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Original Issue

The Air Up There

A climber's 16-year quest: to scale the world's tallest peaks without oxygen

Ed Viesturs has been on top of the world before--he's climbed Mount Everest six times--but he's never felt better than he did last week as he stood on the summit of Mount Annapurna. By reaching the peak in northern Nepal, the 45-year-old had completed a quest he began 16 years ago: to climb each of the world's 14 peaks above 8,000 meters without supplemental oxygen. "It's one of the happiest days of my life, one of the hardest days of my life," Viesturs said last Thursday after completing his Grand Slam. He became the first American, and the fifth person in the world, to do all 14 the hard way.

At 26,545 feet Annapurna is the world's 10th-tallest mountain--and one of its deadliest. Avalanches and unstable ice cliffs have contributed to nearly a death a year since it was first summitted in 1950. "This mountain is very difficult to climb," said Viesturs. "There's no easy way." For three nights he and his Finnish partner, Veikka Gustafsson, 37, shared a sleeping bag and an icy tent on an exposed cliff at 22,500 feet, waiting for a storm with 80-mph winds to pass. When the winds subsided, Viesturs and Gustafsson pushed for the summit for 11 hours. "It's a moment I dreamed about for so long," said Viesturs, who lives near Seattle with his wife, Paula, and their three kids. "I'm very happy to say I'm done with my quest." --Yi-Wyn Yen




Viesturs was elated after reaching the summit of Annapurna (on his third try) last Thursday.