If you’re even remotely interested in what it’s like to climb the highest peaks in the world, I highly recommend reading Ed Viestur’s latest book – “No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks”. In it, Viesturs chronicles his early exposure and passion for climbing, his stint as a guide for RMI (Ranier Mountaineering Incorporated), his first expeditions into the Himalaya, and finally, his “Endeavor 8000” project to summit all the 8000 meter peaks without supplemental oxygen. From his first summit of an 8000’er (Kangchenjunga) in 1989 and culminating with the completion of “Endeavor 8000” on the summit of Annapurna in 2005, Viesturs vividly describes the world of the high-altitude mountaineer.
In the mountaineering world, Viesturs is probably best known for his sensible approach to a obviously dangerous activity. With one exception (K2 in 1992), Viesturs has learned to trust his instincts and remain safe. His mantra, “getting to the top is optional – getting down is mandatory”, has served him well. In fact, he once aborted an attempt at summitting Everest within 300′ of the peak because conditions “just weren’t right” and his self-imposed summit-deadline would be passed and therefore not allow the necessary time needed for a safe descent. Unlike many high-altitude mountaineers, he’s never contracted any form of edema or even suffered frostbite. He feels no need to completely rehash the tragic 1996 season on Everest in which 11 climbers died on the mountain, but as he was instrumental in the rescue for many of the survivors, it’s understandable that he describe his own role during the days leading up to and following this tragedy.
The most inspiring aspect in Viesturs’ book, however, may be how he took his passion for mountaineering and, through dedication and perseverance, managed to turn it into his livelihood. Even as he was completing his training and beginning a career as a veterinarian, it was becoming clear that he was going to have to choose between two somewhat incompatible pursuits. As America’s most well-known mountaineer, he now has association with numerous sponsors and product endorsements as well as being constantly recruited for keynote and corporate motivational speaking.
How many of us spend our days grinding out our mundane existence while secretly wishing we could make our living doing what others consider recreation? Viesturs shows us that with dedication and determination, one can achieve their dreams. For Ed Viesturs, that meant standing on the 14 highest places on the planet. For the rest of us, it may mean something a bit closer to sea level. Regardless of the dream, it’s the dedication to the pursuit that ultimately allows each of us to attain our own summit. The important thing is to never stop climbing.