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Backpacker Magazine – June 2009

Kings of the Hill: Q & A with Ed Viesturs, The Whittakers, Seth Waterfall, Dave Hahn, & Melissa Arnot

Three generations of American mountaineering royalty discuss their sport, their fears, and their new mission: design great gear.

by: Jonathan Dorn

Peter Whittaker (right) and EB's Andrew Turner (Jake Norton)
Peter Whittaker (right) and EB's Andrew Turner (Jake Norton)
Melissa Arnot (Peter Norton)
Melissa Arnot (Peter Norton)
Seth Waterfall (Jonathan Dorn)
Seth Waterfall (Jonathan Dorn)
Ed Viesturs (Jonathan Dorn)
Ed Viesturs (Jonathan Dorn)
Dave Hahn (Jonathan Dorn)
Dave Hahn (Jonathan Dorn)

See a video of this roundtable discussion

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VIDEO: Preview the Gear
Peter Whittaker gives you a first look at the new line of gear from Eddie Bauer.

BLOG: First Ascents Everest Team
Want to see if they made it? Read the team's posts from Everest this past season right here.

Let's talk gear. Jim, what's one item you see these guys using today that you wish you'd had on Everest?
Jim Whittaker: Brains.

How about old-school gear? Dave, is there anything you refuse to part with?
Hahn: A standard-length ice axe [because of its versatility]. A lot of climbers are using a waterfall tool in an alpine setting, or just a hammer.

Worst piece of gear ever?
Viesturs: When I was starting out on Rainier, I couldn't afford a rain jacket. So on one of my first winter attempts, I wore a bicycle poncho that kept blowing up into my face. It was horrible.

Have design advances made climbers better in the mountains, or just softer?
Lou Whittaker: The equipment doesn't make the climber. It's knowing how to live in the outdoors.

What's been the biggest leap in mountaineering gear and technique?
Jim Whittaker: The use of fixed ropes was a jump from what happened back in the '50s. With fixed ropes, people have access to difficult terrain that they couldn't have negotiated otherwise.

Peter Whittaker: The transition from leather to plastic [has created] boots that are vastly superior. Windproof fabrics that breathe really well are huge. And I love the JetBoil stove–really cool, trick-willy awesome.

Lou Whittaker: One thing that hasn't changed: Down clothing is still the best insulation for the mountains.

Talk about designing gear for Eddie Bauer. How did the process work?
Peter Whittaker: We sat down with a blank piece of paper and built exactly what we need up high. Among us, we spend 1,200 days outside a year, so it was pretty simple.

Arnot: We wanted to achieve firsts, but not by introducing crazy technologies. Our goal was to create core gear that doesn't require any compromises.

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