Ed Viesturs: Climbing K2 – One of the World’s Most Dangerous Peaks

Ed Viesturs. Photo from the Seattle PI newspaper.

Ed Viesturs. Photo from the Seattle PI newspaper.

Ed Viesturs spoke to a packed audience last night at the Seattle Town Hall. He was there to discuss his adventures, trials, tribulations and success on K2 and a little bit about his other summits. He has spent 30+ years mountaineer. Viesturs has climbed Everest 11 times, summited 14 of the tallest peaks in the world (the first to do it without the use of supplemental oxygen), summited K2, lugged a 40 lb IMAX camera to the top of Everest (an alpine mountaineer pack usually weighs about 45 lbs with just climbing gear), and has over 200 summits on Mt. Rainier.

K2. Photo from Wikipedia.

He started his climbing career bagging peaks in the Northwest and guiding on Mt. Rainier. Then made an attempt on Mt. Everest and had to turn around 300 feet from the Summit because they knew if they continued on they would die. After Everest came K2. The summit he earned on K2 was one he doesn’t think he should have survived. After spending months acclimatizing and going up and down the mountain building camps and attached fixed ropes; Viesturs and his climbing partner decided to tackle the mountain alpine style. The difference between Alpine Style (the kind of climbing we do in the great Northwest) and Expedition style is that in Alpine Style you carry all your gear with you, go light and fast, and build the camps as you go. In Expedition style, there are one or more major base camps and you go up and down for months acclimatizing and building small camps and fixed ropes. On Viesturs’ K2 climb they never had more than a few days of good weather at one time, so Viesturs and his climbing partner decided that the only way they would make their summit was to do the climb Alpine Style, as a 4 day climb, and hope that that was long enough to make it up and down. All of Ed Viesturs experience gained climbing Mt. Rainier came into play. He placed wands, which ended up saving his life when things went bad. They ended up camping at 26,000 feet for 3 days waiting for the weather to get better! On the third day the weather cleared and Viesturs and co beat feet (well as fast as one can beat feet going slower than a slug) for the summit. As they climbed higher the clouds rolled in and giant snow flakes began to fall. Viesturs intuition started to scream that it was time to turn around and going on was too dangerous, but he kept putting off the decision telling himself he would make the call in another half an hour. Eventually a half hour, turned to an hour, and then two and then four and then he was on the summit. A summit he did not feel he should be on because the conditions we too dangerous. Below them was a swirling mass of black clouds beckoning the climbers to their death, not to mention there was a ton of fresh snow which means high avalanche danger.

Viesturs at this point knew he was dead, that he would die on the decent, so he figured there was nothing left to do but head down. The whole decent he had committed himself to a death that never came. The snow was heavy, the conditions nearly impossible to see in (without placing all the wands, they may not have found their way down), and frequently they triggered massive avalanches. But, whether luck or the Universe or both were on their side, Viesturs and his climbing partner made it all the way down the mountain and bagged another peak. (As Ed Viesturs says, it’s only a successful climb if you nail your summit AND get back down – it needs to be a round trip.)

K2 is a beautiful, very technical (a whole different skill set than Everest), and deadly mountain. Viesturs definitely showed how Everest is a walk in the park compared to the challenges of K2.


~ by Genevieve Hathaway on March 22, 2010.

One Response to “Ed Viesturs: Climbing K2 – One of the World’s Most Dangerous Peaks”

  1. […] Ed Viesturs: Climbing K2 – One of the World’s Most Dangerous Peaks March 2010 […]

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