Only 44 people have reached the summit of all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks, according to the people who chronicle such things.Only 44 people have reached the summit of all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks, according to the people who chronicled such things.
The difference rides on a timeless question getting a fresh look:
By JOHN BRANCH
May 12, 2021
Ed Viesturs believes he knows. He is one of the 44, the only American on the list. In 1993, climbing alone and without supplemental oxygen or ropes, Viesturs reached the “central summit” of Shishapangma, the world’s 14th-highest mountain. Most climbers turn around there, calling it good enough.
Before him was a narrow spine of about 100 meters, a knife-edge of corniced snow with drops to oblivion on both sides. At its end was the mountain’s true summit, a few meters higher in elevation than where he stood.
Too dangerous, Viesturs told himself. He retreated.
“You can let it go, or you can’t let it go,” Viesturs said. “And I was one of those guys where if the last nail in the deck hasn’t been hammered in, it’s not done.”
Eight years later, Viesturs climbed within reach of Shishapangma’s summit again. The ridge looked doable. With a leg on each side — “à cheval” in mountaineering, French for “on horseback” — he shimmied across it. He touched the highest point of Shishapangma and scooted back to relative safety.
Ed Viesturs returning from the summit of Shishapangma in 2001.Veikka Gustafsson
There is a summit. And then there is everything below it.
Can close ever be good enough?
Revelations from a team of respected researchers have thrust that question into the open like never before, putting special attention on the world’s highest mountains and most acclaimed climbers.
By asking a simple-sounding question — What is the summit? — the researchers are raising doubts about past accomplishments and raising standards for future ones.
Maybe they are making us all reconsider just what it means to reach the top.
‘Tell the Complete Truth’
.The Himalayan and the Karakoram ranges of Asia are home to all 14 of Earth’s 8,000-meter (26,247-foot) peaks — not only the highest mountains in the world, but with familiar names that evoke wonder: Everest, K2, Annapurna and Lhotse among them.
Thousands of miles away, in a small town in southwestern Germany, lives a 68-year-old man named Eberhard Jurgalski. He has a robust, white beard and pulls his hair into a ponytail.
He has spent 40 years chronicling the ascents of the 8,000-meter peaks. He has not climbed these mountains, but he is widely respected for compiling the records of those who have. He is among the cadre of behind-the-scenes researchers who give credence to the claims that make others famous.
He can tell you the names of various expeditions, the dates, the details of the routes and whether oxygen was used. He has studied photographs and videos and satellite coordinates and accounts from climbers and witnesses.
And now he has some jarring news: It is possible that no one has ever been on the true summit of all 14 of the 8,000-meter peaks.