Mountaineer Reaches New Heights with Microsoft Technology

REDMOND, Wash., April 8, 2002 — Ed Viesturs has scaled 12 of the 14 tallest mountains in the world — and he’s done it without the use of supplemental oxygen, a mainstay for most high-altitude climbers.

Ed Viesturs Click for high-resolution photo

Viesturs, who is attempting to become the first American to scale all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks without oxygen, spends months assembling teams of climbers and planning the expeditions. For his attempt in early May on mountain no. 13 — Annapurna in Nepal — Viesturs simplified this arduous process by replacing some old methods. Out went the handwritten notes, the fax machine and late-night phone calls to distant lands. In their place, he used his home PC, Office XP and SharePoint Team Services, a Web-based “meeting place” where he and the team could store and share information. And, with Microsoft Producer for PowerPoint 2002 and the Web site, Viesturs is able to share his experience using audio, video, and images with family, friends and fans.

Viesturs spoke with PressPass recently to discuss the upcoming climb, how Microsoft technology has changed his preparation for climbs and the ways Office XP has helped organize his mountaineering “business.”

PressPass: What made climbing the tallest peaks in the world without supplemental oxygen — a quest you call Endeavor 8000 — one of your goals?

Viesturs: There are only 14 places on earth where you can stand more than 4 miles above the sea. For years, I’ve wanted to be one of the few people to set foot on each of these places, using only my body’s resources. I don’t climb without oxygen to be different. I do it to experience the mountain for what it is.

In the early ’90s, I started working as an international mountain guide and had climbed three 8,000-meter peaks — K2, Kangchenjunga and Everest — without supplemental oxygen. At that point, I thought about continuing, but I needed a way to cover the cost. I came up with the name “Endeavor 8000” to help market my goal and approached companies for sponsorships. Fortunately, it has worked out. If I successfully summit Annapurna, Nanga Parbat in Pakistan will be the last 8,000-meter peak for me to achieve my goal.

PressPass: What inspired you to become a mountaineer?

Viesturs: Twenty-five years ago, I read the book Annapurna by French climber Maurice Herzog. It was the biographical account of Herzog’s 1950 climb up Annapurna. He made it to the top, but came close to losing his life. I was inspired by his determination to climb and his will to survive. I moved to the Seattle area in 1977 to go to school and fell in love with the mountains. I could see Mt. Rainier from my dorm window and aspired to climb it every weekend. I eventually earned a degree in veterinary science and got a job, but kept taking time off to climb and eventually had to choose — I chose the mountains.

PressPass: What is it like to plan such a climb as this?

Viesturs: Preparing a climb is a massive undertaking. It can take months. You have to assemble your team, research and plan the climb, acquire the proper permits, gather your gear, create a list of supplies and determine who is going to bring what. Then you must make sure team members, often scattered around the world, complete their part of the preparations.

PressPass: Has technology changed the way you plan for climbs?

Viesturs: Technology has made much more of a difference in the way I plan climbs than I ever anticipated. It has made the whole process cheaper and more efficient. For the Annapurna climb, I was able to do in three months what used to take me eight or nine. I began using e-mail a few years ago, but I still relied on a pen and paper to keep records. As a result, I sometimes lost important information. It was hard to make or keep track of changes in our plans and almost impossible to share the information with others. I remember making phone calls and sending faxes at all hours of the night to contact other climbers and foreign agencies halfway around the world. My phone bills were huge and it could take days to clarify a point or finalize a decision.

Since I started using Office XP and my SharePoint Team Services Web site, it was much simpler. Here’s an example — for the Annapurna climb, the six members of the team are from four different countries — including myself and top climbers from France, Spain and Finland. Despite the time differences between us, I no longer have to wait for calls or send faxes in the middle of the night or worry about losing important information. Team members just log into the site wherever they are and can contribute to discussions, post documents or add announcements. We hold discussions about everything — such as who’s going to bring the tents. We store important documents, such as copies of our travel itineraries, so if we lose the originals, we can easily get copies from any PC with Internet access. I can’t imagine ever going back to my old methods. Everything now is just less hassle.

PressPass: What do you do when you are not climbing mountains?

Viesturs: Being a mountaineer is my job and the work off the mountains is sometimes more strenuous than the work on the mountain. It has taken me awhile to get where I am today, but after a lot of hard work and determination I was successful in doing what I love for a career. I’ve now acquired sponsors who I work with and help develop their products. I travel around the United States on tour to speak to large groups of people. I also frequently give presentations to businesses on how mountain climbing relates to working in teams.

PressPass: Has technology changed the way you manage your business?

Viesturs: Yes, very much so. I spend most of my days working with sponsors, giving lectures and managing the day-to-day operations involved with planning the next expedition. I use Office XP to simplify these activities. It saves me huge amounts of time and makes the process so much easier.

I am not a technical person and never will be, but the tools in Office XP were easy to pick up. I have several e-mail accounts that I need to manage. The fact that I can be in Outlook and access them all is great. I also love the auto-addressing feature, because when you have friends with names like ‘Veikka Gustafsson,’ it’s hard to remember everyone’s e-mail address. Probably the biggest change for me was switching from my old-fashioned slide carousel to PowerPoint for my presentations. It used to take me hours to sort, organize and archive thousands of 35-mm slides for my speaking tours. Now, in a fraction of the time, I can add audio and visual elements to create presentations that keep the audience more engaged. When I head out on speaking tours these days, all I take is my laptop. In addition to everything else, I can easily change my presentations the night before a lecture and make them appropriate for the audience.

And, with the video capabilities in Producer, I can expand the reach of my presentations. I can use a browser to include people who wouldn’t be able to attend in person. Also, Microsoft Publisher allows me to more easily create and add style to the handouts I need for the 60 or so presentations I give each year.

PressPass: Technology is helping you as a mountaineer; how do you see others benefiting from the products you are using?

Viesturs: As I was using the Office products, I really started to think about how they could help many of my climbing friends, especially those who are guides. They have to do a lot of organizing, and it’s usually for people they don’t know. If they could use a SharePoint Web site to communicate with their prospective climbing clients, their lives would be so much easier. And, since they could re-use much of their work for their next expedition, they wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Many of them guide as their profession and could also use many of the same programs I am using to help manage the business aspects. I wish I could have used these tools back when I organized the Everest climb that was featured in the IMAX movie. That was a huge organizational nightmare, and Office XP would have made things so much easier. I really think that anyone needing to plan a big activity or event or manage their own small business would definitely benefit from these products.

PressPass: Where can people find more information about your climb?

Viesturs: Anyone interested in learning more should go to my Web site . It was specifically created for this climb, and enables anyone to follow the progress of the expedition via the Web.

PressPass: Can you give us some background on how came about?

Viesturs: Creative Revolution, my management agency, and I had been talking about revamping my Web site to make it more interactive. So when the Office XP team showed me what could be done, I was very excited. FrontPage allowed us to make the site fit my personality and style and share my climbing experiences. It enables me to communicate with my fans, and it’s easy to manage. During the climb, I will send audio and video dispatches and digital photos to my agency back in the U.S. The folks there will use Producer to post the dispatches to the site. This way, people can actually follow along while we’re climbing. It’s a great way for my family and friends to keep up to speed on how things are going.

PressPass: What do you see as the role of technology for the future of mountain climbing?

Viesturs: Technology is turning mountaineering into a spectator sport. Anyone interested can follow along and see the progress of our Annapurna climb — this is not normal for the sport. In the past, I sent audio dispatches, which were then transcribed and posted to my site. But now, fans will see and hear video and audio dispatches and really get an idea of what it’s like to climb one of the world’s tallest mountains.

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