Ed Viesturs on Risk and Decision

As outdoor adventurers, we often converse with the little angels and devils on our shoulders when tough environmental or team conditions conflict with our goals. Recently in “The Wrong Stuff” on Slate.com, Ed Viesturs discusses risk, climbing, and difficult decisions with humility and poise. Check it out.

Into Thin Error: Mountaineer Ed Viesturs on Making Mistakes
Posted Monday, June 14, 2010 11:11 AM | By Kathryn Schulz

There’s a select number of places on earth where you really, really don’t want to make a mistake. High on the list, in every sense, are the planet’s tallest mountains: the 14 peaks in the world that are more than 8,000 meters (26,247 feet).

Mt. Everest

Widely acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest mountaineers, Ed Viesturs is one of fewer than 20 people and the only American to have climbed all of those peaks—and one of only five to have climbed them without supplemental oxygen. Nonclimbers probably know him best as the star of the 1996 IMAX movie about Mount Everest, which he has climbed seven times.

I sought Viesturs out because I was curious about the kind of attitude you develop toward error when a single mistake can easily cost you your life. I also wanted to test a hypothesis that I call “the paradox of error”: If your goal is to avoid making mistakes, then you must constantly assume that you are about to make one. That’s why fields like aviation and medicine have, at their best, a productive obsession with error. It turns out the same goes for mountaineering—or, at least, mountaineering as practiced by Viesturs. He’s totally comfortable with being wrong, he says; the important thing is that, “if you goof up, it’s in the right direction.”

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About Nick

Nick Wilkes found ZAC in 1996, working first as an outfitter, then a guide, then as webmaster. An ardent adventure enthusiast, Nick's recent exploits involve laying down roots in Wisconsin, chasing his kids around the house, working as a Madison, WI photographer and growing his Wisconsin climbing business. Connect with Nick on Facebook, Google+, or directly via email.
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