Ed Viesturs said he climbed Mount Everest as a warm-up.
In May, the mountaineering legend completed his 16-year goal atop treacherous 26,545-foot Annapurna in Nepal's Himalayan Mountains – the world's 10th highest peak – becoming the first American to summit all 14 of the world's highest peaks and the sixth person in the world to do so without supplemental oxygen.
"It was appropriate [Annapurna] was last. It tested me. It was the hardest climb of my life, but one of the greatest days of my life," Viesturs said.
To tell his story, Viesturs, 46, has been on a month-long coast-to-coast tour with his sixth stop in Boulder last Wednesday evening.
"This tour has had sell-outs in all but two venues. The best part of it is that half of the profits go to local non-profit organizations," said Paige Boucher, spokeswoman for Mountain Hardwear.
The Boulder Theatre, packed with more than 600 people, was bursting with laughter, applause and admiration for Viesturs' stories and slides about his mountain climbing career that began with Everest in 1990.
"He was comfortable and very proud. He seemed to have a lot more depth and experience than when I saw him speak 10 years ago," said Val Dietrich, administrative assistant for Mountain Hardwear.
Unlike most accomplished mountaineers, Viesturs did not grow up in the midst of great mountains. He was inspired by Maurice Herzog's book "Annapurna" as a teenager in Illinois to join Himalayan expeditions as both a participant and a guide.
Viesturs has guided several clients up Everest in the early 90s before beginning to tackle other Himalayan peaks, including 27,000-foot K2 in 1994 with climbing partner Scott Fisher.
As Viesturs' climbing career launched with strong sponsor backings, it became clear he was engineered to excel at high altitudes.
"I have never had problem at high altitudes. Even atop of the world I could have a conversation and know my zip code," he said.
Viesturs nonchalantly described using the eight-week venture up Everest as a "warm-up" before quickly doing other peaks in the neighborhood, some in just three days.
In 1996 Viesturs teamed up with David Breshears to film the highest grossing IMAX film, "Everest," which documented one of the greatest catastrophes on the mountain that took the lives of eight people, including Viesturs' long-time climbing partners Rob Hall and Scott Fisher.
In spite of the tragedy, two weeks later on May 23, 1996, Viesturs and Breshears summitted Everest to capture the first 90 seconds of IMAX footage from atop of the world.
"We showed the world that you can climb Everest and live to talk about it. It's not a death wish," Viesturs said.
Despite an extremely successful mountain climbing career, Viesturs was still lured by the mystique and challenge of Annapurna.
It was no surprise the challenge eluded Viesturs for multiple attempts. Annapurna is considered one of the most dangerous 8,000-meter peaks because of hanging seracs. Historically only 130 people have summitted and 56 died.
Viesturs turned back on two prior expeditions in 2000 and 2002 because the conditions just were not right.
"Mountain climbing is about knowing when to go and not to go. We need to live by instinct because in the end that's what matters," Viesturs said.
But an innate perseverance kept those lungs climbing.
Viesturs returned last spring with long time climbing partner Veikka Gustafson to once again challenge the slopes.
They were almost turned away for the third time at Camp Three due to 80 mph winds.
"The mountain will tell you when its time to go, and she decided she was going to be busy for the next three days," Viesturs said.
But on that fateful day in May, the mountain opened its gates for the summit push; a day Viesturs said he will remember like Christmas.
Upon returning to his Seattle-based home, there was talk of Veisturs retiring from the world of mountain climbing to spend more time with his wife Paula and three young children.
But for someone who has taken mountaineering to new heights, revolutionized the equipment companies such as Mountain Hardwear and Jansport continue to design and serves as an inspiration for others to follow in his steps, it is unlikely the world has seen the last of Viesturs.
"He helps us build [equipment] for people whose lives depend on it. He continues to give us that perspective," Boucher said.
Viesturs is working with David Roberts on his updated autobiography, "No Short Cuts to the Top" that is to be released October 2006.
He also mentioned the prospect of trekking up Everest for a seventh time to film a full-length feature on his late climbing partners Hall and Fisher.
Viesturs may easily be touted as one of the best athletes of his time, but his ego is nowhere as big as his VO2 max.
"I have learned from the Sherpas to be humble and respectful. You cannot conquer a mountain, but the mountain will allow to go to the top, and it is the mountain that allows you to come back down."