Northwest Peaks a Chilling Challenge for Climbers The search continues for two missing climbers on Oregon's Mount Hood. Rescue workers found the body of the third climber, 48-year-old architect Kelly James, in a snow cave Sunday. His body was removed from the mountain Monday. Premier mountaineer Ed Veisturs says climbing mountains in the Northwest can be unpredictable and dangerous.
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Northwest Peaks a Chilling Challenge for Climbers

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Northwest Peaks a Chilling Challenge for Climbers

Northwest Peaks a Chilling Challenge for Climbers

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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 DAY TO DAY.

A severe storm has knocked out power in Washington State for almost a week now. When are the lights coming back on? An after-storm report just ahead. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host: I'm Alex Chadwick.

First, a conversation with famed mountain climber Ed Veisturs on the other northwest storm story, Oregon's Mount Hood where one climber is known dead and two others remain missing.

Ed Viesturs is from this region. He learned to climb in the Cascades and guided there for many years as he gained the skills that would make him the first American to climb all 14 of the world's tallest mountains - climbed them without oxygen. We last spoke with Ed Viesturs a year and a half ago during his ascent of Annapurna.

Ed, welcome back to DAY TO DAY.

Mr. ED VIESTURS (High-Altitude Mountaineer): Thank you.

CHADWICK: What is it like climbing in the Cascade Mountains?

Mr. VIESTURS: Well, they're very challenging. That's partially the reason that I moved there 30 years ago. So many great American Himalayan climbers have come from the Cascades, and, you know, Mount Rainier at 14,000 feet is relatively high. Mount Hood is not quite as high, but the conditions there are extremely challenging. We've got glaciers. We've got weather conditions that we need to consider. I've always felt it's an extremely good training ground if you want to go eventually to the Himalaya.

CHADWICK: In your book “No Shortcuts to the Top,” you tell stories of your guiding days back climbing in the Cascades, of finding other climbers in these mountains, climbers who do not seem to think of them as very dangerous.

Mr. VIESTURS: Yeah. You know, I've always felt that whatever mountain you're on, wherever it is, you have to be very respectful of what it can do. And I've come across people on Mount Rainier, where, you know, the last word that one gentleman told me was it's only Mount Rainier after I cautioned him, and 10 minutes later he died. You know, you really have to tread lightly when you go there, and especially this time of year - November, December. The weather is extremely fickle.

There's storms that come in off the Pacific. And you have to know what you're doing, especially in the wintertime.

CHADWICK: Do you climb in these mountains at this time of year?

Mr. VIESTURS: I climb in the winter. But I don't like to go this time of year - November and December. The weather is still so unsettled, and if you do decide to go you really have to, you know, check the weather forecast and make sure you've got that window of weather that you're going to need. And then every step of the way, evaluate the conditions because the weather can change very quickly. And once it does, these storms that we have last for a long time. They're very severe. They carry a lot of moisture.

There's a lot of wind, and unless you can hunker down somewhere or retreat quickly, you can get into big trouble very quickly.

CHADWICK: You, Ed Viesturs - the greatest American mountain climber of the moment, and someone from this region - you don't climb these mountains during these months. Is there any possibility that the people who oversee these areas might shut these down? I mean, if you wouldn't go onto these mountains at this time of the year, maybe no one should.

Mr. VIESTURS: Well, it's my choice. You can find good conditions this time of year. But for me, you know, I've tried this time of year, and the conditions are so variable, and with a lot of new snowfall this time of year, the avalanche conditions are always pretty high. And I've just decided that, you know, as risky as it is going in these mountains, this is probably the least favorable time for me personally to want to go.

And then the people that are, you know, overseeing these mountains or controlling the access, you know, a lot of these places are national parks and they're open to the public. And we can't really restrict the public from doing what they want to do. If you want to go climbing these mountains this time of year, you know, I kind of feel, well, you should be able to have that access.

CHADWICK: Do you ever think, Ed, that with your adventures, the articles that are written about you, this book that you've written about how you get to the top and you get back down - very importantly, you note - that you inspire people to these acts?

Mr. VIESTURS: I wouldn't say that I inspire them to do things at my level. But I know - and I've gotten a lot of emails and phone calls from people - that I inspire them in general, you know, not particularly to go climbing, but to challenge themselves in life, to overcome obstacles, you know, whatever they may be. And, you know, I was inspired as a kid when I read the book “Annapurna,” the tale of the first ascent of Mount Annapurna in 1950. That inspired me, and because of that I did what I did as a climber.

And, you know, if I inspire people to go climbing, it's kind of a nice thing to do as well. But I think part of my message throughout my book is to do it carefully, to do it thoughtfully, to plan and to prepare, and also to respect the mountains.

CHADWICK: American mountain climber Ed Viesturs, whose climbed throughout the Cascade region. His book, the story of climbing the world's 14 highest peaks, is “No Shortcuts to the Top.” Ed Viesturs, thank you for speaking with us again on DAY TO DAY.

Mr. VIESTURS: You're welcome.

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