After three difficult weeks attempting to climbing Cho Oyu in conditions that were frequently unfavorable, Ed Viesturs and partners Veikka Gustafsson and Jimmy Chin arrived at Annapurna Base Camp by helicopter on April 30.See Also: Ed's previous 8,000 meter climbs
The team, already acclimatized from their weeks of climbing on 26,750-foot Cho Oyu, could fly from Kathmandu to Annapurna in the vintage Russian MI 17, saving time and preserving their acclimatization to high altitude. Once on the ground, Viestus talked to GreatOutdoors.com by satellite telephone to review the events of Cho Oyu and to look ahead to his third attempt on Annapurna. With all the other 8,000 meter peaks behind him, a successful climb of Annapurna would make Viesturs the first American to climb all 14 of the world's highest mountains without supplemental oxygen.
"The primary goal for making our attempt on Cho Oyu was to acclimatize for Annapurna," said Viesturs. "Everything went pretty much according to plan, but we did run in to persistent bad weather. The winds were incessant, throwing us off our summit schedule by a few days. People sometimes don't take Cho Oyu as seriously as they should I don't think any of us have ever been on a trip where it was windy 24-7. The high winds made additional trips from camp to camp necessary, but that, in the end, actually aided in the team's overall conditioning."
Of the three members of the team, only Gustafsson reached the summit. Viesturs ended up escorting Chin down to base camp on summit day as Chin was suffering from a high altitude edema, which can be life threatening.
"I had to get Jimmy down right now," said Viesturs, "that's something you can't take chances with. He could walk and climb, and go down on his own physically, but judgment is impaired and so I had to lead him down."
Jimmy Chin's bout of mountain sickness means he won't be climbing high on Annapurna with Viesturs and Gustafsson.
"In a situation like that, Jimmy's health has to be the paramount concern, and he understands that," said Viesturs.
Now Viesturs and Gustafsson turn their attention to Annapurna, a mountain that has twice eluded the two climbers.
"We're both excited to getting up on the North Face. We'll look at a couple of different route variations, but we may end up following the original first ascent route made by the French in 1950," said Viesturs. "There will be a few sections of the climb where some ropes may need to be fixed."
The pair will attempt a fast, light, oxygenless ascent up the face carrying all of their own supplies, "alpine style."
"Annapurna is all about conditions," Viesturs says, "so we'll just have to get up high and see what the situation is . Conditions on Cho Oyu were very dry, and ice, so there was no concern about avalanche. But Annapurna is in a totally different part of the Himalaya, so we'll just have to see. It basically comes down to this: Annapurna is all about objective danger, it's all about the glacial architecture. There are these big ice cliffs and seracs, and the question is: are the seracs leaning forward or leaning back? It comes down to that."
Viesturs says he will not forsake his commitment to safe climbing even though a successful summit on Annapurna would allow him to reach is long sought goal.
"I love climbing," Viesturs says, "but I've got too much to live for to do something stupid. We'll manage the risks as best we can, and turn back if it's unreasonable."
Ed Viesturs on Annapurna (courtesy of MSN.com)