Q&A with Expert Climber Ed Viesturs

Ed Viesturs: The Man Behind the Mountaineer

By Katherine Potter Thompson

Monday, April 16, Ed Viesturs and his co-author David Roberts spoke before a sold-out National Geographic Live audience at Society headquarters in Washington, D.C. The topic: Ed’s obsession with summiting Nepal’s treacherous Annapurna peak, which completed his quest to climb the world’s fourteen 8,000 meter peaks without oxygen. Viesturs fans can read about this extreme challenge in his book, The Will to Climb: Obsession and Commitment and the Quest to Climb Annapurna–the World’s Deadliest Peak, published October 2011.

Photo credit: Jake Norton/First Ascent

Before the talk, Viesturs answered a few questions that shed interesting light on the person behind the legend:

Q. What is your idea of happiness

A. Living a life well lived, surrounded by family and friends.

Q. What is your greatest extravagance?

A. I’ve been able to work with two professional sports teams as a motivational speaker—the Seattle Seahawks during their 2005 Superbowl season and last year, with a professional hockey team. I’ve been able to hang out during coaches’ meetings, training sessions, and have casual meals with the players. One of the coolest experiences of my life happened, when I was able to hang out in the locker room as one of the teams suited up and got themselves psyched just before a game. The excitement and tension was quite similar to what I’ve experienced with my own teams as we suit up and get ready to climb thru the icefall on Everest.

Q. What is your greatest regret?

A. Not having been able to do more to rescue stranded climbers during the tragic events of May 10 and 11,1996, on Everest. I dearly miss fellow climbers Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, and it was frustrating not being able to reach them as they struggled for life high on the summit ridge.

Q. What is your most treasured possession?

A. All of my fingers and toes! After 30 Himalayan expeditions and 21 8,000-meter summits, I’m quite proud of that.

Q. What is your most marked characteristic?

A. Punctuality. I’d call myself a clock watcher. I hate to be late and if I make a commitment to be somewhere at a certain time or to meet someone, I do everything possible to be there on time, if not early. This holds true with climbing as well. I have strict turn-around time rules that I’ve never broken.

Q. Who do YOU admire?

A. People who do what they say and do what they love, no matter how hard.

Q. What is your favorite food?

A. Pizza

Q. What is your favorite color?

A. Blue

Q. What is your favorite piece of clothing?

A. My “must have” item for expeditions is a neck gator that I cut a breathing hole into on my Everest climb in 1990. I can pull it up over my face to protect my face and neck from wind and cold. I’ve taken it on every climb since, and it’s always on the top of my packing list.

Q. When you travel, what do you take?

A. Reading material. I always worry I won’t have enough to read during a long plane flight or on an expedition. It perplexes me when I sit on long flights and the person next to me spends the entire flight reading In Flight Magazine and Sky Mall catalogue. I can see them eyeing my newspaper, anxiously waiting for me to finish so they can ask to borrow it.

Q. Worst thing about climbing?

A. The nervous anxiety prior to a summit ascent. Worrying about the weather, and also all the potential things that could prevent me from getting to the top: Will I be strong enough? Will the weather hold? Can I deal with the terrain? Will I have enough will power?

Q. Best thing about climbing?

A. I’ve been able to travel the world, going to places I might never have gone to had it not been for climbing, such as Nepal, Pakistan, Tibet, Russia, Antarctica, and New Zealand. And, I have made great, life-long friends who live in these places.


If you missed the talk at Nat Geo headquarters, you can catch a recording of it later this spring at Nat Geo Live Videos. Viesturs and Roberts currently plan another book detailing Viesturs’s seven climbs to the summit of Mt. Everest. For spectacular images of Viesturs in his ascents, check out his National Geographic photography book Himalayan Quest.


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