Category Archives: Mountain Climbing

Ed Viesturs
Ed Viesturs

In preparation for submitting the book (Bootstrapped: A No Bull Solution For Business Success) to our publisher, I have been calling all of the individuals I have quoted or told stories about. Today I was able to have a great discussion with Ed Viesturs. One of the chapters in the book is titled Climb High Sleep Low. In this chapter I contrast parallels between mountain climbing and what it takes to succeed in starting a business. (See excerpt from the actual chapter of what I said about Ed in this chapter.)

As we were comparing notes, Ed made a statement relating to mountain climbing that I had to write down and share. He used the term The Currency of Toil. If that does not describe the GRIT or tenacity to succeed in a start up business I do not know what does. I love that phrase Currency of Toil.


Ed Viesturs, one of my personal heroes, was the first American to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter summits. He accomplished this remarkable success without the use of supplemental oxygen. Only those who have confronted high altitudes understand the super-human ability required to accomplish this task.

I identify with Ed for two primary reasons:

1) His work ethic and attitude on the mountain.

Countless times he sacrificed his own summit bid in order to rescue others. How Ed climbs the mountain is as important to him as climbing it. Ed was a member of the IMAX team and one of the major heroes in the rescue attempt that occurred in the infamous 1996 Everest disaster.

2) His climbing philosophy.

When Ed is acclimatized and the conditions are right, he goes for it. When the conditions are not right or he considers the venture an unacceptable risk, he has the courage to back off and go back to the tent. Sometimes this frustrates others around him, but he does not let peer pressure push him to climb a mountain when it does not feel right.

In an article about his third attempt to summit Annapurna, Veisters said:

Veikka and I will approach this attempt the same way we have all our other climbs. I’m quite prepared to just turn around and come home if conditions are as dicey as they were on previous attempts. I admit to being pretty motivated to reach my goal of climbing all 14 peaks, but I’m not going to take unreasonable risks to do so. No mountain, no summit, is worth dying for. I do this for fun, not because I have to. I do this for me, and I do it my way.

Now, you have to keep in mind that Ed had already attempted this climb twice, and backed off both times. This was the last 8,000-meter peak he had left to conquer before attaining his goal of summiting all 14 peaks. Annapurna is arguably the most dangerous and most difficult of all of the 8,000 meter peaks, with the possible exception of K2. He had already tried and backed off twice. Ed’s team chose a route that required them to be above 26,000 feet, the death zone, for an extended period of time. However, taking this route allowed them to avoid the huge avalanche-prone faces of the foreboding mountain. Well into their summit bid they came to a corniced face that “just did not feel right.” Ed and Veikka chose to go back down the mountain, but two other climbing partners decided to press forward. In an amazing climb these two reached the summit successfully. Some people watching called Ed and Veikka weak-kneed, and they received an enormous amount of criticism. However, they did not waver and offered no regrets. They had the courage and fortitude to “go to the tent” despite peer pressure, despite it being the final summit, and despite the world watching.

Ed said: “For me and the people I care about, my style of climbing is the right style. Getting to the top is optional, but getting back down is mandatory.” In mountain climbing, it is not enough just to get to the top of the mountain. The goal must be to get to the top and return home safely. In business you must plan for the difficult times. As you reap the rewards of your hard work, build a financial buffer for your future.

Wild Flower On Loafer
Wild Flower On Loafer

In life, the only thing more miserable for me than watching a parade is going to Disneyland. As a result on the 4th of July, my wife and two of my sons set out at 5 AM and climbed a local mountain called Mt. Loafer. Loafer is a relatively small mountain at 10,685 feet, but it is absolutely beautiful hike meandering through meadows of countless wild flowers mixed with pine trees.

We all grumbled about such an early start, but we knew that we did not want to be in the heat of the day with the sun beating us to death as we were still grabbing altitude.

As we made our way through the first several miles of the forest my sons came nose to nose with a small bear. The encounter caused both bear and boys to run the opposite direction. Soon after the “bear incident” we made our way up the steep switchbacks to the top of the first ridge line where we had a beautiful view of both sides of the valley. As the early morning light hit the peaks and as we strode through the flower covered meadows my son commented. This is my kind of parade a wild flower parade.

Cirque Final Ridge Loafer

Why do I like to climb mountains? If is the same reason I am attracted to starting businesses. There is no lying to yourself. You can’t fake the market (at least not long term) and you have to put real deliberate often painful effort into reach your goals. There is no buffer and the pains and joys in both ventures are compounded.

As we got to the top of the mountain we looked down on the valley below knowing a parade was now in session and we all commented.

The people down there just don’t know what they have missed. While they were sleeping and sitting in lawn chairs, we were smelling wild flowers.

Dead Tree Mountain

The pain, sacrifice, determination, and will to get to the peak is what makes it enjoyable. Anything worth having in life is difficult. Whether a building a business, or grinding up a mountain peak one step at a time, it is the challenge and having to face what you have inside yourself that keeps us coming back for more.