Superheroes

The Outside 25 All-Stars

Number 1 has been up and down Everest five times. Number 25 published the best sports autobiography of the year and won the Tour de France for the second time in a row. Number 9 walked across Antarctica, alone. Number 23 sailed 200 miles back into the teeth of a deadly Southern Ocean storm to rescue a fellow competitor. In assembling our list of today's 25 most extraordinary adventurers, outdoor athletes, and explorers, it was the existential question—the big "Why?"—that made the nomination and selection process such a blast. Ours is a roster of supreme equals: remarkable men and women who excel in sports that aren't played between lines, inside domed stadiums, or under artificial lights. Hype is anathema to these elite spirits; freedom and humility are absolutes in their world. Best of all, these folks challenge us to go out there and do it ourselves—even as they redefine our notions of the possible. Meet our Dream Team: Where they go, we follow.

25. Lance Armstrong
24. Francine Moreillon
23. Giovani Soldini
22. Andrew McLean
21. Shannon Carroll
20. Bjorn Daehlie
19. John Howard
18. Karleen Jeffery
17. Göran Kropp
16. Louise Hose
15. Laird Hamilton
14. Doug Swingley
13. Scott Lindgren
12. Anne-Caroline Chausson
11. Johan Reinhard
10. Josune Bereziartu
9. Børge Ousland
8. Eric Jackson
7. Tomaz Humar
6. Lori Bowden
5. Kevin Pritchard
4. Layne Beachley
3. Jeremy Jones
2. Tommy Caldwell
1. Ed Viesturs


25. Lance Armstrong

ROAD CYCLIST

Age: 29 Specs: 5-foot-11, 158 pounds

Homes: Plano, Texas; Nice, France

THE CASE: Try to forget the cancer. Forget his best-selling autobiography and his picture on the Wheaties box and his general cultural apotheosis. Even forget that he won a bronze medal in the Olympic time trial not five months after breaking his C7 vertebra on a training ride in a head-on collision with a vehicle—a show of toughness that carried his habitual heroism to the edge of absurdity. Focus instead on Armstrong's moment last July atop Mont Ventoux at the 2000 Tour de France. He's dragging Italian Marco Pantani, one of the sport's most storied climbers, up the final kilometers of a mountain ascent so torturous that organizers include it on the route only once every few years.Then Armstrong, in a stroke of psych-out noblesse-oblige genius, eases up and lets Pantani pass him for the day's victory; he's so sure of his overall lead that he need not trifle with a stage win. Humiliated, Pantani comes unglued and withdraws a few days later, and Armstrong pedals imperiously to his second Tour win. Overlooked in the incident was an astonishing fact: Armstrong's average heart rate during the hardest moments on Ventoux averaged 184. His normal training rate for such grades—188 to 192. "What this means," says Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael, "is that he was well below his lactate threshold.
What that means is he wasn't even winded.

SECOND OPINION: A trio of former Tour winners bowed to Armstrong in a media scrum following his 2000 victory.
*Jan Ullrich (1997) after losing to Armstrong this go-round in one of the fastest time trials in Tour history: "I did not have the measure of Lance. It's hard that he was 25 seconds faster, but he showed again that he rightfully carries the yellow."

*Eddy Merckx (1969–1972, 1974): "He's not only the best rider, but the most serious. He races all season, not just one month, like so many others."
*Greg LeMond (1986, 1989, 1990), the only other American champ: "I haven't seen anybody dominate a race like that. Ever."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: October 2, 1996, the day he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

WHAT'S NEXT: A Tour hat trick.

24. Francine Moreillon

FREESKIER

Age: 31 Specs: 5-feet-5, 128 pounds
Home: Verbier, Switzerland

THE CASE: Moreillon summed up her competitive identity last January at Mammoth Mountain, California, during the Gravity Games. Unaware that the event required a second run, she had to hustle back to the top of Paranoids and—without scouting another line down the 50-degree chute—ski it again. Before starting, she looked into an NBC camera and, with a shrug, said: "I don't know where to go." Didn't matter. She blitzed thin powder, uncorked 15-foot cliff-jumps in untracked patches others hadn't even considered, and carved nonstop liquid turns to the finish.She's a natural, which was obvious even in her introduction to freeskiing. Working in the press office at the 1997 Chamonix Extremes, she was asked to forerun the course. The organizers were so impressed, they invited her to the 1998 European Championships. She won the event—her first ever—and claimed the next three World Freeskiing Championships in Valdez, Alaska, to boot.

SECOND OPINION: "When you ski with Francine, it's glaringly obvious that she's constantly going for it," says top American freeskier Kristen Ulmer. "Even when she's skiing if-you-fall-you-die terrain, where other pros are cautious."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Getting trapped with Ulmer under a rock buttress in the French Alps while a series of avalanches cascaded overhead. A helicopter eventually reached them.

WHAT'S NEXT: She hopes to go to Lebanon and Iceland to film sequences for a Swiss adventure-travel television pilot.


23. Giovani Soldini

SAILOR

Around-the-world single-handing is not so much a sport as it is "a complete career," says the 34-year-old Italian. "You need to know a little bit of everything: The designing of the boat, the reading of the weather, the fixing of the generator..."

And let's not forget the throwing of the hammer. In February 1999, midway through the epic Around Alone race, Soldini sailed 200 miles back into the heart of a merciless Southern Ocean storm to rescue competitor Isabelle Autissier, whose yacht had capsized. When he got there, Autissier, sheltering inside her upturned hull, couldn't hear his shouts over the shrieking wind. Soldini reached into his toolbox, pulled out the heaviest thing he could find, and flung it across the water at the Frenchwoman's hull. A few minutes later Autissier opened her escape hatch, tossed out her life raft, and made her way over to his boat.

Such resourcefulness is the product of Soldini's youth, spent working in boatyards and on the foredecks of other people's yachts after dropping out of school in Milan at 16. By his midtwenties he was chafing for his own command. "If you work on a cruising boat, the owner is always wanting to stop, to take a swim or something," he says. "The boat never goes." With a tiny budget but a fierce desire to race in the 1994 BOC Challenge (since renamed the Around Alone), Soldini enlisted a dozen patients in a drug-rehab clinic to work for free on the construction of an ultralight sloop. With it, he won two legs of the race, battling the more experienced Australian David Adams right to the wire in the regatta's 50-foot Class II. Four years later, with backing from Fila, he built a 60-foot boat and, after rescuing Autissier, easily won the elite division of the race. He was the first non-Frenchman to do so.

Soldini is known to his peers for his bold tactics—he often sails away from the fleet on speculative "fliers"—as well as his ambitious race schedule, which includes both single-handed and fully crewed events. The latter have not always been kind to him. In early 1998, he and four friends attempted to set a transatlantic record on Fila and capsized in rough seas 400 miles short of the English Channel. Despite a sturdy safety harness, Soldini's codesigner and best friend, Andrea Romanelli, was washed overboard, never to be seen again. "It was terrible, my worst experience ever," Soldini says. "When you are alone, you have only yourself to worry about. When you are five people sailing, you have to think about much more."

22. Andrew McLean

SKI MOUNTAINEER

Age: 39 Specs: 5-foot-10, 150 pounds
Home: Park City, Utah

THE CASE: A cool head who often climbs routes two or three times before attempting to ski them, McLean has brought a new level of technical refinement to ski mountaineering, often linking the broken sections of a "discontinuous line" with breathtaking traverses and rappels. (He's also seen avalanches claim the lives of three of his close friends, including über-alpinist Alex Lowe in 1999.) McLean is known for skiing big alpine faces, couloirs, and even serious ice climbs, from the Alps to the Himalayas. When it comes to his home range, he wrote the book, The Chuting Gallery, which details 95 expert-to-extreme descents in Utah's Wasatch Mountains and features a disclaimer from his mother: "Obviously, no one in their right mind would ski this stuff—and you shouldn't either." A product designer for Black Diamond, he came up with the Whippet, a miniature ice-ax head that snaps onto your ski-pole handle and may help stop you if you fall. "Of course," as McLean points out, "falling is verboten."

