The bracing story of one man’s 18-year quest to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter-plus mountains.
Viesturs became the sixth man ever to accomplish that feat when he conquered Annapurna in Nepal, in May 2005. Almost equally inspirational is Viesturs’s determination to somehow forge a living out of his passion for mountaineering. He realized early on that he must choose between his veterinary practice and his love for mountain-climbing, initially scrambling to earn a living as a house-builder and mountain guide until the idea of climbing all 14 of the world's highest peaks sent some corporate sponsors his way. Some unavoidable repetitions occur as we follow Viesturs and his various partners up and down the Himalayas, and the narrative never quite manages to make us appreciate the grueling conditions of the climb, or the sheer wonder of reaching the summit. Still, the author does a good job of outlining the logistics of mountaineering: the dizzying trails leading to base camp, the truckloads of clothing and gear required, even the difficulties of relieving oneself at 26,000 feet. In addition to his own remarkable story, Viesturs provides valuable portraits of the many other mountaineers, past and present, who climbed and sometimes perished on the same mountains. Particularly fascinating is his own account of the 1996 tragedy on Mt. Everest, made famous by Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. (Viesturs and his partners, having decided against a summit attempt due to deteriorating conditions, passed on their way down the doomed team of climbers heading up.) A self-described “purist” who reached most of his summits without the use of supplemental oxygen, the author invites our awe for the early mountaineers who braved life-threatening conditions without the high-tech gear available to climbers today.
Doesn’t answer the question of what makes Viesturs and his fellow mountaineers repeatedly risk life and limb, but certainly inspires respect for their monumental efforts.