Ed Viesturs and the Art of Taking the Right Risks

Climber Ed Viesturs is the first American to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000 meter peaks without oxygen. His story, however, is doubly interesting in that Ed is a rational risk-taker in a famously risk-exposed activity. While some might sniff at his approach, there is much to be learned from the way Ed manages risk, including how he sometimes turns back only a short distance from his destination if he feels probabilities have turned against him.

Viesturs is the antithesis of the swaggering, risk-it-all personality that infuses so many extreme adventurers, often gravely. He is known for his equipoise and sensible approach to dangerous undertakings. Despite the pressures that come from sponsorship money, he has not been incited to push further when he deemed the hazards too great.

In 1988, on his first attempt on the 29,035-foot Everest, Viesturs turned around 300 feet from the crest. On the 26,289-foot Shishapangma, he stopped 20 feet from the top. He is nothing if not courageous, and sometimes the greatest courage is to turn around from a fight you may not win.