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Viesturs bags #13 8000er: Again, sort of.


by Unknown

July 17, 2003

Camp4 - Climbing News Archive

Climber makes his point to critics

By Ron C. Judd
Seattle Times staff reporter

In a remarkable 20-year climbing career, Bainbridge Island's Ed Viesturs has done plenty of stuff that ranks right up there on the holy-cow scale. But his latest Himalayan jaunt might be an all-timer: This week, Viesturs climbed the 12th-highest mountain in the world — to remove an asterisk.

That might not be the stated reason Viesturs, 44, gives for his two-day dash up 26,400-foot Broad Peak in the Karakoram Range, which he and partner Jean Christophe Lafaille successfully conquered yesterday morning in Pakistan.

But anyone who knows Viesturs will attest that the nit-pick factor played a role.

Viesturs long ago set a personal goal of climbing to the world's 14 highest places without using bottled oxygen. Fewer than 10 people have climbed all those peaks. Only one, famed Tyrolean climber Reinhold Messner, did it without the aid of bottled oxygen.

Viesturs bagged No. 13 late last month in Pakistan, struggling with Lafaille to the top of oft-deadly, 26,658-foot Nanga Parbat. Afterward, the duo stayed at Nanga Parbat base camp for several days, then trekked over to meet an old nemesis.

Viesturs had climbed Broad Peak, in the Karakoram Range next to K2, before. At least in his mind. On his 1997 climb there, Viesturs and climbing partner Veikka Gustafsson of Finland pushed to the top, stopping just 150 feet away from — and about 15 vertical feet below — the "true" summit, which was a short traverse away, over what Viesturs called "severely unstable snow."

Viesturs, who has always maintained he's seeking the summit of all 14 peaks of 8,000 meters or more for his own benefit, not the record books, considered it a successful summit. So did Gustafsson. So did other climbers in the region at the time, and many climbers informed about the circumstances after the fact.

But a few nit-pickers, as Viesturs' manager, Warren Wyatt, describes them, kept pointing to Broad Peak as the lone pock on Viesturs' otherwise impeccable big-peak résumé.

So when the opportunity arose this year to head to Broad Peak again to accompany Lafaille, who had not climbed the mountain, Viesturs agreed.

Supporting Lafaille, who also climbed with Viesturs on a treacherous East Ridge assault on Annapurna last spring, was the main reason to do it, Wyatt said.

But, he added, "Let's face it. It really would be comforting to put some of those critics in their place."

Viesturs and Lafaille trekked for nine days to the Karakoram, then made a two-day, alpine-style ascent on the mountain, carrying minimal provisions. The duo has now climbed two of the more difficult Himalayan peaks in the same month.

None of that is new to Viesturs, a pioneer of the dual-mountain assault. Climbing with Gustafsson, Viesturs employed the same tactic on a number of his successful Himalayan climbs. The strategy is simple: It's easier to climb twice in a row into the 26,000-foot "Death Zone," in which extreme altitude causes the body to literally begin consuming itself, than to go back to low elevations and reacclimatize before a second attempt.

Viesturs and Gustafsson had just returned from the summit of Mount Everest, in fact, when they made their "unofficial" summit climb on Broad Peak the first time around.

This time, there should be no doubt. Climbing all the way to the top of Broad Peak just to lay formal claim to that last 15 feet might seem extreme. But it's actually the second such Viesturs venture.

In 2001, he re-climbed Tibet's 26,300-foot Shishapangma, where he had reached the middle summit in 1993. The mountain's true summit was only 3 meters higher.

Viesturs now needs to stand only on the summit of 26,545-foot Annapurna in Nepal to complete his "Endeavor 8,000" quest for the world's 14 highest peaks. The mountain has turned him back twice — in 2000 and 2002.

Viesturs plans to return with Gustafsson for a third assault on Annapurna next spring.

He often says that claiming that summit as his final 8,000-meter peak would be a fitting end to his quest: It was the famous written account of the 1950 climb of Annapurna by French climber Maurice Herzog that first sparked Viesturs' interest in climbing as a boy.

Viesturs, who kept his travel plans into Pakistan and around the Himalayas unusually quiet this spring and summer because of safety concerns in the politically unstable region, plans to return to Seattle on July 22.

Editor's note: When Ed completes Annapurna, he will be only the second person, after Messner, to have climbed all 14 8000m peaks without supplemental oxygen. Ed resides near Seattle, WA. In 1997, Viesturs became the first non-Sherpa to make it to the top of Everest five times. He has summitted Washington's Mt. Rainier (14,410') 187 times.

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