Books: ‘The Will to Climb’ by Ed Viesturs

If you’ve followed the mountaineering career of Ed Viesturs at all, you’d know a couple of things: He’s been as successful in the Himalayas as just about anyone else alive, and he has achieved his reputation with a purist style and utmost regard for safety.

So for Viesturs to come back to Annapurna a third time after being turned back twice by the world’s deadliest mountain, you know that he is also a very driven man.

That’s’ the conflict posed in Viesturs’ third book, “The Will to Climb,” which examines his two failed attempts to summit Annapurna as well as his third and ultimately triumphant climb that made him the first American to bag all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks.

True to form from his previous books, Viesturs mixes his own experiences on the mountain with those from mountaineering’s past. The lessons learned from Annapurna echo from its history right through to his own observations while being on the slopes of this massive and incredibly dangerous peak.

Annapurna is not the highest, nor is it considered the technically most difficult of the Himalayan peaks, but it has a track record of being prone to avalanches and bad weather that take the lives of climbers at higher rates than even K2: One out of every three climbers who summit Annapurna die.

Viesturs does a great job looking through archival accounts of early ascents of the mountain — unbelievably, this peak was the first of the 8,000ers to be successfully climbed — while also taking a look at other climbs that were sometimes triumphant while other times tragic. He also dives into the personalities of those who dared to challenge the mountain, be they his friends and teammates or the more storied figures of Himalayan mountaineering royalty.

Like his book on K2, it’s more history than personal. But with “The Will to Climb,” Viesturs finds his voice a little better, and the storytelling is a little richer. I think part of that might have something to do with the fact that his love of mountaineering was born by reading the book “Annapurna,” which describes the harrowing tale of the French team that first climbed it. It also was the mountain that caused him the greatest trouble, planted the most doubt and scared him the most. By summiting it in 2005, he put a major stamp on his career and personal life.

The one common theme with all of his books, however, goes back to his mantra: Getting to the top is optional, getting back down is mandatory. The caution he describes in his adventures has often led to him turning back within sight of several summits, but he always came home safe, ready to return for another crack at the mountain.

And therein lies his key message of mountaineering, that of measuring risk and tackling a challenge while being as safe as possible. If only all climbers would heed this, there would be far fewer accidents and deaths not only in the Himalaya, but on mountains everywhere.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088



Book review: ‘The Ledge’ by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan

It’s probably best that most of us never have to be tested the way Jim Davidson was in late June of 1992.

Davidson was downclimbing Mount Rainier with his climbing buddy and friend Mike Price after a successful climb of the peak’s Liberty Ridge. But just a few hundred yards away from leaving a tricky glacier, a snowbridge underneath Davidson’s feet collapsed, exposing a gaping crevasse that opened up and swallowed both of them.

Davidson found himself more than 80 feet below the place where the snowbridge collapsed, perched on a tiny ledge that was the only thing stopping both of them from plummeting deeper inside the glacial  fissure and into a sure death.

Price was fatally injured and incapacitated. Davidson, the junior climber of the two, was also hurt and faced with having to undertake the toughest ice climb of his life with a spare amount of gear and an overabundance of fear and sorrow that threatened to immobilize him in what would be the toughest test of his life.

Davidson’s book “The Ledge” chronicles this fight for survival as well as how he dealt with the survivor’s guilt that followed. It’s a crisp, fast-paced read that covers a lot of ground, detailing how he came to be a climber, his friend’s impressive climbing history and the intimate details of how he managed to self-rescue in the most impossible of situations.

Davidson, who co-wrote “The Ledge” with journalist Kevin Vaughan, paces the book well while going back into his past experiences and how they helped him find the path and the will to save his own life and help rescue crews recover his friend’s body.

This is a terribly honest reading. Davidson doesn’t shy away from laying bare the thoughts and emotions he went through. He also spends a good amount of time describing how he dealt with the accident’s aftermath. That makes this more than just a story of adventure and survival. It almost operates as how-to for people who have to confront a disaster in which you survived, but someone you cared for did not. Interestingly, he pays homage to another story of wilderness survival, “Into the Void,” which he credits to helping him muster the mental strength to climb a vertical to overhanging icewall with very little gear and no one around to assist.

Climbers and mountaineers have, interestingly enough, been known to become good writers. “The Ledge” fits that mold, giving the reader great visual detail and a thorough account of what the author was thinking and feeling. Pick it up, and add it to your library.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088