Interview with David Breashears
Everest Base Camp
May 15, 1996
NOVA: How did you find out that an emergency was taking place? Where
were you and where were the climbers that were in trouble?
BREASHEARS: It happened like this: the IMAX team had gone up to Camp
III at 24,000 feet, ahead of everybody. There had been 4 unsuccessful attempts
already from our side; not by us but by other teams. Most of the teams had
reached the South Summit at 28,700 feet. So we went all the way up but Ed and I
didn't like the weather and equally disconcerting was when we looked out our
tents that morning, there were 35 people, including Sherpas, guides and
clients, heading up from Camp II to III, who would be right behind us as we
were going for the summit they would moving to Camp IV. So between the weather
and the people, some of whom we felt were unprepared to be climbing high on
Everest, we decided to go back to Camp II, and let events unfold.
The next morning at Camp II—which is our Advance Base Camp—at 21,300 feet
... It's our staging area for the upper climbing on the mountain. The next day
at about 10:00 a.m. some of our Sherpas were coming down the mountain—I'm
going to tell you a little story here—of the first person we recovered a
week ago—the Sherpas were passing through Camp III and they found that a
Taiwanese climber had fallen 60 feet into a crevasse but apparently the leader
of the team thought he was okay and continued on, and left the fellow there to
fend for himself. He had begun to deteriorate and so the Sherpas began to
evacuate him down the Lhtose Face. We didn't think it was a very serious
injury, but at about 4 or 5 o'clock they radioed that he was dead. He died as
they were bringing him down, so the Sherpas left him on the ropes—they are
extremely frightened and superstitious of dead bodies—and Ed and Robert
Schauer and I went out up the ropes in the late afternoon in what became a
mini-blizzard and brought him down, got him off the ropes, and lowered him
down, and put him in a sleeping bag and then we put him in a place in the ice
so he would freeze up so we would be able to carry him down the next day.
The evening of the day we rescued this man, at 10:30 and 11:00, the summit
teams who had reached the South Col at 26,000 feet, the high camp at Everest,
Rob Hall's team, Scott Fisher's and a Taiwanese, Makalu Gau, began their summit
attempt. And we became alarmed the next day—they were making okay progress—we heard radio reports: so and so turned back so and so turned back below
the South Summit. But we became alarmed when we saw people—we're well
positioned at Advance Base Camp we have a good view of 300 feet below the
summit, known as the Hillary Step. Well we saw a line of people there, 6 or 7
people, waiting to climb the Hillary Step at 1:00 in the afternoon. We
calculated their climbing rate, their use of oxygen and we thought they were
out too late. We became even more alarmed when we heard radio calls from the
summit that people had reached the top at 2:30 and 3:00. But the weather was
reasonable at that time; it was windy and cold up high, they all had down
suits, ski goggles, and in a properly run guided expedition, enough oxygen. It
wasn't until later in the evening that we heard, to our absolute astonishment,
that Rob Hall was still on the South Summit. That's 27,700 feet. At dark with a
client who was in extremis, near death, Doug Hanson. And Rob had elected to
stay with him, knowing he couldn't get the man down but also knowing he
couldn't leave him there to die alone. Later in the evening, a blizzard blew
up between 4 and 6 p.m. higher on the mountain, fierce winds, 60 and 80 mile
an hour winds, darkness, blowing snow, 20 foot visibility, and that's when we
knew there was a real big problem because between 10 and 16 people had not
returned to their tents. In terrible conditions, they would have been out of
oxygen, they would have had to take off their dard ski goggles to see in the
night, but, at the same time, if they took their goggles off they would have to
squint in 60 and 70 mile an hour wind-driven snow particles. They would be
disoriented, cold, hungry, out of oxygen, dehydrated, probably partially
hypothermic, and all we could do that night was go to bed, late in the evening
and hope for the best in the morning.
NOVA: Can you back up for a second and describe for us an ideal summit
day? You said they left late in the evening and our understanding is that they
would need to leave earlier in the day; why did they leave so late and can you
describe the summit day process?
BREASHEARS: Here's what happens on the summit day and here's what makes
the whole process of climbing Everest so difficult. The day before you climb
from Camp III to Camp IV. You leave Camp III at 8:00 a.m., you're at 24,000
feet, and it's a long, hard day up to the South Col at 26,000 feet. All I can
tell you is that climbing at 20,000 feet is twice as hard as climbing at 15,000
feet, climbing at 22,000 feet is twice as hard as climbing at 20,000 feet. It's
almost exponential. So here you have a group of people, some of them relatively
untrained in terms of a Himalayan veteran mountaineer, who have gone from Camp
III to IV, from 24,000 to 26,000 feet in a day. You arrive there between 2 and
5 p.m. In order to make climbing Everest safer, it's standard to leave anywhere
between midnight and one a.m., and you wear a headlamp over your wool or
polypropylene hat. The reason we leave so early is because we get to the top
earlier—between 10 and 12 a.m. the next day. It's about a 12 hour climb, and
you get down in generally good weather. It's not unusual in spring to have
conductive cloud cover and mini snow storms and snow squalls between 4 and 7
p.m., it's very common.
