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.
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