A Pro Mountain Climber Told Us He Could Climb Trump’s Border Wall

Getty ImagesKyle Deleu/Simon & Schuster

Ed Viesturs has been climbing mountains for 35 years. The best-selling author and star of IMAX’s Everest Expedition documentary has summited all 14 of the world’s tallest peaks—including Everest, without oxygen—and is widely regarded as America’s foremost authority on mountaineering. He’s even saved lives on K-2, the second-highest mountain in the world. In other words, the guy knows a thing or two about getting over the top.

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President Donald J. Trump is a former reality TV host who really wants to build a 30-foot tall, $10 billion wall between the United States and Mexico. On Tuesday, Trump visited prototypes of the wall in California, where he mentioned “professional mountain climbers” who might attempt to breach it.

It’s not immediately clear who Trump is referring to, or why a concrete wall would deter them—they’re professionals, after all—but the mountaineering community is a fairly tight-knit one. If anyone knows, it would be a guy who climbed Everest seven times.

We called Ed at his home in Sun Valley, Idaho to figure out who these climbers are, who’s funding them, and what, if anything, can be done to stop them.

Can I read you the president’s comments?

(Laughing) Please, do.

“Who would think? Who would think? But getting over the top is easy. These are like professional mountain climbers—they’re incredible climbers. They can’t climb some of these walls. Some of them, they can. Those are the walls we’re not using.” Any initial reactions?

(Still laughing) Oh God.

Who are these professional mountain climbers?

There’s a difference between professional and experienced. When you become a professional, you make a living at it, so is this person getting paid to climb the wall? It’s amazing. It’s just another one of those stupid things that this guy says. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He doesn’t have a clue. If that’s what he thinks is happening, that’s awesome. Oh God.

In all of your years of mountaineering, were any groups training to sneak into other countries?

I mean, what a lot of climbers do to subsidize their lifestyle, they climb radio towers, they climb smokestacks to repair, fix, paint—high-angle occupations—but I’ve never heard of professional mountain climbers being hired to climb border walls, no.

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So you think they’re working more as sherpa guides?

I don’t know! Is the Mexican government out there sending applications, “Please, show up at the border at 6am”? Yeah, I don’t get it.

The prototypes the president is looking at are 30 feet tall, mostly made of concrete. Would that stop a professional?

Oh no, a good professional mountain climber can probably do it in a few hours, easy.

How would they go about that?

It depends, I mean you could put a whole bunch of ladder sections together, flop it up and over and put down a rope and drop down to the other side. You could back a fire truck up to the wall and raise the ladder over the top.

I’ve never heard of professional mountain climbers being hired to climb border walls.

The most technical way to do it is to drill bolts into the wall; you hang anchors into the bolts, and then you rig a series of steps into those anchors. Whoever’s coming behind them has to climb that series of anchors as well, and then once you get up and over the top, you have to have a way to get down the other side, so you have to have a rope, then maybe rappel down that. Maybe take a lunch break on the summit.

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How high would the wall have to be to stop a professional mountain climber from climbing over it?

If there’s a mountain or wall, somebody will climb it, eventually. Might take a while.

Are you saying there’s a better use of that $10 billion?

So many other things! Do we need a new wall? I don’t think so. Why don’t we loosen the restrictions and do what we can for the people that do come over? There’s plenty of work, in my opinion, for immigrants, and the money could be used for so many things—schools, education, health care. It seems like a huge waste.

Mountaineering training?

Mountaineering training.

Any message for professional mountain climbers trying to sneak into America right this moment?

Oh, you know. Go for it.

This interview was lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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