ON THE COVER of Outside magazine this month, Seattle's Ed Viesturs slogs smilingly towards Annapurna, shouldering a heavier pack and breathing thinner air than mere mortals can manage. Although he was turned back by adverse conditions on his spring summit bid, the guy's become a renowned brand-name athlete in his nearly complete roster of the world's 8,000-meter peaks ascended without oxygen. Three more to go—there are 14—and he'll be the first American to manage the hat trick.
What does he do at lower altitudes? Make movies.
"Welcome to base camp," says Ed Viesturs—playing Ed Viesturs—to Bill Paxton in Vertical Limit. Paxton's character quickly reels off his credentials for the uninitiated viewer, but it's not just a one-shot cameo. Viesturs appears in other scenes in the picture, made in New Zealand during the fall of '99. There, he marveled at the enormity of big-budget action movie making. "I looked at it as fun and interesting," he notes of his second screen appearance since the IMAX Everest film, "but a different thing" compared to the latter. "This is more of an action-swashbuckling-explosion-type thing."
In other words, entertainment, like a certain other climbing flick: Clint Eastwood's 1975 The Eiger Sanction. "I've seen it like 20 times," Viesturs laughs. "It's my favorite climbing movie! Even now when it's on at midnight, I watch it."
Yet even entertainment has a way of incorporating real-life events, including Viesturs' 1996 experiences on Everest. Indeed, he suggested dialogue changes that allude to the famous storm that claimed the lives of two friends, including Seattle's Scott Fischer. "That made it more real for me," he explains. "I didn't have to act; I could just feel what I was saying."
Despite such somber associations, "I did all my scenes in three takes," he notes with pride, sounding almost like a showbiz pro. Regarding the movie's impact on his own career, Viesturs concludes with a chuckle, "Sure, the publicity doesn't hurt."