Ed Viesturs, of Bainbridge Island, becomes the first American and one of only 12 climbers ever to stand atop all 14 of the world's highest peaks.

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Bainbridge Island climber Ed Viesturs has reached the summit of 26,545-foot Annapurna in Nepal, becoming the first American and one of only 12 climbers ever to stand atop all 14 of the world’s highest peaks.


Viesturs phoned his wife, Paula, by satellite phone to report the successful summit around 2 a.m. today (about 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Nepal time), said a spokesperson for MSN, which has a team at the Annapurna base camp.


Viesturs and long time climbing partner Veikka Gustafsson of Finland, climbing alongside an Italian team and battling fierce cold and high winds, were headed back to their high camp, at about 22,500 feet, early this morning Seattle time, according to MSN and a climbing Web site, Everest.net, which also reported a satellite-phone confirmation from one of the Italian climbers.


The group left a high camp around 3 a.m. Wednesday, Nepal time, after spending three days high on the mountain with hurricane-force winds buffeting their climbing tents. Viesturs and Gustafsson, traveling extremely light to save weight on the arduous climb from Annapurna’s camp two, at about 19,000 feet, to camp three at 22,500 feet, had only a single down sleeping bag to share in their tent for two nights and reported they were running out of food, stove fuel, and patience.


By early this morning, they and the Italian team, led by noted climber Mario Mondinelli, faced a “do-or-down” scenario: They had to head for the summit or head back down to lower camps to restock and regroup. The latter option clearly was not favored by Viesturs.



Ed Viesturs





Age: 45


Occupation: Mountain climber


Home: Bainbridge Island, with wife Paula and children Gil, 7, Ella, 4, and Anabel, born in October.


Current itinerary: Viesturs climbed Cho Oyu last month to acclimatize himself for the high altitude of Annapurna, his current climb. He is due back in Seattle later this month.


Notable achievements: A former Rainier Mountaineering Inc. guide, Viesturs has climbed Mount Rainier nearly 200 times. He is one of only two non-Sherpa climbers to reach the summit of 29,035-foot Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, more than five times. He climbed Everest again last year for a movie project after swearing off the mountain and its commercialized, high-traffic slopes for many years.


Training regimen: Viesturs trains year-round, running seven to eight hilly miles, four days on, one day off, on Bainbridge Island. He does upper-body strength work on a home Bowflex machine. He mixes in biking, skiing, kayaking and other outdoor sports.


Online expedition dispatches: See www.firstandbest.msn.com for links to Viesturs’ daily satellite-phone reports from Annapurna.


Even though he has earned a reputation in the climbing community for minimizing risk, Viesturs had described the climb to camp three earlier this week as particularly arduous and dangerous. Annapurna, with one of the highest death-to-summit ratios in all the Himalayas, is known for its bad weather and killer avalanches. The mountain had turned away Viesturs on previous attempts in 2000 and 2002.


Forecasts called for winds between 35 mph and 70 mph near Annapurna’s summit during the ascent. High winds have pounded Himalayan peaks all week, virtually shutting down summit attempts on most major peaks, including Mount Everest, where dozens of commercial expeditions were forced to retreat to their base camps.


Viesturs credited the Italian climbers, who have been on Annapurna for six weeks, awaiting a weather window, with making the summit possible.


“They were tremendously strong,” Viesturs told MSN.com by satellite phone earlier this week. “They had fixed ropes on the route a couple of weeks ago. We are deeply indebted to them. They helped kick trail today. There was some deep snow.Without them, I’m not sure Veikka and I would be here right now.”


Three of the four Italians summited along with Viesturs and Gustafsson, according to Web reports, which suggest Mondinelli was turned back by the extreme cold and wind.


The successful summit ends a 16-year personal quest for Viesturs, a former Rainier Mountaineering Inc. guide already known as America’s top high-altitude climber. He becomes the first American climber to achieve all 14 summits of peaks 8,000 meters (about 26,000 feet) or more. He is believed to be one of only five humans to accomplish the feat without using bottled oxygen on any of the climbs.


Viesturs, a climbing purist, has always maintained bottled oxygen is “a bit of a crutch” — a concept that would have been unthinkable to climbers of previous generations. Thin air at altitudes in the “Death Zone” above 25,000 feet often proves physically and mentally debilitating to even the world’s top climbers, often producing fatal results.


He now joins the climbing ranks of legendary mountaineers such as Reinhold Messner, the Italian climber who in 1986 was first to summit all 14 of the world’s highest peaks without supplemental oxygen.


Viesturs, who turns 46 next month and is the father of three young children, suggested before leaving for this third try on Annapurna that it might be his last attempt to summit the peak, which indirectly lured him to mountaineering in the first place. Reading French climber Maurice Herzog’s classic account of the first ascent of Annapurna in 1950 sparked the climbing fire in Viesturs as a 16-year-old in Illinois.


He said before departing Seattle that if he made it, he would consider entering semi-retirement, climbing for recreation and fun on smaller peaks he has always wanted to visit.


Viesturs climbed his first 8,000-meter peak, 28,169-foot Kangchenjunga, in 1989. He has climbed Mount Everest six times — one of only two non-Sherpa climbers to stand atop the world’s highest mountain more than five times.


Because he has climbed some of the mountains more than once, the Annapurna summit was his 22nd successful summit of an 8,000-meter peak, a record believed to be unmatched by any climber, living or dead.


“Nobody deserves it more than he does,” famed Seattle mountaineer Jim Whittaker, the first American atop Everest, told The Times. “He’s a great guy, and a good example for American mountaineering.”


More reports from Annapurna are expected to be posted later today at www.firstandbest.msn.com.