So, these people had climbed up, probably spent an uncomfortable night at camp
3, then spent between 5 and 8 hours climbing at high altitudes, maybe had a
quart of water and a few snacks. They get to the high camp and you don't have
much of an appetite. Really what you do is you spend your time there just flat
on your back, taking oxygen at one liter a minute, trying to eat something,
trying to drink, and drying out your clothes that have become wet from
perspiration, especially your double boots and your mittens, and you don't
really have a good sleep. No one really sleeps that night or those few hours.
Around ten thirty that night you wake up and put ice in a pan and you start to
`brew up,' because mostly you want to rehydrate. You figure its going to take
two hours to get ready. If you're not already in your sleeping bag in your down
suit, then you get out of your sleeping bag and you put on your down suit.
You're at 26,000 feet and everything takes ten times longer and ten times more
effort than at sea level. You put on your over boots, put an oxygen bottle in
your pack, check pressure on both oxygen bottles to make sure they are full,
make sure the oxygen regulators are working, slowly, with cold fingers you put
on your crampons, maybe have a sip of fluid before you leave, put a quart of
hot water in your pack and off you go in the darkness and starlight between 12
and 1:00 a.m.
So you really haven't had sleep or nourishment for 24 hours or much water and
you start up the face; by dawn you reach the southeast ridge at 27,500 feet and
may be mostly through your first oxygen bottle. You then turn up the southeast
ridge toward the south summit, and it's an enormous effort to climb at those
elevations even with oxygen. You are moving continuously for almost 12 hours
before you reach the south summit.. Now you're only three hundred feet from
the top, but you have a treacherous traverse and you have to climb the Hillary
Step and the climbing becomes much more exposed. You've finished your first
bottle of oxygen and you're on your second. Maybe you've managed to take your
water bottle out once or twice and sit some fluid that now has turned mostly to
slush and ice in your bottle. Maybe you can nibble on a candy bar. And then,
300 more feet and you're on top. Great! It's 12 hours of effort and you're
exhausted. The euphoria of making the summit soon dissipates, hopefully you've
been using oxygen at the rate of 2 liters a minute instead of 3—or you're
now out of oxygen—where if you're lucky a Sherpa is carrying a third oxygen
bottle for you, and now you begin the long, hard descent to the South Col,
dehydrated, not having slept now for 40 hours. And you begin your descent.
It's windy, one side of your body—facing the wind—is colder than the
other, even with a down suit on. Typically the hand grasping the ice ax becomes
cold because of the metal; smart climbers tape foam to the head of the ice ax
which is better than gripping steel in -30 degree temperatures and conducting
the cold into your hand. You begin to stagger down.
You get down to the Southeast Ridge and you're still a 1,000 or 1,500 feet
above camp. You're on fixed ropes, and suddenly it's dark, you're disoriented,
you're hypoxic. And then you're at the end of the fixed ropes and you don't
know where to go. The South Col is a broad flat place. You take your goggles
off because it's dark but you can't look into the wind to look for your tent
because 60-70 mile an hour snow particles will be stinging your face and eyes.
Many of the people who made it down had minor frostbite on their noses and
You reach the South Col, which is as large as many football fields, its flat,
and have no idea of which way to turn. You can hardly communicate with your
companion who is 10 feet away. Your feet and hands start to get cold, you're
hypothermic—your body starts to shunt the blood away from the extremities
and save it for the organs—and for the unfortunate ones you just lay down
and die, and freeze to death.
And if you're lucky, there's a gap in the storm. A few hundred feet away you
see the tents and stagger into them at 3 in the morning. If you're Beck
Weathers you lay down to die; you've wandered in the wrong direction several
hundred yards away from the tents you'll never find; you've lost your gloves
because you tried to take them off to warm your hands inside your jacket.
Incredibly, two people pass you over for dead the next day, but in the
afternoon you wake up, decide you want to live, remarkably you've survived this
horrible night of cold and snow and howling wind, and stagger into camp. And
that's the way it went.
NOVA: How was Beck Weathers found?
BREASHEARS: First of all, if you're Rob Hall, you're stuck out in the
dark at 28,700 feet trying to save a client who's too tired and maybe out of
oxygen and has collapsed. You're facing a horrible night in the wind with no
protection, in a down suit not designed for bivouacking at night, and it's all
too terrible for all of us to think about what he went through because he was
still alive the next morning and through next day making radio calls, as we
tried to encourage him to get moving.
If you're Namsuko the Japanese woman you are too tired. You've reached the
Col, you have not one molecule of energy left, and you lay down and freeze to
death in this fierce wind alone without anyone to help you.
