In this photo provided by Ed Viesturs, mountain climber Ed Viesturs sits at the summit of the Annapurna mountain in Nepal on May 12, 2005. As he reached the peak, Viesturs became the first American and 12th climber in history to summit all 14 of the world's mountains higher than 8,000 meters without using bottled oxygen. Afterwards, he said he was retiring to spend more time with his family.
AP Photo/Courtesy Ed Viesturs, V
SEATTLE As he reached the peak of his career as one of America's most acccomplished mountain climbers, Ed Viesturs figured he'd picked the right time to retire.
''At my age, I think I'm smarter than I've ever been,'' Viesturs said. ''I'm maybe not quite as strong as I've been, but having the smarts and knowing how to function at high altitude compensates for that and that's important.''
Viesturs became the first American and 12th climber in history to summit all 14 of the world's mountains higher than 8,000 meters without using bottled oxygen when he reached the summit of 26,545-foot Annapurna in Nepal on May 12.
As he came down, he announced he was turning his back on the sometimes deadly lure of the high peaks to spend more time with wife and three young children.
Like Rocky Marciano, the only heavyweight champion who retired undefeated, he doesn't plan any comebacks.
''I have no need or desire to go back to the 8,000 peak again,'' he said. ''Why climb 'em again? There are risks involved. It's obvious. People die in the mountains.
The first person to scale all 14 mountains was Italian Reinhold Messner, who completed the task in 1986 at age 42. Viesturs will be 46 on June 22.
Viesturs insists his wife, Paula, did not pressure him to quit climbing mountains like Annapurna, K2, Shishapangma and Nanga Parbat.
''She's been with me the last 10 8,000 (-meter) peaks,'' Viesturs said. ''She never asked me to quit and she never suggested I quit. But still there's always that question: What if something happens? She had some concerns.''
Viesturs isn't done climbing mountains just mountains with 8,000 peaks. He doesn't have anything scheduled, but he's looking at some mountains in India and Tibet. And he may even be back on Everest, a mountain he has climbed six times, although he won't be shooting for the summit this time.
''There could be something that I'll do on Everest again,'' he said. ''But as far as the other peaks, no. There's no desire. There's no need to go back.''
Viesturs decided climbing mountains was what he wanted to do when he started rock climbing as an Illinois high school student.
He's leaving as a big-time climber who speaks modestly of his accomplishments.
''No, no way,'' Viesturs said when asked if he thinks he's the best mountain climber in history. ''You know there's a guy, Reinhold Messner, the Italian climber. He was like a mentor or hero to me. I'm not as good as him.''
He doesn't believe he's as talented as many other climbers in technical rock climbing and technical ice climbing.
He thinks his legacy now is to be recognized as the most successful U.S. Himalayan climber, but that could even change quickly.
Like his livelihood. Right now, he makes a good living from his Web site, designing mountaineering equipment for corporate sponsors and public speaking.
''How long I'll be interesting to people, I don't know,'' he said. ''I can't predict that. I'm not assuming I'll be interesting to people for five more years because the next guy will come along. I may have to just get a normal job.''
After graduating from high school in 1977, Viesturs headed toward Seattle, where he could tackle the Cascade Mountains, including Washington's Mount Rainier and Oregon's Mount Hood.
He earned degrees in zoology and veterinary medicine and worked briefly as a vet before he quit to focus on mountaineering.
''I guess that would be my most normal 9-to-5 job that I had,'' he said with a laugh.
There's no question about the legacy that Viesturs leaves behind in the mind of Jim Whittaker, 76, the first American to climb Everest. Whittaker thinks Viesturs is the best American mountain climber in history.
In Whittaker's heyday, all the climbers used oxygen.
''I think it's awesome,'' Whittaker said. ''To do it without bottled oxygen. Mountaineering has changed a lot. The gear. The equipment. You keep pushing the limits and that's certainly what Ed did.''
Viesturs was cautious in tackling Annapurna, known as one of the deadliest of the high peaks. He turned back in 2000 because of bad weather and in 2002 because of avalanches.
He's been fortunate in an endeavor that has claimed many lives. He survived the disastrous 1996 climbing season on Everest, when two close friends died.
''For whatever reason, I was always at the right place at the right time,'' he said. ''We climbed Annapurna and a week later an Italian climber died where we had climbed. Why did the avalanche occur when he was there rather than when we were there? I have all my fingers and all my toes. None of my teammates were ever injured or killed. Is that luck or planning or being conservative?''
In 1989, Viesturs reached his first 8,000-meter summit at 28,169-foot Kangchenjunga in Nepal. In 1990, he climbed 29,035-foot Everest for the first time. In 1992, he climbed 28,250-foot K2 on the border of Pakistan and China.
In 1994, Viesturs climbed 27,939-foot Lhotse in Nepal and 26,750-foot Cho Oyu in Tibet. In 1995, he reached the summit of 27,765-foot Makalu in Nepal, and 26,360-foot Gasherbrum II and 26,470-foot Gasherbrum I in the Him-alayas' Karakoram Range.
He climbed 26,400-foot Broad Peak in the Karakoram Range in 1997 and conquered 26,758-foot Manaslu and 26,794-foot Dhaulagiri, both in Nepal, in 1999.
In 2001, he added 26,300-foot Shishapangma in Tibet and, in 2003, he climbed 26,658-foot Nanga Parbat in Pakistan.
Viesturs would like to write a book about his climbing experiences to inspire young climbers, but right now he's spending a lot of time with his children.
''They've been on me like glue,'' he said. ''The weather is nice so we've been outside and riding bikes and catching frogs.''
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