SECOND OPINION: "Andrew looks between the obvious descents for the sneaky lines," says Hans Saari, a fellow skier from Bozeman, Montana. "Sometimes that means skiing. Sometimes it means sideslipping madness, hopping down backwards on ice with your tails slamming into the rock."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: In 1998, in icy conditions, McLean and Saari descended the Hossack-McGowan Couloir on the northeast face of the Grand Teton, a discontinuous 2,000-foot descent that includes a 55- to 60-degree, 1,000-vertical-foot chute. "It was totally exposed, over cliffs the whole way," says McLean. "Within the first five minutes you were in the no-fall zone, and it went on like that for four or five hours."

WHAT'S NEXT: A family—perhaps. "The desire is there, but it keeps getting put off," McLean admits. "Maybe after next ski season."


21. Shannon Carroll

STEEPCREEKER

Age: 22 Specs: 5-foot-10, 152 pounds

Home: Nevada City, California

THE CASE: Born buff and brassy, Carroll began paddling at 11, ran her first Class V at 15, and then raised the stakes even higher. Since then she's claimed the women's world-record waterfall descent (a 78-foot prayer off the McKenzie River's Sahalie Falls near Eugene, Oregon), won the women's world championship of surf kayaking, and put her churning aquatic luge maneuvers on display in Twitch 2000, a video of stupefying kayaking footage.But her first love is steepcreeking—running precipitous torrents that plunge as much as 500 feet per mile and are choked with logs and tenacious holes. It's just the type of paddling she grew up on in Thurmond, West Virginia. "I was lucky to get an early start paddling," she says, "and there are still frontiers to push."

SECOND OPINION: "Shannon's very aggressive on the water," says fellow competitor Jamie Simon. "Yet afterwards everyone loves to be around her. The only thing I enjoy more than paddling with her is listening to her sing."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Getting pinned on West Virginia's Upper Gauley with her bow wedged deep into a colander of rocks for 20 minutes. Just before going under, rescuers pulled her out by the stern.

WHAT'S NEXT: Trying to qualify for the U.S. rodeo kayaking team next season.

20. Bjorn Daehlie

NORDIC SKIER

Age: 33 Specs: 6 feet, 172 pounds
Home: Nannestad, Norway

THE CASE: In the oxygen-deprived nightmare that is nordic skiing, it helps to be a freak of nature. Thanks to an off-the-charts VO2 max of 96, a resting heart rate of 45, anda hypermotivated training ethic, Daehlie has captured 12 Olympic medals—more than any other winter Olympian. Perhaps he's best known, however, for his histrionic come-from-behind finishes. After kicking past Swede Niklas Jonsson in the 50k freestyle in the 1998 Nagano Games, he collapsed at the tape and didn't stand for two hours. Melodramatic showmanship say some, but hey, what do you expect from a guy wearing pastel tights?

SECOND OPINION: "He's the complete package," says U.S. cross-country ski team member Justin Wadsworth. "He's got the genetic gift, the work ethic, and he can suffer better than anyone he races against."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Getting outsprinted on his home turf by Italian Silvio Fauner in front of 100,000 stunned spectators while racing the anchor leg of the men's 4x10k relay at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics.

WHAT'S NEXT: Barring catastrophe, Daehlie will compete in his fourth winter Olympics, in Salt Lake City. Should he win more medals, he may propel his record well out of reach.

19. John Howard

ADVENTURE RACER

Age: 44 Specs: 6 feet, 172 pounds
Home: Christchurch, New Zealand

THE CASE: This bushy-bearded window-washer who lives in a 30-foot bus on a 10-acre sheep farm doesn't look like your typical adventure racer. (More like Ted Kaczynski, really.) Though the sport attracts the most sinewy of athletes, it's Howard who's won more races than anybody, leading various teams over hill, dale, and scuzzy swamp to victory in three Eco-Challenges (1996, 1997, 1999), three Raids Gauloises (1989, 1994, 1998), and many others. His secret? He trains 365 days a year—rock climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and running barefoot through the woods. It doesn't hurt that His Eccentricness has a habit of freaking out his opponents: In one shocking display of orneriness, at the 1998 Raid Gauloises, he startled racers and locals outside a church in the Ecuadorian countryside by ranting, "Buenos días God, ya bastard!"

SECOND OPINION: "No one has come close to his enviable record," says former teammate Ian Adamson. "And anyone who pretends to be in his league inevitably fails miserably."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: The 1997 X-Games adventure race in Baja, when temperatures rose to nearly 150 degrees. Participants' shoes melted, and racers collapsed all over the course. "It felt like we were inside a big ball of fire," says Howard.

WHAT'S NEXT: Getting into course design. "I think I could make the races more exciting," he says. Now the other competitors may really freak out.


18. Karleen Jeffery


FREERIDE SNOWBOARDER

They don't call her Gnarleen for nothing. Karleen Jeffery spent five years hiding out in Chamonix, storming down rules-free steeps with the world's most hell-bent snowboarders, but now she's back. Even while she was away, she managed to sneak in a competition here and there: The 27-year-old Canadian is a two-time World Extreme Champion, a six-time winner of the Mount Baker Banked Slalom, a four-time winner of the Rip Curl World Heli Challenge, and a three-time winner of the Canadian Nationals (twice for half-pipe, once for giant slalom). She's a North American Boardercross champion, a North American Big Air champion, and twice a Swedish Queen of the Hill. And did we mention that she's a redhead?

The 5-foot-2 femme fatale from Kelowna, British Columbia, got her start as a ski racer. Her father was a Canadian national ski team jumper, and her grandfather pioneered a 165-mile ski route from Jasper to Banff. Then one day back in 1990, a couple of guys dared her to learn snowboarding in time for the national championships six weeks later. She did, and she won. She was 16. ("Speed events were always my favorite," says Jeffery, who now lives in Mammoth Lakes, California.)

Although she used to compete in the half-pipe, the Burton rider has turned her full attention to freeriding, where she outruns avalanches and cracking cornices. "Half-pipe just wasn't that challenging anymore," she says. After a grueling climb up a peak, she might jump into a chute and carve through it at 50 mph, launch into a big-air inversion over a boulder, and spend the next few thousand feet spinning and slaloming down the face. "My sister can be pretty intimidating," says older brother Scott, who stuck with skiing. "She rides really hard. She just charges."

Both in competition and while starring in industry films—her latest is with XX Productions (that's a chromosome reference, dude) —Jeffery walks a fine line between safety and insanity. "It's me versus the mountain, just trying to anticipate what the mountain can do to me and how I can outwit Mother Nature," she says. "I always have an escape plan if things go awry, some rock I can duck under." It doesn't always work: Five years ago in the Alps she landed badly on a jump, breaking her pelvis and fracturing a vertebra.

Next year, aside from competing again in April's world extreme championship in Valdez, Jeffery and her fiancé, BASE jumper Dave Barlia, plan to film each other's exploits around the world with her new 16mm camera. So, what does Barlia call her? "Well," she says, "when I'm in a bad mood he calls me Snarleen."

