Jim Whittaker Reflects on Ed Viesturs
On May 1, 1963 Jim Whittaker became the first American to stand atop Mt. Everest, the planet's highest peak. He later led expeditions to K2 resulting in the first American summit of the world's second-highest mountain--and often considered its most dangerous. In 1990, he returned to Mt. Everest with International Peace Climb, leading a group of mountaineers from the United States, China, and the Soviet Union to the summit--a team that included an up-and-coming climber named Ed Viesturs. For the publication of The Mountain: My Time on Everest, Whittaker looks back at his time with Viesturs, as well as his nearly unparalleled high-altitude abilities.
Ed and I first began jumping crevasses--and pulling people out of them--on the glaciers of Mt. Rainier in Washington State.
At 14,410 feet above sea level, Mt. Rainier is less than half as high as 29,035-foot Mt. Everest, but it has all the snow, ice, rock, storms and altitude necessary to make it a wonderful educator for those who would climb high mountains.
Although a generation apart, Ed and I both worked as guides, taking clients who had never climbed before to the summit. As guides, we learned to watch our rope mates closely, because--tied to us--they could kill us. You didn't want to climb with someone who was NOT afraid of heights. Eventually, separated by almost three decades, we each reached the top of the world.
On May 1, 1963, along with Sherpa Nawang Gombu, I was lucky enough to become the first American to summit Mt. Everest. On May 7, 1990, as a member of the Mt. Everest International Peace Climb, of which I was the leader, Ed reached the highest point on earth, without the use of bottled oxygen. Our team included climbers from the then Soviet Union, China, Tibet and America, joining together for a "summit on the summit," demonstrating what could be achieved through diplomacy and friendship. It was on this climb that I saw Ed exercise his leadership and guiding skills, along with his incredible ability to climb up and down, up and down, and up and up and up.
There are just 14 mountains on earth that stick up into the "Death Zone"--above 8,000 meters--and Mt. Everest, Qomolangma, Goddess Mother of the World is the highest. My friend, Ed Viesturs, has climbed them all without bottled oxygen, the first and only American to do so. Mt. Everest he's done more than once. Much more.
Now, imagine this: While breathing bottled oxygen, I was taking three to four breaths with every step on the upper slopes of Everest, literally panting for hours and hours to the top. Ed has climbed the 14 highest peaks on earth, taking three to four, six to eight, 10 to 12 to 15 breaths to a step as he ascended. He says, "When I get to 15 breaths a step I begin to wonder if I should turn around." Is there any wonder his climbing friends honor him by referring to Ed as "an ANIMAL?"
Yet Ed has retained his humility and is warm and friendly. He has a good sense of humor and he is just a nice person. He is unique. Read his new book (and his several others) and see if you can figure this guy out.
--Jim Whittaker, October 2013
Learn more about Jim Whittaker and the first successful ascent of Mt. Everest in A Life on the Edge, including a new forward by Ed Viesturs.
“Mr. Viesturs has crafted a breezy tour through his many Everest ascents. . . . Armchair adventurers will rip through this addition to the Everest canon, and for anyone not intimate with Everest’s adventurous history, The Mountain
marks a fine beginning.” (The Wall Street Journal
"Viesturs peppers the narrative with commonsense wisdom, . . . but the book's best moments come when he focuses on the unsung Everest achievements that inspire him. The tale of the Polish expedition that made the first winter ascent and the badass exploits of little-known Swiss climber Erhard Loretan are a welcome distraction from all the dead bodies." (Men's Journal
"Fans of adventure, mountaineering, extreme sports, and Everest history will thoroughly enjoy Viesturs's latest book." (Library Journal
“In this amiable history/memoir hybrid . . . Viesturs is a fountain of firsthand knowledge and straightforward narration, and the book makes for a good read. As the only American who has summited the world’s 14 highest peaks without bottled oxygen, Viesturs has a different ruler than the rest of us by which to measure risk.” (Publishers Weekly
"[Viesturs] . . . unearths some interesting tidbits that may be well-known to his community but new to laymen. The author, who has been lauded for his compassion and assistance to other climbers, also brings an unexpected attribute: attitude." (Kirkus Reviews
"This book is Ed’s love letter and farewell to Everest. . . . It is written in an engaging, approachable manner that will have you turning the pages just to find out what happens next. Whether you routinely visit the Himalaya on your own adventures or find yourself out of wind simply going up a flight of stairs, we wholeheartedly recommend this book." (Kraig Becker Wegner Adventure Blog
"A detailed, nicely told account of a man’s endurance and perseverance in achieving a singular goal." (Publishers Weekly
“Viesturs and Roberts have written an exhaustively researched and wonderfully compelling history of the most fascinating and dangerous of the Himalayan giants.” (David Breashears)
“The Will to Climb
captures the essence and spirit of the great sport of mountaineering… For anyone who loves the outdoors and for those who admire the will of mankind, this book is a must-read." (Tod Leiweke, CEO of Tampa Bay Lightning)
"An American master of the climb…Viesturs's you-are-there narration communicates effortlessly the enormous effort, and high adventure, of scaling K2." (Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Magic...[An] outstanding piece of nonfiction." (Christopher Reich for Amazon.com
“A compelling story of dedication, desperation, danger, derring-do, and devotion (physical and spiritual). Fans of extreme-sport books, especially tales of high adventure, will want to add this one to their collections." (Booklist)
“Ed Viesturs was an inspiration to me personally and to the Seahawks team in 2005. I highly recommend reading this account of one of America’s heroes.” (Mike Holmgren, coach of the Seattle Seahawks)
"From the drama of the peaks, to the struggle of making a living as a professional climber, to the basic how-tos of life at 26,000 feet, No Shortcuts to the Top
is fascinating reading." (Aron Ralston, author of Between a Rock and a Hard Place)
"Ed Viesturs—the first American to climb all fourteen 8,000 meter peaks without bottled oxygen—is an animal. A human animal blessed with enormous strength balanced by intelligence, honesty, and a heart of gold. And besides, HE IS A NICE GUY. This is a great read for those of us who climb, those who want to learn to climb and live to tell about it, and those who like great adventures." (Jim Whittaker, first American to climb Mount Everest,)
“From his earliest climbs on the peaks of the Pacific Northwest to his final climb up the Himalayan mountain of Annapurna, Viesturs offers testimony to the sacrifices (personal and professional) in giving your life over to a dream, as well as the thrill of seeing it through.” (Publishers Weekly)
"Ed Viesturs is not merely one of our strongest mountaineers; he’s also one of the most remarkable. He’s demonstrated that it’s possible to climb the world’s highest peaks without taking reckless chances, and without sacrificing one’s honor or integrity. He has never hesitated to help other climbers in need, even when it meant putting himself in danger or sacrificing his own opportunity to achieve a summit. Ed, simply put, is a genuine American hero.” (Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air)