Two Understated American Giants

Ed Viesturs and David Roberts (taken and shared with permission by Jana Kunicova)

Yes, I am crazy. I must be. I voluntarily sold my ticket — my only ticket — to see Ed Viesturs and David Roberts at National Geographic Live last night. The next two weeks ahead were getting busy at work in the evenings and that was taking away from my family time. So I went to my Peaklessburg support group — DC Mountain Madness — and offered it up.

Viesturs was a hero of mine when I started climbing in the mid-1990s. I bought my red Mountain Hardwear fleece jacket for the reasons baseball fans buy jerseys with their favorite players’ numbers on them. He doesn’t play the same role for me now he did when he was pursuing all 14 eight-thousanders, but he is still a role an hero for his approach to a wild pursuit that he balanced with a commitment to his life at home. His reputation for turning around many times when his gut said “this is bad,” and still being very successful at his goals is inspiring. That makes him appealing to many climbers, particularly amateurs. He is an example of stick-to-it-ive-ness.

Roberts is my favorite climbing writer. He also lead or was part of some legendary expeditions in Alaska, including the Harvard Route up the Denali’s north face and the Angel in the Revelation Mountains, a subrange of the Alaska Range, just to name two. I enjoy his books because they include rich history, great research and he tells all of it in such an insightful way. He makes his readers feel compelled to go on.

Viesturs and Roberts are two very different people and climbers. They came to Washington to speak on their latest book The Will to Climb, however they also talked about their other work together on No Shortcuts to the Top (2006) and K2 (2010), I was told. But while they are both articulate, well-educated men, they are very different climbers.

Since following Viesturs Endeavor 8,000 quest, I have learned more about climbing and learned that the kinds of climbs that make it into history books or the American Alpine Journal are special climbs. They are first ascents and original routes. Those were not the kind of climbs Viesturs pursued. At one time that was disappointing to me, but then I realized that I probably would not seek out the steepest, longest routes necessary to make a climb that is deemed significant today. Roberts, on the other hand, had pursued new steep routes in Alaska in the 1960s. As nerdy as Roberts is — and he is — he’s got street cred.

Viesturs sought out a whole other field of climbing. Rather than seeking challenging new routes, he pursued a tick list of the world’s biggest mountains. The route wasn’t critical. Reaching the top — legitimately reaching the top — was essential for quality of the accomplishment.  While American climbers celebrate him for being the first of their own to stand atop all 14 eight-thousanders without supplemental oxygen, it was ultimately a pursuit all his own.

Viesturs and Roberts are two American giants. I don’t feel the need to qualify that statement by adding “…in climbing.” They are accomplished climbers, accomplished writers, and I am glad they came to Washington to share their adventures and their experiences.

Oddly, though I have been a fan of these two men for about 20 years and I have never seen or met them in person, I don’t feel overly regretful that I wasn’t able to attend. I know much about them from their books and their articles elsewhere. Perhaps I also feel that I will get another opportunity. Perhaps its also because I have met so many interesting climbers over the past several years — thanks largely to social media and this blog. I suppose that even as they have moved on from climbing to other ventures, so have I.

Thanks for dropping by again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. Happy reading and carpe climb ’em!

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