17. Göran Kropp

ADVENTURER

Age: 33 Specs: 6-foot-2, 216 pounds
Home: Stockholm, Sweden

THE CASE: Expert skier, accomplished mountaineer, expedition cyclist, former paratrooper, and open-ocean sailor-in-training. Impressive all, but Kropp is best known for whipping up said disciplines in a witches' brew of outrageously harebrained adventure—and then seeing his concoction through in the purest way possible. To date: While pedaling the 8,580 miles from his native Sweden to Nepal to climb Everest in 1996, one thought dogged him. How could he go so far, so self-sufficiently, and then justify using the fixed ladders through the peak's treacherous Khumbu Icefall? His answer: He hacked his own route up the 3,000 vertical feet of shifting ice blocks. "I wanted to prove I could get to Everest and climb it without support," says Kropp. "A lot of people are better, but I'm hard-minded to reach my goal."

SECOND OPINION: "Göran has a dreamer's glint in his eye, and he absolutely refuses to give up," says Everest veteran and filmmaker David Breashears, who was there in 1996 when Kropp summited. "He's also funny as hell. At Base Camp, we called him the six-foot-two Don Rickles."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Thirty days into a trek between Siberia and the North Pole last February, a polar bear began stalking Kropp. He eventually had to shoot it.

WHAT'S NEXT: Sailing solo 8,000 nautical miles from Sweden to Antarctica in 2003, and then skiing to the South Pole.


16. Louise Hose

GEOLOGIST/CAVER

Four thousand feet below the surface of the earth, in a cold, dank hole that exists on no map, the chances of rescue for a stranded caver are close to zilch. Louise Hose doesn't care. "You take the risks you can handle," says the 48-year-old karst geologist, who once witnessed a partner die when he got trapped and drowned in an underground stream. "You don't allow yourself to break a femur." Her matter-of-fact tone leaves little doubt why her colleagues, working alongside her years ago in a Mexican cave, nicknamed her "Macha."

In 22 years of studying cave-forming rock, Hose has explored more than 230 underground holes, 80 of them virgin passages, and published her findings in periodicals with catchy titles like Chemical Geology: Special Geomicrobiology Issue. "Some go deeper, and some do more dangerous work or more science," says Dave Luckins, a former president of the National Speleological Society who spent ten years on the NSS's board with her, "but few combine these elements and do it with her level of skill."

Hose, a former national-level competitive cyclist, ventured into her first cave in 1970 as a freshman at California State University at Los Angeles. "I grew up in Los Angeles surrounded by people, so I really liked the isolation," she says. To feed her jones for subterranean nooks, she earned a doctorate in geology from Louisiana State University. She's currently digging into the bizarre ecology of Mexico's Cueva de Villa Luz, where a recently discovered microbial colonies live off hydrogen sulfide and fart out sulfuric acid. In addition to stinking to high heaven, the atmosphere is poisonous, so Hose wears a gas mask as she works.

In a field known for its swashbuckling one-upmanship, Hose often arrives first at a site, where she rappels down hundreds of feet of rope with a 70-pound pack and then shimmies through insanely skinny passageways. Her body has been so badly bruised that a doctor once asked her if she was a victim of domestic violence. Nope, she told him, I'm a caver.

15. Laird Hamilton

WATERMAN

Age: 36 Specs: 6-foot-3, 215 pounds
Home: Kauai, Hawaii, and Malibu, California

THE CASE: The Kauai native holds dominion over bodysurfing, bodyboarding, boardsailing, kite surfing, skimboarding—and, of course, the sports he helped invent, airboard surfing and tow-in surfing. As for the latter, in the early 1990s Hamilton and several cohorts began using jet skis to get into Maui's 50-foot waves, but instead of just riding them they'd perform stunts like windsurfers. He cinched his status as a modern Poseidon in 1994 in Endless Summer II, which featured him riding a wave so monumental that it looked to be from another planet. Envious yet? He's also married to volleyball star Gabrielle Reece. Not bad for a guy who says, "My mother never thought I'd see the age of 16.

SECOND OPINION: "Big-wave riding, for 50 years, evolved in an almost plodding way," says Matt Warshaw, author of Maverick's: The Story of Big-Wave Surfing (reviewed on page 146). "Suddenly it's 1993 and Laird's riding three or four levels beyond anybody else, like he was visiting from the future."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Running out of gas on his jet ski in the open ocean in 1992, when vog—haze and volcano smoke—caused him to veer off course between Maui and the Big Island. The Coast Guard rescued him 12 hours later, none the worse for wear.

WHAT'S NEXT: Learning to golf. "It's a head thing, which makes it interesting, but a little quieter than what I'm used to."


14. Doug Swingley

DOGSLED RACER

Age: 47 Specs: 5-foot-11, 160 pounds
Home: Lincoln, Montana

THE CASE: Owner, manager, friend, racer, and trainer of the fastest dogs alive, Swingley wears down opponents by charging from the gun; where most mushers cautiously modulate speed throughout a race with a foot brake, Swingley just lets 'em rip, convincing his dogs that long hills are a treat. The former mink rancher, who still trains his dogs in Montana, didn't start racing until he was 36, but he quickly made up for lost time. In his third Iditarod, in 1995, Swingley posted the first sub-ten-day time, thus becoming the first non-Alaskan to win the grueling 1,100-mile marathon. After finishing second in '96 and '97, he reclaimed the crown in 1999 and smoked the pack again in 2000, breaking his '95 record by nearly two hours.

SECOND OPINION: "Every year Doug's won the Iditarod, he's usually stayed one checkpoint ahead of the other mushers," says 1989 winner Joe Runyan. "He pushes it a little bit every year."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Beginning the 1999 Iditarod by breaking two ribs. "We took a 90-degree corner, and as I went down with the sled my chest was driven into a battery pack," says Swingley. How'd he manage a victory? "A lot of Aleve."

WHAT'S NEXT: Come this March, he'll aim the dogs straight for Nome, Alaska, the Iditarod's finish line, and a possible fourth victory.

13. Scott Lindgren

EXPEDITION KAYAKER

Age: 28 Specs: 5-foot-11, 155 pounds
Home: Auburn, California

THE CASE: There's a handful of paddlers who can run the big-river first descents that Lindgren relishes, and there's a handful of filmmakers who can capture the shots he does, but no one else can do both time after time and still manage to come back alive. The Rocklin, California, native, who began paddling at 19, has marshaled countless remote river expeditions—Nepal's Thule Bheri and Tibet's upper Karnali, to name a couple—in which he navigates raging gorges studded with Class V-plus drops in a heavily laden kayak, wearing an awkward head camera. His company, Scott Lindgren Productions, is known for making videos (Flood 2: The Last Drop, Thirst) and films that defy belief, even among grizzled whitewater paddlers. "When I discovered kayaking, it was a release I hadn't found in other sports," says Lindgren. "It was never about being a high-profile athlete; it is strictly about going out and finding the deepest, hardest rivers."

SECOND OPINION: "There are a lot of good extreme paddlers, but Scott can predict water flows like no one else I know," says fellow first-descenter Clay Wright. "When you go on an expedition with Scott, you know it will be dialed."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: "Trying to get me to talk about my most harrowing moment," sniffs Lindgren, "is like trying to take spinach away from Popeye."

WHAT'S NEXT: A three-week voyage on the White Nile in Uganda and the wrap of Liquid Cubed, a film about his surf kayaking exploits in Indonesia.

