SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: Do people with no climbing experience ever
call you and say, "Take me up Mount Everest?"
Ed Viesturs: Yes, and I hang up on them. I can lead you and guide
you, but I'm not going to drag you. If you can't get to Camp I,
how will you get to Camp IV and hit the summit? For Everest, I
require a year or two of intensive training.
SI: Can someone fake a climbing resume?
EV: No. I'd figure you out in a heartbeat, and if I turn you
around at Base Camp, it's your loss. You've just spent a ton of
money, and all you get is to go home. You can argue all you want,
but I'm going to win. I'll drag you down if I have to.
SI: After all the unfavorable publicity attending the disaster
that was described in Jon Krakauer's best-seller Into Thin Air,
what's the state of climbing?
EV: It's everything you wouldn't have thought. Now even the
average Joe wants to climb Mount Rainier or a peak in Nepal.
SI: There are queues to get up Mount McKinley. Is it in danger of
becoming an amusement park?
EV: Due to the extreme cold--temperatures reach 40 below--Mount
McKinley is much more dangerous than many people realize. But if
you want to kill yourself, you should be allowed to.
SI: Do the best climbers resent having to share the big peaks
EV: Not really. Only a limited number of people have the money or
the experience to attempt the mountains I go to.
SI: Should stranded climbers be rescued?
EV: Lots of people think they shouldn't have to jeopardize their
own lives to help another climber. I can't live with that. I feel
a moral obligation to help. If something ever happens to me, I
hope someone will come to my aid.
SI: Do you come upon corpses strewn along the frozen paths?
EV: They're not strewn like on a battlefield, but there are
bodies here and there.
SI: Ever stop to look?
EV: No, that's gory. Besides, most of them are covered up.
SI: What do you think of when you're going up?
EV: Mostly, I focus on breathing, or taking the next step, or
going home and sleeping in a bed--things I usually take for
granted. When I get back, it's like, Whoa! There's carpeting on
the floor, and I can order a pizza!
SI: So, nothing transcendental?
EV: Sometimes a beach or a cold beer.
SI: Never...Mountain Dew?
EV: No, but you can put the word out. When it comes to
endorsements, nobody's beating down my door. I have to seek out
SI: Your climbing partner, Veikka Gustafsson, has more sponsors
than the average NASCAR driver.
EV: Yeah, about 30, and flags for every one. When we reach a
summit, he brings them out of his little pack, and I have to
stand there taking shot after shot after shot of him holding each
one. I've asked him to limit himself to his best five.
SI: You're two mountains shy of becoming the first American to
scale all 14 8,000-meter peaks. Which have eluded you?
EV: Annapurna and Nanga Parbat [in the Himalayas]. Shisha Pangma
is in dispute, but I plan to reclimb it. I recently scouted a
face of Annapurna and ruled it out. Too dangerous. I've never
wanted to kill myself climbing a mountain.
SI: Others have reached the top, though.
EV: Yes, but they've accepted the risks: icefalls the size of
school buses, and avalanches. In the U.S. you get buried by an
avalanche and you suffocate. In the Himalayas they run over you
like freight trains.
SI: How does James Bond survive them?
EV: How indeed?
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT SCHAUER