he says in the final pages of the book, whether battling cancer or conquering a fear. Failure, perseverance, passion, patience, risk management, teamwork, self-sacrifice for others, endurance and death are all life lessons that easily emerge from the book. His chapter on the 1996 disasters on Mount Everest when a dozen people died, including world class mountaineers Scott Fischer and Rob Hall, ads his personal perspective to Krakauer's Into Thin Air. In the last few pages Viesturs reflects upon whether his pursuit was selfish, adventure addiction, growing older and realizing he cannot climb like he could twenty years ago, feeling letdown after such a remarkable accomplishment, and how climbing has impacted his marriage. For movie versions see the IMAX film Everest (the highest grossing IMAX movie ever made) or the documentary Everest: The Death Zone.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
We finally got a copy of the much anticipated Ed Viesturs memoir. Endeavoring to read it cover-to-cover and absorb all the drama, low and high altitude adventure, and very personal insights - we weren't disappointed.

Ed and David Roberts have given the reader a never before look into the climbing and personal life of America's icon of mountain climbing. This includes the mental methods of climbing with various partners, dealing with circumstances outside of the sphere of control, and the decisions impacting self and family.

An added surprise is Ed's opinions on epic climbs by other climbers that were highlighted in media, movies, and books. It certainly gave us reason to review our own opinions of the events.

A valued purchase with b/w photos.
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62 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I have followed the adventures of Ed Viesturs and his pursuit of the 14 summits with great interest over the years. Though I am not a mountaineer in the least, it is a subject that I have been fascinated by ever since I was a youngster and saw a presentation by a man who had attempted to climb Everest. I was enthralled by the challenge and the seeming overwhelming and inherent risks. Then, years later, I was fortunate enough to see a presentation by Jon Krakauer during his tour in support of the outstanding "Into Thin Air".

Another reason I followed the mountaineers like Mr. Viesturs and Mr. Krakauer - among others - is that they convey a sense of respect and sanity about climbing these high peaks. In this new era where highly unqualified people are trying to summit peaks like Everest and ethical dilemmas more often overshadow the achievements, it is the reasoned voices of these climbers who can hopefully reverse the trend.

With that said, I was excited to see that Mr. Viesturs published "No Shortcuts To The Top". I ordered it almost as soon as it came out, and couldn't wait for the opportunity to read it.

Mr. Viesturs provides a pretty complete picture of his life to date. He nicely summarized his childhood, but fortunately kept it short to focus in on the things that drew him to climb. He does a great job of relating the sacrifices he had to make - especially financially - in order to pursue this passion. The reader gets to fully understand that climbing is not the type of "hobby" where you can just pick up from your job on a weekend and head to the hills.

More importantly - like Mr. Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" (though perhaps not as dramatically so) - Mr. Viesturs takes the reader with him on his climbs to show the many risks and possibility for death that constantly surround you at those great heights. "No Shortcuts To The Top" does a great job in relating the constant challenge of weighing the desire to push for the summit versus preserving one's safety. Time and again, Mr. Viesturs relates his motto, "Reaching the summit is optional. Getting down is mandatory." At times, this repetition gets to be a bit annoying, but then you begin to understand that climbers have to repeat that to themselves every time they head up a peak.

Those looking for yet another account of the 1996 tragedy on Everest may be disappointed. I think Mr. Viesturs (rightly) assumes that too much has been written about those days already, and in some cases, the story has been better captured by other authors. So, we do get his perspective as a member of a team following the ill-fated expeditions, but without a great deal of detail.

Probably the most enjoyable part of the story involved his repeated attempts to finally summit Annapurna. Given his relation of the climb and weather that goes with it, this sounds like the most difficult of the 14 highest peaks in the worlds.

As the book progresses, we also see that the "high-adventure" mountain climbing community is a pretty close-knit one. Mr. Viesturs frequently encounters these select few that are challenging the world's highest peaks. Some he is friends with, some are rivals, some have massive egos, and some are very down-to-earth. But all possess the desire to climb and challenge themselves.

A criticism I have of this book is that Mr. Viesturs at times gets very technical in his descriptions of gear and climbing, to the detriment of his recollections of his summits. That seemed to bog the book down in places. Also, while I realize it is important to relate to the reader the type of equipment one is climbing with, he sometimes seemed to go into a little too much detail. I wouldn't have minded so much, except for the fact that he didn't really go into a lot of detail about some of his climbs. So, it almost conveyed a sense that he was leaving things out to talk more about boots, parkas, and tents. I could overlook this penchant for the overly technical and excessive information, but the casual reader would probably get bored with it or become uninterested.