12. Anne-Caroline Chausson

MOUNTAIN-BIKE RACER

Age: 24 Specs: 5-foot-6, 120 pounds
Home: Dijon, France

THE CASE: Simply put, there has never been a more dominant mountain biker.Chausson has claimed every downhill world championship since 1996. She's won 70 percent of the World Cup races held since then, often crushing the field by obscene margins, deftly avoiding the flat tires and catastrophic crashes that routinely keep contenders from even crossing the line. She cruises through knots of root and rock that force others to dismount, flies over head-high drops that cause opponents to jam on their disc brakes, and does it all with an unsettling air of supremely confident indifference. Perhaps that's because she started racing BMX bikes when she was six, thus hardwiring her untouchable piloting skills. Then again, maybe it's just that she's French.

SECOND OPINION: "The difference between her and the other women is that she's not using the front of her brain when she races," says American downhiller Marla Streb. "She's just not afraid."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Sliding out on her Ducati motorcycle in Dijon last year. "I didn't get hurt," says Chausson, "but it was more scary than anything that's ever happened to me on a mountain bike."

WHAT'S NEXT: Finding a new team—Volvo/Cannondale is considering dropping its downhill program—and, in the immediate future, skiing. "I love big powder. I think now I will begin to jump some cliffs."


11. Johan Reinhard

ARCHAEOLOGIST/EXPLORER

Someone once asked Johan Reinhard how many close calls he'd survived. When he finished tallying them, the total came to 34. "I haven't been broken up too badly," says the 57-year-old Illinois native, "but I've been nearly killed almost every way you can think of." To thrive as the world's foremost high-altitude archaeologist, it helps to be both lucky and wise. When an avalanche wipes the slope you just exited—that's luck. When a Nepalese tribe of hunters orders you, upon pain of death, to stop shadowing them, and you beat feet—that's wisdom.

For two decades Reinhard, who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Vienna, has scoured remote Andean mountaintops seeking clues left behind by ancient South American civilizations. His discoveries have blown minds in the science world: In 1995 he recovered the famous 500-year-old Incan "ice maiden," the most well preserved body from pre-Columbian times. Last year he and his team battled 70-mph winds and snow to unearth three more mummies on the summit of Argentina's 22,000-foot Mount Llullaillaco. "The DNA samples we sent to George Mason University were as intact as a living person's," says Reinhard.

The archaeologist, who's been climbing mountains since college, has bagged more than 100 South American peaks over 17,000 feet, making him one of the world's most prolific Andean climbers—a record he didn't consciously seek. "What keeps me going up is that [those high mountains] have the world's best-preserved mummies," he says, "and they're soon going to be destroyed." Earlier this year Reinhard scrambled up to a burial site on an Argentinean peak to find that thieves had gotten there first. With dynamite. "All we found were remains of blown-up textiles and bones," he says.

Now funded as a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, Reinhard retreats to his home near Franklin, West Virginia, to sift through his findings when he isn't in the field. "I've had to give up a lot for this life," he says. "But I've always had the freedom to go out and explore."

10. Josune Bereziartu

ROCK CLIMBER

Age: 28 Specs: 5-foot-9, 119 pounds
Home: Ordizia, Spain

THE CASE: The tight-knit rock-climbing community in northern Spain's Basque country presented a new international star in June with the news that Josune Bereziartu had redpointed Honky Mix, a 100-foot limestone route near Oñate, thereby becoming the first woman ever to climb a 5.14c. The feat was no surprise to European climbers, who'd seen her tick off three 5.14b's with an efficient, controlled style. A ten-year veteran of the rock, Bereziartu herself stands in something less than awe of the accomplishment. "It's nice that this was the first 5.14c climbed by a woman," she says, "but for me the most important thing is that it was the secondoverall ascent of a route that's been a project for several strong climbers."

SECOND OPINION: "Watching her do her first 5.14b, I couldn't believe how calmly she moved," says American climber Eric Fagan, who recently returned from a two-year stint in Spain. "It looked like she was climbing vertically, but the route was 55 degrees overhanging."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Last spring, nightfall caught Bereziartu and husband Rikardo Otegi halfway up an eight-pitch route near Riglos. They finished in the dark and hiked to their car only to realize they'd left their keys 600 feet up the cliff.

WHAT'S NEXT: Brief tastes of American crags such as Colorado's Rifles are bringing Bereziartu back for more. "The look of the American West is so different from the forests of Europe," she says. "You have incredible national parks!"


9. Børge Ousland

POLAR EXPLORER

Age: 38 Specs: 6-foot-2, 187 pounds

Home: Oslo, Norway

THE CASE: A former deep-sea diver in the icy North Atlantic waters off Norway, Ousland has redefined what it means to be a masochistic loner. In 1994 he became the first man to travel solo, and without assistance or resupply, to the North Pole. A year later he skied solo to the South Pole, and in 1996 he became the first to cross Antarctica alone and unassisted—a trip that took 64 days. While those before him have relied on resupply caches and airdrops, Ousland lugs his provisions behind him on a sledge, trekking across perilously thin ice in whiteout conditions that can reach minus 55 degrees Celsius. He has an almost pathological attention to detail and an uncanny knack for discerning safe ice from sketchy ice. Fine, but how's he stay warm and sane? A diet loaded with olive oil and butter, and a Walkman blaring Jimi Hendrix.

SECOND OPINION: "Ousland is Roald Amundsen incarnate," says polar sage Will Steger, invoking the turn-of-the-century Norwegian explorer who made the world's first trek to the South Pole. "He is strong, well prepared, cautious, and he understands ice better than anybody."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: On a 1993 ski expedition from Franz Josef Land to Spitsbergen, in the Arctic Ocean, he awoke to shotgunlike sounds—ice cracking—and found himself and his teammate bobbing on a raft of ice. The men spent two days adrift at sea, their ice-island eroding at the edges, before rescuers plucked them to safety.

WHAT'S NEXT: In January Ousland will attempt what's considered the last great feat in polar exploration: the first unsupported traverse of the Arctic, from Russia to Canada via the North Pole.

8. Eric Jackson

WHITEWATER PADDLER

When Eric Jackson took his final ride in the big hole in Sort, Spain, and became the 2000 pre-world freestyle kayak champion last July, he wasn't in anything like The Zone. He was just goofing off. He began with a zero-to-hero, a move he invented: upside down to vertical with one paddle stroke. Then the real fun began. Powering out of an eddy near the start, Jackson, at 36 hailed as the world's handiest whitewater kayaker, dropped into the competition hole, threw his signature right-left split-wheel—a cartwheel with a 180-degree twist—and launched into 30 seconds of dazzling aquabatics. Hewing to his reputation as the cockiest of showmen, at one point he shot a winning smile at one of the judges. "The more fun I'm having," says Jackson, "the better I do."

If so, he's been having quite a blast since he started paddling two decades ago. Though he's a good 15 years older than much of his competition, he still rules, and he does so in several disciplines. Among his long and diverse line of accomplishments: ten years on the U.S. kayaking slalom team; world rodeo champion in 1993; and winningest "extreme" racer this year—a niche that entails paddling a mile or so downriver through Class V whitewater and charging over 30-foot waterfalls. Incredibly, he's also a top competitor in canoe events. "E.J. has a unique knack for coming into any kind of competitive kayak situation—slalom, extreme, rodeo—and doing really well, if not dominating," says Dan Gevere, a longtime rodeo competitor.

It's no wonder: Jackson's a powerful 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds. He runs six-minute miles on hilly trails wherever he can find them so that his legs won't atrophy. He can hold his breath for three minutes (a skill that probably saved his skin back in '96 when he got pinned under a waterfall on the Potomac River and nearly drowned). In short, he has both the strength and skill to run any whitewater that's runnable.

