Members Who Amaze: Ed Viesturs And Kristin Harila

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Apr 7, 2011
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You may know Ed Viesturs and Kristin Harila by their climbing achievements, but do you know their most important piece of equipment? Safety tips they live by? Their favorite mountain snacks? Global Rescue asked these questions — and more.

Ed Viesturs is a legendary mountaineer and a member of the Global Rescue Mountain Advisory Council. He is the only American to have climbed all 14 of the world’s 8,000+ meter peaks, and the fifth person to do so without using supplemental oxygen. Viesturs checked in with Global Rescue after returning from leading expeditions in South America’s Andean Peaks.

Kristin Harila is a former cross-country skier from Norway. She’s new to mountaineering but has already broken climbing records. In the spring of 2022, she summited six 8,000+ meter peaks in 29 days, breaking the speed record set three years ago by Nimral “Nims” Purja, a member of the Global Rescue Mountain Advisory Council. We caught up with Harila a few days before her trip to Pakistan where she will assault the five 8,000+ meter peaks in the Himalayan, Karakoram, and Hindu Kush mountain systems. It’s part of her campaign to break Nims’ speed record to successfully climb all 14 mountains over 8,000 meters.

Global Rescue asked each mountaineer a few questions to help you get to know them beyond their high climbing achievements.

What are three safety tips you live by?​

Ed Viesturs: Plan your descent whether it’s your return or your exit strategy, even before planning the ascent. The latter depends on the former. Prioritize safety over success. Prepare yourself physically before a climb for a long-term, demanding event, you'll be faster and stronger and therefore safer.

Kristin Harila: Don’t go alone. Keep a strict turnaround time. Make certain to have a two-way satellite communications device with an SOS capability.

What are the three most important questions you should always ask your guide?​

Viesturs: What is your level of experience and training? What is the goal of the trip — success or safety? What are your plans for contingencies?

Harila: Do we have enough oxygen? Is there a rope all the way? Is my Sherpa among the best?

Do you have a mountaineering good luck charm, superstition, or golden rule?​

Viesturs: I have a small pouch I call my Juju bag. I carry it on summit ascents in my front pocket. It contains small mementos from my wife, kids, and my travels. On longer expeditions, it feels as if my family and friends are with me.

Harila: I have a pair of favorite gloves that I always wear.

What’s your go-to snack while climbing?​

Viesturs: Cliff bars, cashews, mini-Babybel cheese, semi-sweet chocolate, and Shot Blocks.

Harila: I don’t eat much when I climb, but I do eat a lot of gel blocks. They provide quick carbohydrates for exercise endurance and recovery.

What's your favorite post-summit celebratory meal, drink, or habit?​

Viesturs: Pizza, salad, and beer seem to be the usual.

Harila: It’s always sushi or King Crab. If I can’t get that, then it’s pizza.

What is your favorite, most important piece of equipment?​

Viesturs: An ice ax is probably my most useful and important piece of equipment for what I climb. It gives me a third point of balance and also security on steep slopes — not only to protect myself from a fall but also to anchor a rope partner should something happen. I feel insecure and naked without it.

Harila: It’s difficult to choose but, for me, it would have to be my harness.

What mountain gear isn’t necessarily needed?​

Viesturs: Personally, especially when speaking about climbing above 8,000 meters, I’ve always shied away from supplemental oxygen. I enjoyed the freedom of not being encumbered or dependent on this mechanical device. True, it is way harder to climb without supplemental oxygen, but to me, it seemed more fulfilling. I don’t have anything against climbers that use supplemental oxygen, I’ve also used it, especially when guiding 8000ers, but the simplicity of climbing without it is a unique experience.

Harila: The pee bottle. It’s very nice to have but you can do without it. [NOTE: Mountaineers drink lots of water to help with acclimatization. The side effect is frequent urination. To avoid having to put on your jacket and boots, exit the tent, and find the toilet every time, climbers use a pee bottle while inside the tent. It’s convenient after you overcome shyness or embarrassment.]

Would you ever want to summit the highest point on the moon, the Selenean summit (35,387 feet/10,786 meters)? It’s nearly 20% taller than Earth’s Mount Everest.​

Viesturs: I’ve not contemplated climbing a peak on the moon. I would be very interested in going to the moon even if it was just to do an orbit and then return to Earth.

Harila: I’d love to do it. It would be amazing. If I ever have the opportunity I would do it, for sure.

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