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World-class climber warns all mountains have dangers

This photo provided by the National Parks Service, shows the Liberty Ridge Area of Mount Rainier as viewed from the Carbon Glacier, Saturday, May 31, 2014, in Washington state. Six climbers missing on Mount Rainier are presumed dead after helicopters detected pings from emergency beacons buried in the snow thousands of feet below their last known location, a national park official said Saturday. (AP Photo/National Park Service)

World class climber Ed Viesturs lives in Seattle and is the only American to have summited all of the world's 14 largest mountain peaks, including Everest seven times.

He's also made a number of treks to the top of Mount Rainier - 212 summits.

But as he told KIRO Radio's Ron & Don Show, he has never completed Liberty Ridge, the dangerous trail where six climbers died over the weekend.

"I've tried it a couple of times, years and years ago, but both times got stormed off or walked away because of risk of avalanche or something," Viesturs explained. "I tried to do it a couple times in the winter. But I've never been there in the spring - this time of year."

No climb comes without risks, according to Viesturs. No matter how much climbers prepare, those who attempt to reach the peak always face dangers of injury or death.

"We expect those (risks.) We know that something could potentially happen. Whether we're the strongest person in the world or whether we have the best equipment, whether we're thinking clearly or making the best decisions; there's stuff that could happen. It's just something you accept, or you simply don't go," Viesturs said.

Which is why he believes no blame should be placed on Alpine Ascents International, the expedition group that was leading the climbers. This is the second tragedy for them in just over a month. They lost five Sherpa employees on a recent climb in Everest.

"It's just not fortunate for them this season. Obviously they work all over the world and when you send guides and clients to people all over the world, there's an increased chance of probability of exposure to risk."

Viesturs said he knows other guide services that are just as legitimate as Alpine Ascents, and have also lost a Sherpa.

"The Sherpa that died on Everest was one of those uncontrolled situations. You know, being at the wrong place at the wrong time, that to me seems to be what happened during this particular climb, as well," he said. "It sounds to me like there was some catastrophic avalanche - whether it was a rock fall or an ice fall and that's one of those objective dangers that you can't control."

But Viesturs also points out, climbers can make things worse for themselves when they underestimate a mountain. He recalled a terrifying climbing trip while working as a guide in the 1980s.

"The conditions were horrendous. It was very icy. We turned our group around because of the conditions and (another climber) went passed me alone. I wasn't really allowed to tell him what to do (because I wasn't his guide.) But I said, 'Man, be super careful, conditions are really bad today.' And he said to me, before he kept climbing up, 'It's only Rainier.' Ten minutes later, he slipped and he fell 3,000 feet down the ice slope and he was dead. And I remember that sentence," he said. "You know, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Everest - they're all the same. There's risk on all these mountains, and we can't say that some are safer than others. They all have their dangers."'s Alyssa Kleven contributed to this report.

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