He's so serious about being the best that in a lean time in 1997 he and his wife, Kristine, chucked their house in Bethesda, Maryland, sold most of their stuff, and moved themselves, their daughter, son (now ten and seven, respectively), and two dalmatians into an RV so they could all be together as Eric chased big water around the country. They log 50,000 miles a year and homeschool the kids. And though Jackson now has a real job as the director and boat designer for Wave Sport kayaks, the RV is still home: Call it his own private fan club. After all, Jackson would be the first to admit that he thrives with a cheering section. As one former U.S. slalom teammate quipped: "If you wanted to put a quote on his tombstone, it would be 'Hey, watch this!'"


7. Tomaz Humar

ALPINIST


Age: 31 Specs: 5-foot-10, 157 pounds
Home: Kamnik, Slovenia

THE CASE: To get a sense of the audacity of Tomaz Humar's November 1999 solo ascent of the 4,000-foot wall of ice and rotten rock on the south face of Nepal's Dhaulagiri, consider this: Upon returning home, he found that climbing's greatest living legend, Reinhold Messner, had flown in and was waiting to congratulate him. An epic in 1997 on the west face of Nuptse, Everest's 25,921-foot neighbor, and a 1996 first ascent of the northwest face of Nepal's Ama Dablam also rank as two of the boldest climbs of the 1990s. A fiercely self-reliant mountaineer who typically goes solo, Humar prides himself on his mental strength: "When I start a climb, I become some kind of animal," he says. "I turn off everything—hunger, pain, freezing—in order to survive."

SECOND OPINION: "Humar is willing to take on dangerous climbs with the understanding that if he moves fast enough, he'll get through without getting killed," says Christian Beckwith, editor of the American Alpine Journal.

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: "Saying good-bye to my children before each expedition."

WHAT'S NEXT: "I'm cooking it in my head right now," he says. "When it is the right time, the mountain will tell me so."

6. Lori Bowden

TRIATHLETE

Age: 33 Specs: 5-foot-6, 115 pounds

Home: Victoria, British Columbia

THE CASE: When the Canadian swapped her bike for her running shoes to start the final leg of her Hawaii Ironman professional debut in 1996, she was in 30th place. "When I finished eighth," she says, "I knew I'd eventually have a shot at winning it." Indeed. Owing to her running prowess, these days Bowden routinely gobbles up seemingly unbeatable competitors' leads. Take her first Hawaii Ironman win, in 1999: Entering the run three minutes down, Bowden recorded the event's first sub-three-hour marathon by a woman, winning by seven minutes. In 2000 she sealed her arrival with two major triathlon victories, in Australia and Canada. Now just imagine how good she'll be when she improves her shabby swimming ability. (In her Hawaii win she finished the swim in an abysmal 89th place.)

SECOND OPINION: Karen Smyers, who finished second in Hawaii in 1999, says: "The biggest thing she's got going for her is that she really has no idea how good she is."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Nearly drowning in the pounding surf during the swim leg at a sprint triathlon in Chile last January.

WHAT'S NEXT: Erasing the 4 minutes and 45 seconds standing between her Ironman best and Paula Newby-Fraser's world-record time (8:50:23), set in 1994.

5. Kevin Pritchard

WINDSURFER

Age: 24 Specs: 6-foot-2, 200 pounds
Home: Maui, Hawaii

THE CASE: So how could we snub Denmark's seemingly indomitable Björn Dunkerbeck, who's collected 12 world titles? Well, Kevin Pritchard is going to take him down this year. (That, and the Dane is dull.) They're currently battling for first in the World Cup, but Pritchard, a two-time U.S. national champion, skunked Dunkerbeck in the Canary Islands in July and has since won every event in the series (Pritchard's older brother Matt was ranked third last year, but he's out with a broken ankle). The overall title combines race and wave competitions, the latter of which is Pritchard's speciality—he launches off 20-footers like a snowboarder in the half-pipe. Says Pritchard, "I can't imagine ever wanting to do anything else."

SECOND OPINION: "Gotta hand it to him," says Matt Pritchard. "He's spent a lifetime in my shadow, and now he's jumped out and created his own. It's going to be a long one, too."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Falling mug-first from the top of a 25-foot wave onto his mast in 1994, breaking his nose and several bones in his face.

WHAT'S NEXT: The last World Cup stop of the season, off Hookipa, Maui. We're betting that by the time you read this, Dunkerbeck will be history.

 


4. Layne Beachley

SURFER

Age: 28 Specs: 5-foot-5, 121 pounds
Home: Dee Why Beach, Australia

THE CASE: Already considered the planet's premier female big-wave rider, this powerful, exuberant Australian is also the first woman to get into the high-testosterone sport of tow-in surfing. But her performance in contest surfing is another story. For years Beachley battled chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, and Lisa Andersen—the fluid Floridian surfer who piled up four straight world titles. In 1998, thanks in part to the support of mentor-boyfriend Ken Bradshaw, a 48-year-old big-wave legend from Sunset Beach on the North Shore of Oahu, Beachley located the "competitive beast" within, and has won two world titles since. With one contest remaining on this year's circuit, she's all but assured of a third.

SECOND OPINION: "She rides waves that most guys would want to be nowhere near," says Bill Sharp, publisher of California's SurfNews. "Things that are 18 to 20 feet on the Hawaiian scale, which means a 35- to 40-foot face.

"MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Last winter, filming for the Australian edition of 60 Minutes, Beachley got Bradshaw to tow her into Backyards, a giant, unruly break offshore of Sunset Beach. "I was way too deep when I let go of the rope," she says. "An entire section of the wave closed out—18 feet of white water—and before Ken could get to me, three more waves broke on top of me. I was just sitting there underwater, singing to myself." The refrain? "Rag doll, rag doll."

WHAT'S NEXT: Getting towed into Jaws, the steep, hollow monster wave off Maui pioneered by Laird Hamilton and Buzzy Kerbox.

3. Jeremy Jones

BIG-MOUNTAIN SNOWBOARDER

Age: 25 Specs: 5-foot-7, 145 pounds

Home: Truckee, California

THE CASE: Jones rips the seemingly convex pitches of Alaska's intimidating Chugach Mountains, pointing his board straight down the fall line of slopes where you drop 20 feet with each turn. He rails open faces at 60 mph and then shoots off 50-foot cliffs. Apparently fearless, Jones first earned his reputation as snowboarding's primo big-mountain freerider from stunts in the 1997 snowboard flickTB6, but he's equally famous for riding the Chugach's fluted spines—steep, wind-carved ribs of snow that protrude from the guts of the mountain. On such terrain, you don't outrun your slough, you ride in it, cascading down waterfalls of snow. In the premiere this fall of the ski film Further, Jones's gonzo descent cemented his status as a snowboarder of Homeric proportions. In the words of innumerable viewers, Jones isn't just the best, "He's sick."

SECOND OPINION: "Jones attacks terrain," says veteran snowboarder and writer Jeff Galbraith. "He does lines you don't see anyone else do, without straining."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Walking from helicopter landing zones along knife-edge ridgelines, where his soft-soled boots offer little grip and the board he's holding easily catches homicidal wind gusts.

WHAT'S NEXT: A helicopter tour deeper into Alaska's imposing ranges with his two filmmaker brothers, of Teton Gravity Research, who'll capture Jeremy's first descents using long lenses from distant (read: safe) vantages.

