Mountaineer hits summit

Viesturs on a previous climb. - Courtesy of Ed Viesturs
Viesturs on a previous climb.
— image credit: Courtesy of Ed Viesturs

Islander Ed Viesturs conquers Annapurna: summit, 26,545 feet.

What do you call a man who grew up in the one of the flattest places in the United States, and whose mother and sister are afraid of heights?

The first American to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter mountains.

Early Thursday morning (island time), islander Ed Viesturs reached the summit of 26,545-foot-high Annapurna, located not far from Everest in the Himalayas. He was ac­com­panied by his longtime climbing companion, Veikka Gustafsson of Finland, and three Italians who facilitated the climb by laying down a series of ropes.

“I’m so happy that I don’t feel very tired,” a somewhat ex­hausted sounding Viesturs told the Review yesterday by telephone from base camp.

He joins an elite group of adventurers, as only the 12th man to accomplish the feat. Because Viesturs doesn’t climb with oxygen, he finds himself in even more select company, one of perhaps half a dozen “pure” climbers.

It’s fitting that Annapurna was the final peak in his ambitious pursuit, which he has termed Endeavor 8000.

His passion for climbing began in high school when he read “Annapurna” by mountaineer Maurice Herzog.

The book detailed the author’s 1950 ascent, the first time that anyone had climbed an 8,000-meter peak.

While many are familiar with the numerous victims that Everest has claimed, statistically Annapurna is even more difficult and deadly: for every two people who have reached the summit, a third has died.

Already attuned to the outdoors and in prime physical shape after years of competitive swimming – he established several school records at East High School in Rockford, Ill., where contours on a topographical map are few and far between – Viesturs was inspired to begin clambering up rocks in neighboring Wisconsin.

Though his mother, Ingrid Dean, says she’s “scared to death” of heights and his sister Velta Pocs echoes the sentiment, Viesturs didn’t inherit that gene.

With Badger State boulders whetting his appetite, he came to Seattle to attend the University of Washington and begin climbing in earnest. After graduating, he entered veterinary school at Washington State. But his career never took off, and his avocation soon became his vocation.

For Viesturs, the third time was the charm with Annapurna. He’d already tried in 2000 and 2002, turning back both times because conditions were too dangerous.

Buoyed this week by clearing weather, Viesturs and Gustafsson began their surge toward the top.

But stormy weather forced them into their tent for more than two days. With food, fuel and patience running low – and the risk of remaining in what climbers call the “death zone,” because of the severe effects of the lack of oxygen at that altitude – being forced back to base camp seemed likely.

Fortunately, the stiff winds dropped enough early Thursday morning for the men to emerge.

Eleven hours later, they stood on the summit.

By nearly every account, Viesturs’ accomplishment represents a combination of head, heart and physique. In an interview this week, his mother, an Illinois resident, cited his determination.

“When he wanted to do something, he would do it no matter what,” she said.

Viesturs expects to be home on the island within a week or two.

“I just want to hang out with my family,” he said.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 21
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates