SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- While the stars of the Hollywood thriller Vertical Limit were running around at altitude dodging avalanches, setting off nitroglycerine explosions and hanging from ice cliffs by the tips of their ice axes, Ed Viesturs was thousands of feet below at Base Camp, exactly where he likes to be.
Viesturs -- pronounced ''Vee stirs'' -- is just two summits away from becoming the first American to climb all 14 of the world's 8,000-meter (just over 26,000 feet) peaks. If anyone has the qualifications to be cavorting around mountains performing heroics, it's Viesturs.
But that's hardly the 41-year-old Seattle mountaineer's style. In his Vertical Limit cameo role, Viesturs tells a Base Camp audience that a proposed mission to rescue the star's sister and two other climbers trapped in a crevasse high on K2 is suicidal.
''You're willing to risk six lives for three?'' asks Viesturs, the only one who looks remotely steely eyed or square-jawed enough to pull off the feat. ''How do you feel about that?''
OK, so it's not exactly Oscar-winning material. Viesturs good-naturedly acknowledged as much when he was in Salt Lake City recently for the Outdoor Retailers show. ''It's not Schindler's List,'' he told a climbing pal who stopped by the booth of one of Viestur's sponsors for a chat.
Still, Viesturs was definitely acting in character when he chose to avoid the risky mission, although in real life, he has carried out difficult rescues on both K2 and Everest. Listen to him explaining why he and Finnish climbing partner, Veikka Gustafsson, turned back thousands of feet below the summit of Annapurna last spring. Summiting the 26,545-foot Nepalese peak would have left only Pakistan's Nanga Parbat on Viestur's 8,000-meter ''to-do'' list.
''Basically it was just too dangerous,'' said Viesturs, one of the stars of the 1996 IMAX Everest film. ''We decided the objective hazard was too great, so we're not even going to try.''
The pair's proposed route to the summit required them to spend hours under icy cliffs, completely exposed to unpredictable avalanches. During their final night on the mountain, Viesturs watched under a full moon as a huge avalanche, one of the biggest he had ever seen, cascaded down near their camp. Although they had already decided to abort the climb, the avalanche confirmed their decision.
''If I'm frightened for my life,'' said Viesturs, ''that's when I go home.''
So home he went to his then-pregnant wife, Paula, and infant son, Gil. The couple now also have an 8-month old daughter, Ella. And when he and Gustafsson return to Annapurna next year, they won't use the same route.
''That route has never been safe and it won't be safe,'' said Viesturs. ''Annapurna is in general a dangerous mountain. Maybe it can't be climbed safely. If it isn't, I won't do it. I think a lot of people who have climbed it have accepted the risk or were oblivious to it. But there's been a lot of fatalities, too.''
Indeed, Annapurna is statistically the world's most dangerous mountain. Only about 100 people have stood on its summit. More than 50 have died trying. Viesturs doesn't like those frightening odds.
''If you're scared, you're not having fun,'' he said. ''If you're not having fun, what's the point? There's no medal at the end of it. There's no Hall of Fame. So I can totally live with it. There should be mountains that don't need to be climbed.''
Viesturs, you might say, knows his Vertical Limit. He climbs in the spring because he thinks the avalanche risk is lower. He turns around at 2 p.m., no matter how close he is to the summit. He climbs with a partner who shares his conservative views. ''We're as safe and conservative as we can be on the mountain,'' said Viesturs, who will tackle Shishapangma and Nanga Parbat this year. ''We've never had an argument. If we ever have a disagreement, we defer to the most conservative.''
And he takes to heart fellow mountaineer Lou Whittaker's admonition: ''Just because you love the mountains doesn't mean they love you back.''
When Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay arrived back from the first successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953, Hillary announced to his mates: ''We knocked the bastard off.'' Viesturs, who plans to stick to lower-elevation adventures after he completes his run at the world's 14 highest peaks, doesn't share Hillary's cockiness.
''You don't conquer a mountain,'' he said. ''On a good day, it lets you go to the top and come back down.''
(Distributed by The Associated Press)
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.