2. Tommy Caldwell

ROCK CLIMBER

Age: 22 Specs: 5-foot-9, 150 pounds
Home: Estes Park, Colorado

THE CASE: In terms of pure climbing skill, the Tommy-Caldwell-versus-Chris-Sharma debate could drag on for days. This time around, we'll take Caldwell, mainly because he's put up brilliantly tough routes—sport climbs, free ascents, you name it—while Sharma's been away perfecting his bouldering technique. And, frankly, Caldwell's had a hell of a year. In the span of 12 months he has established a route in Colorado's Fortress of Solitude called Kryptonite, which, if confirmed at 5.14d, is now the hardest sport climb on the continent; found himself a girlfriend in world-class climber Beth Rodden; with her, put up the first free ascent of the El Cap aid route Lurking Fear; and, along with Rodden and climbers Jason Smith and John Dickey, escaped from gun-wielding rebels while on a trip in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. The tale of their escape (reported in Outside's November issue) will undoubtedly become part of American climbing mythology. And, we would posit, so will Caldwell's accomplishments.

SECOND OPINION: "In his heart of hearts," says climbing partner Nick Sagar, "Tommy wishes he could climb as hard as he can every day and never take a rest."

MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Aside from Kyrgyzstan?

WHAT'S NEXT: Free-climbing Yosemite's Muir Wall.


The Immovable Object Meets the Unstoppable Force

Step by step, year after year, summit after summit, never altering, Ed Viesturs has planted his flag across the top of the world. And everybody loves him. What's the deal with this guy?

1. Ed Viesturs
MOUTAINEERING
Age: 41 Specs: 5-foot-10, 165 pounds
Home: Seattle, Washington

"I'VE NEVER HAD A BAD DAY in the mountains," says Ed Viesturs.

It's the kind of remark you don't usually hear from someone who's barely survived howling storms, horrendous avalanches, and the high-altitude deaths of close friends. Sitting across from Viesturs, both of us chewing steak in a Manhattan restaurant, I'm stopped by his credo of universal positivity. I know all about his reputation as an implacably sunny character, a man without any discernable dark side. But given what I also know about his brushes with disaster, especially during a couple of very bad days on Everest in 1996, his words make him sound like the Mr. Rogers of high mountaineering. "I climb these mountains to have a good time," he adds in his low-key way, as if he's describing his intention to visit all the national parks by car.

Viesturs is in New York to tell an auditorium full of rapt listeners just how good a time he's had in the mountains. His slide-show presentation, evolving versions of which he's been giving since 1996, consistently draws a sellout crowd, a fact that continues to confound him.

"It's been just amazing," he says. "I'll be doing my slide show in these venues that hold a thousand people, and kids will come up to me afterwards and they're asking, 'Where you gonna be tomorrow?' And I say, 'Boston,' and they go, 'OK, we'll start driving tonight and get there in time to buy tickets...' It totally surprised me. It was like the Dead concerts—which is why we've started calling it the Grateful Ed Tour."

Viesturs is 41 years old, a nonpracticing doctor of veterinary medicine who has spent most of his adult life climbing all over the world's highest mountains. He's a man whose gratitude runs deep. He is grateful for his wife and two young children. He is grateful for the unique physical gifts that have carried him up mountains and for the common sense that has brought him back down alive. In short, he's grateful just to be here.

Yet there's more to Viesturs's gratitude, and perhaps a cruel irony. His slide shows are popular in large part because of the role Viesturs played in the best-known, most exhaustively chronicled event in mountaineering history, the 1996 storm on Everest in which eight people died, including two of Viesturs's longtime friends, guides Scott Fischer and Rob Hall. His fame grew with his starring role in the blockbuster IMAX film Everest, which documents how Viesturs helped rescue climbers stranded near the summit in the course of his own successful climb. In the film's most wrenching scene, he pleads with Rob Hall via radio, unsuccessfully trying to motivate the guide to save himself. Becoming America's most famous and perhaps highest-paid mountaineer came with a heavy price.

Beyond the Everest debacle, Viesturs is renowned for having summited 11 (or 12, depending who's counting) of the world's 14 8,000-meter peaks, and for his addiction to Everest, which he's attempted nine times and summited five. And he's pulled off every milestone achievement in his career without an oxygen bottle.

Lately, however, Grateful Ed has been spending a lot more time in darkened rooms than on mountains. The majority of his slide shows are delivered as part of his sponsorship deals with Mountain Hardwear and other companies. (For corporate appearances, he receives up to $7,000 a show.) As this year ends, he will have given his show nearly 60 times.

I caught up with the tour in New York, where Viesturs's first stop was at a PR agency for some coaching on how to subtly insert the name of his Internet sponsor, Expedia.com, into the blizzard of satellite-television interviews scheduled for the next morning. He stands five-foot-ten and weighs 165 lithe pounds, his face carries a natural midwestern openness, he smiles easily, and he speaks about his climbing life with a boyish enthusiasm that is so upbeat it's sometimes hard to believe. Indeed, his cautious approach to this unforgiving sport and his amazing safety record seem to confirm that he climbs not to exorcise demons or prove himself, but for the pure love of taking the mountains as he finds them.

It's a style he embraced early in his career and then took on his first Everest expedition, in 1987, a grueling three-month attempt via the North Face with mentor Eric Simonson. They made it to 28,700 feet late on summit day, but had already used all their rope, and were looking at a rock climb—not a Viesturs strength—to gain the West Ridge. Worse, a storm was about to begin.

"So there we are," he tells audiences, "300 feet from the summit—spitting distance—and we turned around and walked away. It was a very difficult decision. You've spent years of training, months of preparation, thousands of dollars, and you throw it all away. A lot of people are willing to continue on, risk their lives. I'm not. We probably could have made it to the top, but with the conditions and our abilities, we weren't sure we could make it down. And that's the critical factor. Getting up is optional. Getting down is mandatory. It's gotta be a round-trip." He turned around again during another attempt the following year, and finally reached the top of Everest in 1990.

Even his decision to forgo supplemental oxygen is a reflection of his prudence—and unshakable confidence. "I decided way back in the eighties that if I ever went to Everest, I'd go without oxygen," Viesturs says. "I read about Reinhold Messner"—the first mountaineer to climb Everest without oxygen and the first to climb all 14 of the 8,000-meter peaks—"doing it that way, and I wanted to climb the mountain on its terms instead of bringing it down to mine. And I've found that when you go without oxygen you train harder, you plan more, and you don't have to worry about a mechanical system that can fail." Over the next two seasons, Viesturs plans to complete the final three climbs that will make him the first American to repeat Messner's oxygen-free feat.


The Immovable Object Meets the Unstoppable Force

Step by step, year after year, summit after summit, never altering, Ed Viesturs has planted his flag across the top of the world. And everybody loves him. What's the deal with this guy?

VIESTURS WAS BORN in 1959 and grew up in the flatlands of Rockford, Illinois, where the highest objects on the horizon were water towers. His parents were immigrants—his father, a mechanical design engineer, from Latvia; his mother from Germany—who arrived in the early 1950s. In high school, Viesturs read and was captivated by Annapurna, the French climber Maurice Herzog's famous and grisly account of the first ascent of an 8,000-meter peak in 1950. I reminded Viesturs that Herzog's tale had a lot more frostbite, amputation, and near-death suffering than it did fun. "That's not what interested me," he replied. "What I liked was that these guys had a goal and they just wouldn't give up. They spent months and months finding the mountain; then they climbed it. So simple, so basic. I'm a very goal-oriented person, and I like things that take a long time to accomplish."

After some beginner's rock climbing at Devil's Lake, Wisconsin, Viesturs left the Midwest for the University of Washington in 1977 and inaugurated a long-running obsession with Mount Rainier. "I could see it from my dorm window, and it became my focus," he says. "I was maniacal about it. Every weekend, I'd bum a ride or hitchhike, rain or shine, just to be on the mountain." He eventually landed a job as a guide with Rainier Mountaineering Inc., then began a four-year period combining veterinary studies at Washington State University in Pullman and guiding during the summer. After becoming a vet in 1987, Viesturs practiced in two clinics run by friends who reluctantly gave him months off at a time to climb in the Himalayas. Finally, his absences were too long and too frequent, and he was forced to choose: be a vet or be a climber.

