Ed Viesturs is, without doubt, one of the greatest mountaineers by any reckoning: the first American to climb all fourteen 8,000 meter peaks, and just the sixth to do it without an oxygen tank on his back. His most recent book The Mountain:My Time on Everest (co-authored with David Roberts) is his retrospective of his time on the highest peak on Earth, where in the course of eleven attempts including seven successful summits he has spent more than two years of his life.
I still remember watching in awe the 1998 IMAX film about the 1996 Everest disaster, when eight people died while the film crew and Viesturs were on the mountain. This film brought the accomplishments of Viesturs and the thrill and danger of climbing big mountains to a wide audience, although not necessarily for the right reasons.
In The Mountain Viesturs continues that outreach, and it's a great book for climbers and armchair adventurers alike. He doesn't devote a lot of space to the 1996 disaster, and in fact takes pains to point out that the "caricature" painted by Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air (which Viesturs does say is, from his own perspective, a largely accurate account) and other post-1996 books doesn't jibe with his own experience. Viesturs acknowledges that between his first attempt in 1987 and his last in 2009 the mountain acquired a certain "circus" atmosphere, however he says, "As far as I know no client has ever been pulled, carried or dragged by a guide or a Sherpa to the top of Everest." His revelation that the mountain was just as hard on his last trip as on his first should be taken as evidence of his sincerity, and as a warning to those who might underestimate the challenge of a high, cold place.
I found the final chapter the most interesting. Viesturs catalogues a number of unique ascents – and descents, by parasail and snowboard – and he insists that Everest is not "climbed out," that there are still adventures to be had and glory to be gained. It's easy to believe after so many find vignettes, by turns humorous, poignant and simply amazing. His final sentence is a powerful one that will resonate with anyone who has ever had a grand adventure of their own, whether it involved a mountain or not: "In old age, I'd like to be able to say, as Maurice Herzog wrote of the first ascent of Annapurna, that Everest was 'A treasure on which we should live the rest of our days.'"
The Mountain is part history book, covering a lot of the historic ascents, and part diary, with actual excerpts from Viestur's journals. The one and only drawback of the book is that it doesn't include a map, which you find yourself wanting every time a route or feature is mentioned. In the end it's a great tour of one of the most storied places on our beautiful planet, and Viesturs does those stories justice with his own.