Eddie Bauer guide Ed Viesturs is an authority on Mt. Everest. Not only is Viesturs the first and only American to summit the world’s 14 highest peaks without supplemental oxygen, but he has also summited the world’s tallest peak on seven separate expeditions. In his latest book, The Mountain: My Time on Everest, the best-selling author tells the stories of his trips to the Big One in partnership with his longtime collaborator David Roberts in their characteristically efficient and engaging style. The book relates personalized tales of Viesturs’ 11 trips to the mountain, including his first successful summit in 1990, being on the mountain during the tragic events of 1996, and his last successful summit in 2009 on a First Ascent expedition. The Mountain also includes historical background information and a deeper personal perspective on Ed’s time on Everest. To celebrate the new book, we tracked down the author for a quick interview on Everest. —LYA Editor
Interview with Ed Viesturs, Book Image courtesy of Touchstone Books, Head shot by Kyle Deleu, Other Images by Jake Norton
What prompted you to write a book specifically about your experiences on Everest? And why now?
The timing for this book was incidental and not planned. After the release of my third book, which was about Annapurna, and things settled down, it seemed the right time for another book. The logical next topic for me was to write about a mountain that I had spent eleven climbing expeditions on, which was Everest.
How is your perspective on the mountain different from some of the other recent Everest literature?
It seems that a lot of the recent Everest literature is all about the negative and sad occurrences on Everest, which appears to be a topic everyone is gravitating towards. I wanted to write about all of the great things that have happened and are still happening on Everest. My goal was to showcase Everest’s rich climbing history and the amazing feats that amazing people have accomplished.
Even for readers who don’t climb, your writing style seems very engaging and efficient at the same time. Is that combination deliberate?
The writing style that I sought, and that I believe my co-writer David Roberts and I achieved, was to be personal and very conversational–to describe as many of the minute and interesting details that go into climbing such a massive peak, and in an understandable, nontechnical way. I want to have readers feel as if they are coming along on the journey.
Why does Everest mean so much to you personally?
I learned a lot about my abilities, how hard I could push myself, and how patient I could be during my over two years spent on the slopes of Everest. It’s interesting, as well, that my first expedition to an 8,000-meter peak was Everest in 1987, and my most recent was Everest in 2009. To have Everest as the bookends of my Himalayan career, to date, is quite amazing.
Did writing about the mountain in so much detail connect you to its history in a different way?
During my career I was always drawn to the history of Himalayan climbing, and I read as many books as I could on the subject. When we started to write about Everest’s history, I reread many of those books, but in a more intense way, concentrating on the details so that I could bring the stories back to life for others to enjoy.
Have your feelings about Everest and the experience of climbing it shifted since you first traveled there in ’87?
When I first went to Everest in 1987, I’d never been above 23,000 feet, and there I was climbing the highest and most famous mountain on Earth, which was quite intimidating. Over the years and with more experience, I became more comfortable with being on Everest. On my 11th trip there in 2009, I felt like I was visiting an old friend.
Have the changes on Everest been positive or negative, in your opinion, and why?
It would be presumptuous to say if the recent changes on Everest are positive or negative. I’ve had the opportunity to be there when very few people were on the mountain in the late ’80s, and have also been there recently with many people on the mountain. It is what it is, and for those that go to Everest now, the large number of climbers there is simply the norm today.
With everything you’ve experienced on Everest—including the events of 1996—what are the biggest lessons or perspectives you’ve taken away from the mountain?
I’ve learned from Everest, and other mountains, that patience is essential to success. The mountain decides when you go, or don’t go. When you write a date on the calendar for going to the summit, you need to be flexible depending on conditions, and not sway your decisions based on what others are doing.
What is your most positive and lasting memory of your climbs on Everest?
My most lasting memory of Everest has to be my first ascent in 1990. It was my third expedition and I finally succeeded. I did not compromise my standard of climbing without supplemental oxygen, and being on the summit alone was a bonus.
Will you ever go back to Everest?
I really can’t say right now if I’ll go back to Everest again or not. I would need a very interesting and compelling reason to draw me back for another attempt. If the right opportunity came along, I would seriously consider it.
What book topic would you like to tackle next?
I have thought of two other book topics that I might consider. One would be to direct something more toward young people, to help them set goals and not be intimidated in choosing a path in life that might not be considered by others as “normal.” The other would be to write something focused towards the business world and discuss lessons about teamwork, leadership and risk management.
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