He chose the mountains. In 1989, he topped India's 28,208-foot Kanchenjunga, his first 8,000-meter summit. Climbing Everest the following year was "one of the greatest moments in my life," he says. "And I thought, 'Memorize this view, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Nobody in their right mind climbs Everest twice.' Little did I know that I'd be there time after time." In fact, he claimed his second summit in 1991. In 1992, he summited K2. In 1993, he reached the middle summit of Shishapangma, in Tibet, but declined to attempt the true summit, which is three meters higher (thereby complicating his goal of climbing all fourteen 8,000ers). In 1994, after climbing Everest as a guide with New Zealander Rob Hall and summiting for the third time, he looked over at the adjacent 27,943-foot Lhotse and suggested that they go for it.

"That was a great season," he says. "Rob and I got six clients to the top of Everest, shook hands, took pictures, got everybody down safe, rested at Base Camp for two days, then made a rapid three-day ascent to the summit of Lhotse, the fourth-highest peak in the world, and seven days later we were on top. It was like combining a marathon with a sprint, which was a hard thing to do as far as maintaining strength and desire. Most people come down from Everest and they're wiped out for the next three years."

The following year Viesturs successfully knocked off three more 8,000-meter peaks.


The Immovable Object Meets the Unstoppable Force

Step by step, year after year, summit after summit, never altering, Ed Viesturs has planted his flag across the top of the world. And everybody loves him. What's the deal with this guy?

ON HIS LAST NIGHT IN New York, presenting his slide show for a hundred or so journalists at the Explorer's Club, Viesturs once again told the story of his own closest brush with death.

"Only five Americans had climbed K2 by 1992, when my great friend Scott Fischer and I made our attempt," he said about halfway through the show. "The weather was atrocious, snow conditions were bad. And we were on the Abruzzi Route, which had never been climbed by an American."

He never lingers on the point, but it was unusual for Viesturs to be on a rarely climbed route. His few critics like to point out that most of his 8,000-meter climbs have been on well-established, conservative lines, and they sometimes suggest that his technical climbing ability is well below that of the elite vertical dancers of the sport. "There are murmurings here and there about what I don't do," he says. "But most of the climbers I know are impressed by the fact that I make fast, lightweight climbs and go without oxygen. Anyway, I don't climb for anybody but myself. Maybe I'm not climbing new routes, but they're all new to me."

His friends dismiss the critics. "He's one of the best climbers of all time," says Neal Beidleman, an aeronautical designer from Aspen who has climbed in the Himalayas with Viesturs several times. "He may not be the best technical climber, he may not be doing new routes, but when you look at his determination, his stamina, his ability to make good decisions, and the number of times he's gone safely into the mountains—it just defines a good climber."

"He's the closest thing to a superman I have ever seen" affirms David Breashears, the director and cameraman for the IMAX film, who's summited Everest four times.

Viesturs himself acknowledges that he's a thin-air powerhouse. "It's something you can't train for," he says. "Basically I'm a freak of nature. It's not easy for me at extreme altitudes. But it's not slobbering, crawling, agonizingly hard the way it is for many other people."

As for his legendary unemotional style, Beidleman thinks it's a major factor in Viesturs's success. "Steady Eddie," he says. "The name fits him well. No highs, no lows. He's pretty boring almost, but that's exactly what you want up there. I watched him on Annapurna this spring. I knew it was important to him, but the avalanche conditions were bad, and he just refused to force himself on the mountain. He turned around and walked away with such grace, totally cool, smiling, and it's not a facade. He's made his own rules, and he sticks to them."

The one and only time he didn't was on K2. The climb began badly when Fischer fell into a crevasse and injured his arm, which sent them back to Base Camp for two weeks of healing time. On the mountain again, hurrying to beat the weather, they made a single 12-hour push to Camp Three, at 24,000 feet, and pitched a tent in anticipation of a summit push the next day. That night they got a call for help. French climber Chantal Mauduit had used the last of her strength to make the summit and was stranded just below it with her partner, snowblind and unable to move. Viesturs and Fischer started the climb toward her in a whiteout storm that was priming the steeps for an avalanche. When small clumps of snow began to fall on him, Viesturs knew what was coming and began digging a hole, where he hunkered as the slide hit. He held as the snow roared over and around him, until Fischer, who was above on the rope, shot past in the torrent. Viesturs was dragged out of his burrow, but somehow managed to arrest their fall with his ice ax. Then, despite the still-worsening conditions, they finished the climb to Mauduit and her exhausted partner and spent three days getting them back to Base Camp.

Ten days later, on the brink of another summit bid, they were once again pinned down by a storm.

"I knew I'd made a serious mistake putting off the decision to go down," he says of those days. "I'm a very safe and conservative climber, but somehow that had slipped away from me. And on the morning of the third day, as the weather cleared and we made it to the top, I watched the clouds close in below us and I knew I'd made the stupidest mistake of my life. We were going to be descending in a storm, in waist-deep snow, through perfect avalanche conditions, and I was convinced we were going to die.

"We made it, but what I came away feeling the most was that I would never again go against my gut instincts. We were lucky to get down alive."


The Immovable Object Meets the Unstoppable Force

Step by step, year after year, summit after summit, never altering, Ed Viesturs has planted his flag across the top of the world. And everybody loves him. What's the deal with this guy?

THE NEXT TIME I SAW Viesturs give his slide show he was back home in Seattle, this time in an IMAX theater where 50 young corporate money managers had just watched the Everest movie.

Viesturs gave essentially the same presentation that he had given in New York—not a memorized script, but a story told so often that details of emotion, sorrow and triumph, have not survived well in the relentless repetition.

"It's not easy," he admitted afterward. "Right after the movie came out I was doing three or four shows a night for two weeks. I'd introduce the movie, answer questions, and boom—another group would come in. But all of a sudden I was making money for the first time, and I couldn't believe it—still can't, in a way. I have a family now, a mortgage, and if I do a lot more speaking than climbing these days, it's OK."

Viesturs's amazement at his good luck is intensified by memories of financial times that were "bleak and frustrating," he says. "I remember in 1992, when Scott Fischer and I got back from K2, we were something like $8,000 in debt. Things didn't start to turn until autumn of '93, when I got my deal with Mountain Hardwear. And after the release of the Everest film in 1998, everything took off."

Of course, even if he didn't have his vet credentials to fall back on, Viesturs could earn a living using the carpentry skills he employed doing part-time work during the lean years—skills that are evident in the work he's done on his small but beautiful house overlooking Puget Sound in West Seattle.

When I arrived at his door, he was holding his month-old daughter, Ella, like an armload of roses, and he was smiling as if he had never had a bad day anywhere. His two-and-a-half-year-old son, Gilbert, puttered over a table full of toys, while his wife, Paula, bustled about gathering things for an afternoon outing with the kids. An accomplished mountaineer, Paula met her future husband in 1994 and spent her honeymoon on Everest in 1996, where she managed Base Camp operations during that season's dramatic events.

Viesturs and I talked in his ground-floor office, surrounded by beautiful color photos of Everest. I was intent on getting at his deeper thoughts about those defining moments in 1996, a subject about which he tends to be circumspect and carefully diplomatic in his public pronouncements. "We certainly never expected the tragedy that happened that May while we were making the film," he tells his slide-show audiences. In private I pressed the matter with him.

"What happened?" he said. "Who knows? Many decisions were made, some perhaps weren't made right. It wasn't one person or one decision that caused the events. It was multiple small events. And when you're climbing at these altitudes, minor mistakes can turn tragic."