You will note as you read this review that by and large, my review is pretty positive, yet I am rating it with 3 stars. I wrestled with that rating. If I were basing it purely on how I liked it, I would probably give it four stars. But, as I alluded to above, I think the excessive technical lingo and detail would put off the casual reader who may not be quite as enthralled by mountaineering as I am.

I am glad that Mr. Viesturs wrote "No Shortcuts To The Top". I may have hoped for a little more, but it's good to have this account of his successes on the mountains. I hope he continues to be a prominent voice in the mountaineering community for a little "reform" in today's expeditions, so that safety and experience doesn't get lost in the face of deep-pocketed individuals who foolishly believe that money equals a guarantee of an easy transit to the summit of an Everest or other high peak.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I have long dreamed of climbing mountains, and from a young age, I've eagerly devoured books on the subject. Ed Viesturs has always been somebody to look up to (literally) in the climbing world; I was in awe to meet him at a recent book signing and to get a copy of this book.

This is one of the better books I've read about mountaineering. Viesturs talks about the dangers of climbing, and he doesn't gloss over the less-than-pretty parts: he wants you to understand that no matter what you see in the movies, climbing mountains is a serious endeavor, something you need to go into with your eyes wide-open. He tactfully handles such matters as the 1996 Everest disaster, and he is modest about his participation in several high-profile projects. He knows he's done some amazing feats, but he doesn't make you feel as if he's let it go to his head at all. If anything, his book is wonderfully conversational, making it a good read, even if you're just an armchair adventurer.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This retrospective gives an intimate look at one of the all-time greats of Himalayan mountaineering. You get a good feeling for what drives Ed, how he evaluates the risks vs. the rewards of an inherently dangerous activity, and how he views life overall. What doesn't come through adequately (nor could it in any book) is his amazing personality--always humble in spite of his accomplishments, always putting others first if help is needed, always planning for the future in spite of the set back of the day--for that, you just have to climb with Ed and get to know him. (Full disclosure: I was an early climbing partner of Ed, so I may be a bit biased in his favor.) What inspires me most about Ed is not his accomplishments above 8000 m, but that he built a career doing exactly what he loves to do, while so many of us sit in offices doing stuff we hate, just daydreaming of the mountains and adventures unfulfilled. This book could be cataloged under either "mountaineering" or "living life to the max."
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I was intrigued by Ed Viesturs because he's only the sixth person, and first American, to summit all fourteen of the 8,000 meter (that's 26,247 feet) mountains in the world (all in the Himalayas) without bottled oxygen. An amazing feat. It took him 17 years, and his motto was "Getting to the top is optional, getting back to the bottom is mandatory."

So I decided to read his recent autobiography.

It was a very enjoyable read - a real life adventure about a personal quest. My own outdoors experiences are limited to day hikes in the Hudson valley and Catskills, car camping with my family, and one or two night jaunts on the Appalahian Trail.

The book begins with Viesturs and companion Scott Fisher having a close call in 1992 on the face of K2 (the world's second highest mountain at 8,611 meters), with Viesturs doing a "self-arrest" to keep them from plunging 8,000 feet. They were actually in the midst of trying to reach and help two other very experienced climbers who'd gotten into trouble further up the mountain - everyone survived the situation.

Later in the expedition, Viesturs, Fisher and another American climber did reach the summit of K2, but Viesturs believes their decision to push for the summit was the worse decision he ever made on any of his Himalayan climbs. Even though they got to the top and back down again without serious incident, the weather conditions and timing were much too risky. Viesturs references that decision, and the fact that they were extremely fortunate to have made the summit and gotten back down again without a disaster, on a number of occasions later in the book.

The remaining seven chapters and epilogue blend in Viesturs early family life, his learning curve as a climber and guide on Mount Rainier, his struggle to become a professional climber (as in making a living through his climbing), Himalayan summit efforts, and his family life with a wife and three children.

He explains his reasoning for not using oxygen assistance when attempting a summit (however, he does use oxygen when working the Himalayas as a guide/expedition member - he feels he owes it to his clients who are depending on his expertise and aid). His rationale is that you are not meeting the mountain, on it's own terms. In a very real sense you are lowering the mountain, since you are breathing an oxygen mixure that is not found at the highest altitudes.

Viesturs views himself as a risk manager, not a risk taker. He makes the point (continuously!) that it's not good enough to get to the mountain summit, you have to get down again! Viesturs plans his climbs starting with the return from the summit, not getting to the summit. He feels one of the main reasons for fatalities on the mountains is the failure to plan for the descent, as people single-mindedly are interested in summitting and over-push themselves, leaving no physical and mental reserves for the climb down, or they arrive at the summit too late in the day and suffer the combined consequences of exhaustion, bad weather, and darkness. This was the cause of most of the deaths in 1996 on Everest, including his friend Scott Fisher, who was the head of one expedition (he probably died of pulmonary edema), as well as the head of the another expedition, the New Zealander Rob Hall. Viesturs was on the mountain that day (at a lower camp) and was involved in resuce efforts - there could easily have been many more deaths. There's a well-regarded book about the series of incidents causing the deaths, entitled "Into Thin Air."

