Interviews: Climbing the World's Tallest Peaks Alex Chadwick talks with high-altitude mountain climber Ed Viesturs about his attempt to climb all 14 of the world's highest mountains without the aid of supplemental oxygen.
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Interviews: Climbing the World's Tallest Peaks

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Interviews: Climbing the World's Tallest Peaks

Interviews: Climbing the World's Tallest Peaks

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is the best time of year to be in some of the world's least hospitable places. The weather is favorable in the Himalayas. This is climbing season for the world's tallest peaks, including Nepal's Annapurna, where Ed Viesturs is camped waiting for the weather to clear a little more. He's trying to become the first American to climb all 14 of the world's tallest mountains, all more than 8,000 meters, without using bottled oxygen for a boost. Annapurna is the last peak left. For our series of National Geographic Radio Expeditions interviews, I spoke yesterday with Ed Viesturs via satellite phone at his base camp.

Ed Viesturs, when do you expect to make your attempt on Annapurna?

Mr. ED VIESTURS (Mountain Climber): Well, it could be any day now. We're ready to go. We're acclimatized from a climb we just did in Tibet. And so it's just a matter of time, waiting for the weather to improve.

In fact, what we want to do--my partner and I--we want to go to camp one, which is one day from here, and then we want to observe the mountain itself, the whole north face. It has a nasty reputation, and we want to see what it looks like, see what the conditions are. And it won't be until we spend that day there that we'll actually make a decision whether we will actually make an attempt or not.

CHADWICK: When you say it has a nasty reputation, this is maybe the most dangerous mountain in the world, isn't it?

Mr. VIESTURS: Correct. I mean, it's got a bad reputation for not being easy to climb. There's ice cliffs that fall down unpredictably, and not many people have actually reached the summit. So the ratio of death to summit is pretty high, but that's mostly because of in the early days, a lot of people were killed here.

CHADWICK: Tell me the story of the first person to climb this mountain.

Mr. VIESTURS: Well, that happened in 1950. It was an expedition led by Maurice Herzog. And when they climbed Annapurna, it became the first 8,000-meter peak to be climbed, so it was a huge success. There was a book written by it, and it's a book that I read when I was a kid that inspired me to climb mountains.

CHADWICK: But Maurice Herzog lost fingers and toes on that climb. I mean, he came back from it disabled for the rest of his life.

Mr. VIESTURS: Yeah, but that was an error in judgment. When they were near the summit, he took his gloves off to do something, he dropped them, he couldn't retrieve them and he simply forgot that he had a pair of socks in his pack. He could have put his socks on his hands and protected his fingers. But in his state of mind up there, he simply didn't think about that and, as a result, he lost his fingers due to frostbite.

CHADWICK: This is a climb that you are attempting without oxygen, without this aid that anyone would use attempting this kind of climb, or almost anyone.

Mr. VIESTURS: I think most of the people here are actually climbing the mountain without oxygen. It's one of the lower 8,000-meter peaks, and it's something that I've done my whole career. Even something as high as Mt. Everest, I've chosen to attempt to climb only without oxygen and I've been successful.

CHADWICK: Translate 8,000 meter for us, would you? In terms of feet, how tall is Annapurna?

Mr. VIESTURS: Well, Annapurna is about 26,500 feet. And the 8,000-meter mark is pretty much anything over 26,200 feet, and there's 14 peaks in the world over that 26,200-foot mark.

CHADWICK: And you have climbed 13 of those without oxygen. This will be the last; in many people's view, it would be the most difficult. But it's a long-sought goal. You've been working at this for--What?--20 years or so?

Mr. VIESTURS: Yeah. My first 8,000-meter peak summit was in 1989, so that's about 16 years. I've been here twice before, and I've walked away twice before. And I've told people even if, you know, this is my last of the 14, I'm still going to be very careful and very cautious. I want to live to talk about it. And if it means not climbing Annapurna, I can be content with that. Certainly, I'd like to get to the summit of Annapurna, but not at all costs.

CHADWICK: No one wants to go at all costs, but things happen on mountains. The best climbers in the world lose their lives because there are just events there you can't control. And you do have a family; you have a wife, you have three children. And, you know, people who don't climb look at something like this and they say, `How can they do it?'

Mr. VIESTURS: Well, you know, I agree. There's risks involved, but I think there's risks in anything you do in life. I mean, there's risk driving your car down the highway, but you choose to do it. For me, this is my challenge; this is my place to test myself. And I've always thought of myself as being very conservative, very careful and I think you can be. I mean, there are certain things you can't predict, and certainly something could happen, but I think if you're very, very cautious, you can do this and still be quite safe.

CHADWICK: Ed Viesturs, attempting to climb Annapurna in the next several days, probably. You can follow his adventures at

Ed, thank you for joining us on DAY TO DAY.

Mr. VIESTURS: Oh, you're welcome. Thanks for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: And we have links to that site at our Web site at

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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