Ed Webster’s “Everest the Hard Way”

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Ed, at a book signing

I happened by the Kittery Trading Post last month, and there was climber, Ed Webster doing a book signing.  I had never met him, but certainly knew of him. I was instantly drawn to his book-signing table, as he talked with a family of four who wanted to know more about getting started in the sport of rock climbing. He seemed engaged and affable. Ed authored a rock climbing guidebook to the the White Mountains area which I carried with me on my early climbs in New Hampshire. It sits on my bookshelf, beat up from use. He’s also got quite a reputation as a climber.

Ed was recently in the Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee region presenting his slide show, Everest the Hard Way.  His 1988 Everest Kangshung Face new route, climbed with Robert Anderson (USA), Paul Teare (Canada), and Stephen Venables (UK), has been hailed as the last of “the great” Everest expeditions, and one of the most audacious mountaineering feats. What made the expedition great, was the difficulty and objective dangers of the route, as well as its remoteness. In addition the four climbers decided to climb the face without oxygen, sherpa support or even radios.

Modern-day crowds on Everest

Certainly any followers of Everest’s South Col Route expeditions are familiar with the size, scope and technology behind guided ascents now clogging the mountain and resulting in sometimes fatal outcomes. Ed’s group was climbing just before the age of guiding climbing, and doing it in a style that stood out.

Ed’s had a great rapport with the 85+  people that showed up for his presentation that night in Newbury, NH. He was very demonstrative in telling his story,  how he was on Everest three times, with the last climb being The Kangshung Face. A few things stuck with me about his talk. When he described his decision to turn back just before the summit, because he instincts were telling him he wouldn’t make it back down if he continued on, he described how he wanted to do other things in life beyond climbing Everest. He now has family in Maine and seems to have come to terms with what I call “the inner adventure” of life. He’s still getting out on the rock, but has realized climbing isn’t the only lifestyle choice there is. And the result of making decisions like that seems to show up in his demeanor.  When Ed greets you, it feels like he is genuinely interested and happy to know more about you, which is a great role model for others more absorbed in the climbing numbers game and peak bagging.  We need more Ed Websters around to make bad ass-climbing compassionate. Expedition leader Sir Chris Bonnington once gave me the impression that, “When it comes to who’s a good expedition member, being a good person is just as important as being a good climber. I’m sure this is one of the reasons why Ed was invited on three Everest Expeditions.

Ed Webster

His articles and photographs have been published in dozens of magazines, and by Sierra Club Books and National Geographic. And he has lectured worldwide.   Married, he now lives in Maine, and is an acknowledged expert on the history of Mount Everest, George Mallory, and Tenzing Norgay. An author, lecturer, publisher, and photojournalist, Webster also has written two definitive guidebooks, Rock Climbs in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Climbing in the Magic Islands to the Lofoten Islands of Arctic Norway.

He is the recipient of the American Mountain Foundation’s 1988 Seventh Grade Award for outstanding achievements in mountaineering; the American Alpine Club’s 1990 Literary Award; and American Alpine Club’s 1994 David H. Soules Award, for saving the life of a fellow climber. His photographs have been published worldwide, in publications ranging from Climbing Magazine and Rock & Ice, to Popular Mechanics, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

If you get a chance to hear Ed speak, go see him. You’ll see a bad-ass climber tell an amazing story who will make you laugh a bit and feel good while learning about an historic climb. You can learn more about Ed’s book, photography and bio at www.mtnimagery.com

Ed’s write-up about his presentation is a great description of what to expect when you hear him speak, so I include it here:

“In 1988, American mountaineer Ed Webster achieved and survived the Impossible. With three partners, he ascended a new, never-before-attempted route up Mt. Everest’s most dangerous isolated side in Tibet—and without the usual assistance of oxygen bottles, radios, and Sherpa climbers to carry the necessary food and equipment.  Back in America, friends wondered how many of Ed’s expedition would be killed.  “Give me a call … if you get home,” said David Breashears, director of the IMAX Everest film.

Snow in the Kingdom

           That Ed and his companions succeeded in completing this outstanding climb, and that Ed’s partner Stephen Venables became the first British mountaineer to climb Everest without bottled oxygen is a testimony to human endurance and remarkable teamwork.  Ed reached the mountain’s South Summit—at 28,700 feet, just 300 feet shy of the main summit.  Then, somehow, Ed led his partners down a storm-bound, avalanche-plagued, four-day descent off the mountain, without any food, badly frostbitten, and very near death.  Sir Chris Bonington called Ed Webster’s four-month Mt. Everest expedition “amongst the finest examples of survival in Himalayan mountaineering.”

            MY STORM YEARS ON EVEREST also details the reasons why the team work and inter-personal chemistry of Ed’s team—still the smallest to ever scale a major new route up Earth’s highest peak—made it possible to achieve this audacious climb.

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