When Ed Viesturs climbed Mount Everest in 2009, the world-renowned mountaineer and University of Washington graduate thought it could be his last trip to the world’s highest peak. So he made sure he took it all in.
“I absorbed it. I kind of tried to memorize it knowing that I was probably saying goodbye to Everest,” Viesturs told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don.
Now, he’s made it the focus of his new book “The Mountain: My Time on Everest.” Viesturs, the long-time Seattle-area climbing legend, says his experiences there and the continued mystique of the mountain led him to detail accounts of expeditions “that are by turns personal, harrowing, deadly, and inspiring.”
“It just shows what people are willing to do and are capable of doing to climb the highest mountain in the world.”
So what inspires him?
“If you have to ask, you’ll never know,” he laughs. “You either get it or you don’t get it. We get something out of it that’s unexplainable. The journey, the process, the hard work, a little bit of suffering. But in the end, this amazing feeling of accomplishment.”
In the book, Viesturs looks at the changing face of Everest and its popularity. One his first trips to Everest, his team was the only group on the mountain. Now, hundreds of people from all over the world and all abilities crowd the mountain every season.
“People think Everest is easier and for any amount of money somebody can get them to the top. Everest is just as high and just as hard as it’s ever been. There’s just more people trying.”
Among the most powerful sections of the book are Viesturs’ recollections of the deadliest day on Everest in 1996, when eight climbers, including his good friends Seattle guide Scott Fisher and New Zealand guide Rob Hall died on the mountain.
Viesturs was part of a crew filming an IMAX movie while Fisher and Hall guided other groups. The weather turned nasty, leaving Viesturs’ team with a difficult choice.
“We decided to go down and Rob and Scott joined forces and decided to go up and the rest is history.”
Most teams left the mountain after the tragedy, which was chronicled in the book “Into Thin Air.” But Viesturs team stayed, and he became the first one to return to the highest reaches of the mountain several weeks after the accident.
“I came across early in the morning, my buddy Scott Fisher lying in the snow and a few hours later there was my buddy Rob Hall lying in the snow.” It was something he’d never experienced before and a memory he’ll never forget.
Viesturs is the only American to have climbed all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen, among his many feats. His last one was on that Everest trip in 2009. And even though he said goodbye, he admits it might not have been for good.
“If something intriguing or some invitation that really seems legitimate, I could go back to Everest. I’m only 54. What the heck,” he says.
Ed Viesturs will appear Monday October 28 at The Mountaineers Bookstore in Seattle at 7 p.m. to speak and sign his new book. Tickets for the benefit are $25.