Acclaimed climber Viesturs plays role of teacher | AspenTimes.com
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Acclaimed climber Viesturs plays role of teacher

Tim Mutrie

Outdoor enthusiasts from around the country learned first-hand yesterday that world-class mountaineer Ed Viesturs is not a super-human giant.

Sure, he’s giant in the mountaineering world, having summited 12 of the world’s 14 8,000-meter peaks without bottled oxygen, but in real life, he’s a regular guy.

“Having read about Ed, I expected a totally wiry climber, but he looks like a normal guy, though he’s in great shape of course,” observed Josh Roman, a 26-year-old Boston resident.

Roman and eight other International Outdoor Festival participants ages 9 to about 60 got an opportunity to climb with Viesturs yesterday morning, as well as with renowned mixed rock and ice climber Sue Nott of Vail.

Viesturs and Nott are among more than a dozen elite outdoor athletes participating in the Thursday-through-Sunday festival, which aims to introduce people to a variety of mountain-sport disciplines, including climbing and hiking, kayaking, paragliding, fly-fishing and mountain biking, as well as photography and conditioning.

“This is the first I’ve ever been on a rope,” admitted Rhonda Carlson of Minneapolis after she climbed a short pitch rated 5.6 with Viesturs’ and Nott’s introduction to climbing class at the upper boulder fields located up Independence Pass, just beyond Lincoln Creek Road.

In October, Carlson leaves for seven months of trekking and traveling in the Himalayas and Southeast Asia.

“With the trip coming up,” she explained, “I thought coming to the festival would be good for my self-confidence because these people are a lot more adventurous than I am.”

“Plus, I really wanted to meet Ed,” she added.

That was the common sentiment yesterday morning. Class members conversed casually with Viesturs and Nott while waiting for their next turn on the rock or while belaying other climbers as Viesturs and Nott provided back-up belay and instruction.

“This is pretty cool,” the 41-year-old Viesturs said. “You get to rub shoulders with some of your heroes, kinda like playing a round with Tiger (Woods) or shooting hoops with Michael (Jordan). It also shows everybody that we’re just normal people – we put our pants on the same way and we’re not gold-plated.”

The Seattle-based Viesturs, a longtime climbing guide, first in Washington and later internationally, now climbs professionally. This past spring, dangerous conditions on the 26,502-foot Annapurna forced his party (including valley residents Neal Beidleman and Michael Kennedy) to retreat from the peak that would have been number 13 on his list. Viesturs says he’ll try again in 2002 after attempting the 26,660-foot Nanga Parbat (now his number 13) in the spring of 2001.

Nott, who was born and raised in Vail, departs in four days for India to attempt the East Pillar of Shirling, a technical and committing rock and ice route. This past winter she climbed Fitzroy in Patagonia.

“I think the festival’s great,” she said yesterday. “It’s a great sounding board for the future, because so many people want to get outdoors and be active, but they don’t have the know-how. This is it.”

At 29, Nott is relatively young to be ranked among the world’s climbing elite. But having grown up in the Rockies skiing, hiking and climbing avidly as a kid, she offered some advice to today’s young aspiring climbers.

“Go for it, get out there,” she said. “Take it slowly and learn. You’ll get more fit and competent as you progress. Just like any sport you can’t have instant success. Two 10-year-olds can go out and climb a small mountain right here in their backyard. They can be responsible for themselves, the planning and everything, and that can be a valuable lesson for kids.”

Nine-year-old Max Ziemann of Tampa, Florida, who came to the festival with his dad, Greg, seemed to grasp Nott’s advice, not that he was listening yesterday. He was too busy climbing.

“This is his first time on real rock,” Greg Ziemann said. “But look at him, he’s loving it.”

“I went up (three routes) at least three times,” Max said after class. “But I only went up the hard one once. It’s just fun, challenging, and sometimes you’ve got to maintain your strength, so it’s tricky. It’s something everyone would like to do if they got a chance.”


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