On several occasions, including Viesturs first effort on Everest, he cut short his climb even though near the summit, because in his judgement a summit push would have involved too much risk. He was actually only 100 vertical feet from the top of Everest on his first attempt, when he and hs partner made the decision to descend. His attitude was always that he could come back in another season and reach the top. It actually was only on his third attempt on Annapurna, in 2005, that he got to the top. That was the last of the fourteen 8,000 meter peaks Vieturs needed to climb to complete his quest. He'd failed on Annapurna in 2000, and again in 2003.

And that, of course, begs the question. Why get involved in such a risky, life-threatening sport? For every seven climbers who summit Everest, one dies. And Everest is by no means the riskiest Himalayan mountain! For every two who summit Annapurna, one climber dies.

You'll have to read the book for Ed Viesturs answer.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Viesturs is a stand-out in the world of mountaineering. Not just as an extremely skilled & experienced mountaineer (one of the best in the world), but as a truly down-to-earth & likable guy. We're so lucky to be able to learn about this sport & these mountains from a true voice that is unencumbered by machismo & ego. Even with the help of David Roberts, this memoir is not a literary masterpiece. But the stories, the pictures, the insights, and Viesturs' inspiring voice come through loud & clear. As a simple hiker who will never make it to the Himalayas, I was fascinated by the story of how a person born in the midwest ends up on top of Everest many years later. I was equally fascinated by all the details he gives about daily life on an 8000m peak. I think this book will appeal to a wide range of people -- from experienced climbers to casual hikers to total couch potatoes. A totally enjoyable read that will take you through a range of emotions from start to finish. (And I finished with a smile on my face)
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As an avid armchair mountaineer, I've read many mountaineering books and this one ranks up there with my favorites, `Into Thin Air' and `Annapurna'. This book is set apart from many others because it describes not only one, but fourteen (plus) successful summit bids on fourteen different mountains - and all the training, preparation, and good judgment that lead to success. So many mountaineering books are about tragedy; it's refreshing to read one about success.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
In No Shortcuts to the Top, Ed Viesturs has given us an excellent account of what it is like to attempt to climb all of the world's peaks over 8,000 meters in height. He also explains how it was possible for him to do the huge amount of mountaineering he has done yet still make a living and raise a family. The climbing sections are wonderful. Like most people, I am purely an armchair mountaineer so books of this type are as close as I will get to going high in the Himalayas. Mr. Viesturs makes it clear that getting to the top is optional. As he says many times, getting back down is mandatory. I particularly appreciated his insights into the 1996 Everest disaster, and I found his descriptions of his attemts to climb Annapurna unbelievably gripping. This book also brings home to the reader how many of the best climbers eventually die in their mountaineering efforts. The book is also helped significantly by the editing and writing of David Roberts. He is one of the best in this field.

One other suggestion. After you finish this book, read Ed Viestur's Himalayan Quest. It is primarily a book of outstanding photographs of his climbs, and the photos should be more meaningful after you have read the descriptions of the climbs in No Shortcuts
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Ed Viesturs may not hold the title of Most Amazing American Athlete Most People Have Never Heard Of, but he's got to be in the team picture.

In "No Shortcuts to the Top," he comes across as a genuine, thoughtful, focused, kind, determined man. But that's not why I highly recommend it: With the help of David Roberts, Viesturs has also woven a masterful account of his remarkable quest to scale all 14 of the Eight Thousanders--without the aid of supplemental oxygen.

I was awed by the extensive detail that courses throughout the book...seems as if Ed has been taking very good notes for quite some time. It's a pleasure to see that effort--a microcosm of his overall attention to detail and day-to-day discipline--bear fruit in "No Shortcuts to the Top."

I also appreciate that Viesturs doesn't shy away from including elements that don't necessarily reflect perfectly on him. He acknowledges mistakes he's made, and he shares frank personal information that others might have glossed over or sidestepped altogether.

Also, you need not be into mountain climbing to appreciate this book. The most I ever climb is a flight or two of stairs, for example.

Full disclosure: I had the pleasure of speaking with Viesturs by phone a few times before the book's release, as I helped edit a cover story on him for Krakoosh magazine. He's as down-to-earth a guy as someone can be after scaling the world-record heights as he's done.
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