On his own way to the summit in '96, Viesturs had encountered the bodies of Fischer and Hall. "No bad days on the mountain?" I asked.

"That was hard," he acknowledged. "I'd never lost a close friend in the mountains before. I reached Scott on the way up, and thankfully his face was covered, as was Rob's when I got to him. There'd been talk of retrieving Scott's wedding ring and Rob's watch to bring back to their wives. But I couldn't do it." He paused as emotion saturated his voice. "Maybe with someone I didn't know..." He paused again. "But not with Scott and Rob. So I just sat for a time next to each of them, crying, paying my respects, telling myself they were living their dreams when they died."

I asked if he ever felt that he and Fischer and Hall, as guides who were selling the Everest adventure, were to some extent responsible for the glut of climbers who were on the mountain that year.

"Yeah, maybe," he replied. "But I've always thought that if you want to climb Everest you have every right to do it. Mountaineering is about freedom, and there shouldn't be some committee to limit the number of people who do it. People are going to want to go whether we're there as guides or not, and when we are there, hopefully, we help them do it in the right way."

Together with his climbing partner for the last five years, 33-year-old Finlander Veikka Gustafsson, Viesturs attempted Annapurna, one of the peaks he needs to complete his 14, this past spring, but "the conditions were just too dangerous," he said. "We're planning to go back in 2002. We'll do the northwest face, which I think is the safest route. But if I go and look and it seems too dangerous for me, then maybe Annapurna will be the mountain I don't climb. If I only ever climb 13 of the 14 peaks, so be it. There are plenty of other mountains."

This coming spring, Viesturs will return to Shishapangma and try to reach its highest point. "I made the first Shishapangma climb before I knew I was going to be going for all 14 peaks," Viesturs said. "And even though I didn't make the traverse to the ultimate summit—avalanche conditions were bad—I figured I'd done it. Now, though, it's kind of a fly in the ointment, and I want to go back with Veikka and stand on the tippy-top. Then, while we're still acclimatized, we'll go to Kashmir and do number 13, Nanga Parbat."

Later, after Paula and the kids had returned and joined us in Viesturs's office, the conversation turned to Scott Fischer's children and the baby who had been born after Rob Hall died. Ed and Paula had spent time this spring with Rob's wife, Jan, in New Zealand. (Viesturs had been hired to play himself in a cameo role for a Hollywood mountaineering thriller, Vertical Limit, to be released this month. The climbing scenes were shot in New Zealand.)

"Seeing Jan and little Sarah was really hard," Paula said, as her own baby lay peacefully in her arms.

"Sarah's a great kid," Viesturs added. "She never met her dad, so while we were there, with Gil calling me Daddy, Sarah started calling me Daddy. But Jan seemed good. She's a very strong, solid person. She had summited Everest with Rob. She knew the game. She knew that maybe one day he might die up there.

"Death scares me," he said finally, as if knowing the perils of the game would be no comfort to Paula—or to him, if the worst came true. "I'm not afraid to die of old age or whatever, but I don't want to kill myself on the mountain. That would be a sad day."

Contributing editor Craig Vetter's April 1999 story about the life and death of rock climber Dan Osman appears in The Best American Sports Writing 2000.


"Lots of Fun": The Viesturs Resumé

"Only when guiding," says Ed Viesturs of his philosophy on using supplemental oxygen, "but never when attempting to climb a mountain for the first time." A testament to titanic lung capacity, Viesturs has etched a record on 8,000-meter peaks surpassed by no other American. Here are the highlights, along with Grateful Ed's vivid recollections:

 

1978 Mount Rainier, Washington (14,410 feet) via Gibraltar Ledges: Ed's first big summit. Has since topped the peak 187 times.

1983 Mount McKinley, Alaska (20,320 feet) via West Buttress: In only his second year as a professional, Ed is "shocked" at being chosen to accompany senior guide Phil Ershler.

1987 Mount Everest, Nepal (29,028 feet) via North Face: Making his first attempt with mentor Eric Simonson, the pair turn around 300 feet shy of summit.

1988 Everest via East Face: Viesturs turns around again, at 20,000 feet, due to "extreme, uncontrollable danger. I wasn't interested in putting my life on the line," he says.

1989 Kanchenjunga, India (28,208 feet) via North Face: His first 8,000-meter summit. "Just a great trip, perfect conditions."

1990 Everest via North Ridge: Summits the world's highest peak on third attempt. How'd it feel? "Never thought I'd be there again."

1991 Everest via South Col: His first attempt as a guide; Ed summits but client does not.

1992 K2, Pakistan (28,250 feet) via Abruzzi Ridge, with friends Scott Fischer and Charlie Mace: His hardest climb ever. He and Fischer help rescue fellow climber Chantal Mauduit after she succumbs to snow blindness near the summit. "That one was really tough."

1993 Shishapangma, Central Summit, Tibet (26,291 feet) via Northeast Ridge: Stops three meters shy of true summit. Will return in spring 2001 to appease critics: "It's sort of this nagging thing. But if I do manage to do all 14, then it will be clean."

Everest via North Face: Solo attempt sponsored by MTV and Polo-Ralph Lauren thwarted by bad weather.

1994 Everest via South Col: Leads six clients to top with one of his best friends, New Zealand mountaineer Rob Hall. Verdict: "Wonderful time and conditions were great.

"Lhotse, Nepal (27,943 feet) via West Face: Tackles this only seven days after Everest. First time he and Hall attempt to bag more than one 8,000-meter peak in one burst.

Cho Oyu, Nepal (26,750 feet) via Northwest Ridge: Ranks as easiest climb at 8,000 meters. Says Ed: "That was a great trip, lots of fun."

1995 Gasherbrum II, Pakistan (26,360 feet) via South Ridge: Four-day, Alpine-style ascent, his sixth of the 8,000-meter summits.

Gasherbrum I, Pakistan (26,470 feet) via Japanese Couloir: Up and down in 42 hours just one week after Gasherbrum II. Report: "Perfect conditions, lots of fun."

Everest via South Col: Forced to turn back by terribly windy conditions with clients in tow.

Makalu, Nepal (27,824 feet) via Northwest Ridge: First climb with new partner Veikka Gustafsson and last summit with Rob Hall.

1996 Everest via South Col: The IMAX film makes Ed famous, but the storm at the top takes the lives of friends Fischer and Hall.

1997 Broad Peak, Pakistan (26,400 feet) via West Face: Two-day Alpine ascent, his third with Gustafsson. Repeat the mantra: "Perfect conditions. A lot of fun."

Everest via South Col: His last time up. Forms Everest Anonymous, a mock support group for climbers with Everest addiction.

1999 Manaslu, Nepal (26,760 feet) via Northeast Ridge: Difficult route results in a 16-day haul for him and Gustafsson. How hard? "Oh, it was great. It was very interesting."

Dhaulagiri, Nepal (26,811 feet) via Northeast Ridge: Summits in three days—only eight days after topping out on Manaslu.

What's Next
2001 Shishapangma: Needs to go back and "complete" his original climb on the mountain where Alex Lowe died in an avalanche in 1999.

Nanga Parbat, Pakistan (26,660 feet): If he summits, he's almost there. Prognosis? "Very challenging mountain," says Ed. "I think it will be a lot of fun also. But not severely dangerous—there are really good ways to go up it."

2002 Annapurna, Nepal (26,504 feet): If all goes well, Viesturs will complete the 8,000-meter circuit on the peak whose first ascent by Maurice Herzog in 1950 acted as the inspiration for Ed's own exploits. —Chris Keyes


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