Beck—as he told the story to me—if you're Beck Weathers, you're lost,
there were people with you, suddenly they see tents and they're gone and you
were unable to keep up or maybe you lost your way, but suddenly you're alone in
a howling wind, and you don't know up from down, left from right, so you lay
down maybe on the ice to stay warm, maybe, because you're too tired, maybe
you're just collapsed, and lay down to die because there is nothing else left
to do. You tried to warm your hands and you've lost your gloves.
At 9:00 a.m. the next morning its clear, the clouds have parted and the snow is
gone, but the wind is stronger than ever. A Sherpa walks out and looks at you,
and you're lying there on the ground white, ashen-white, frozen-face. You're
lying there and you're dead. No one could survive that night. So the Sherpa
walks by and they radio down: "Beck Weathers is dead."
Todd Burleson and Pete Athans who were at Camp III, experienced mountaineers,
had come up to help at Camp IV. They're pointed out there's a figure 150 yards
away, Beck Weathers, who is frozen to death. They go to work and try to help
other people on the Col. Remarkably, if you are Todd Burleson, you're climbing
out of your tent later that afternoon, and there is an apparition that can't be
true: this person who has been pronounced dead by two people has stood up, his
arms are askew from frostbite, sticking out like a scarecrow, his eyes are
swollen shut, his whole face is swollen, he can't see, but he's staggering
towards camp. It's a ghost, it has to be, this person is dead!
But he staggers into camp with a white face and you put him in a tent (Todd
Burleson and Pete Athans) sure he's going to die within the next half hour.
When you rewarm a hypothermic person they often fibrillate and die. We hear on
the radio that there's no way this guy will survive the night, but Weathers has
an incredible will to live, he's a pathologist from Dallas, he knows he's lost
most of his hands, but he's decided he wants to live, he's a heavy set guy
maybe that's what got him through the night.
But in the morning he's starting to drink liquids and he's eating something and
you've given him some drugs and he's actually walking. Todd and Pete are
astounded. I mean he's our miracle, it's the one great inspirational story in
the tragedy. You get him down to Camp III, one step at a time because he
can't see very well. And then we meet him at Camp III and he's taken to Camp
II and he's telling jokes now and he's in thicker air and knows he's going to
live. He's uncomplaining, he says " I know I'm going to lose my hands, I'm
happy to be alive. I want to live. I woke up on the Col that afternoon and I
said I am going to live."
We get him to Camp 2 where he continues his recovery. His eyes open up a bit,
you can talk to him, he can recognize people, and the next day we walk him down
to Camp I, where a very courageous and talented Nepalese colonel in the Air
Force lands a helicopter at nearly 20,000 feet. The first person we evacuate is
Makalu Gau who is not ambulatory, he's in a stretcher on oxygen. He's going to
lose his nose, many of his fingers and most of his toes, and then the next
flight is for Beck. And Beck has left us all with something to cling to in
this tragedy, as well as Makalu, who spent the night out much higher. They were
two survivors who spent that entire night out and they will pay a terrible
price but they're alive and that's all we have to say about that.
NOVA: Well, from what we hear they are alive thanks to you. We are a
little unclear about how he was brought down to the lower camps. We heard from
other sources that he literally followed in your footsteps, holding on to you.
Can you say more about that?
BREASHEARS: Well, there's two stories here. There's also Makalu Gau.
And two very brave Sherpas went up to rescue him from 27,500 and brought him
down. Most of Gau's rescue was left to Sherpas—there were 6 Sherpas with him
when we passed him at Camp III. Pete and Todd did a heroic job of reviving Beck
and getting him from Camp 4 to 3, which quite honestly was all the real work.
Robert Schauer from our team and Ed Viesturs went up to the Yellow Band, which
is near 25,000 feet, to meet them on the way down. A person would stand behind
Beck and hold on to his harness as he slid down the fixed rope, to prevent him
from just sliding down hundreds of feet, and a person would be in front of him
helping him, guiding his feet because he couldn't see well. We reached Camp
III, we sat him down, he wanted black tea with sugar. And you had to feed him,
of course, because he couldn't clutch anything because his mittens covered his
frozen hands; I was just so thankful I didn't have to see his hands. His face
was a mess. Then we started down to Camp II, we wanted to get him out of there
as fast as possible. People would took turns holding him from behind on his
harness to keep his balance. And whoever went first would help guide his feet
and he then would lean with his forearms on that person.
Once we got to the base of the Lhotse face we just walked to Camp II. The guy
was just incredible. They put him in a tent there, a little emergency hospital
we set up, a field hospital sort of, and undressed him and looked at the
frostbite. I think his toes are okay, that's the astonishing thing. But,
throughout it all, being a pathologist he knew intimately what had happened to
every cell in his body for the last three days. He was not holding out any
hope for his hands. And yet it was just astonishing his optimism and his
dignity and humor in this situation. So, I don't want to take credit that I
don't deserve. Pete and Todd did the bulk of the work. We did alot of the
organizing of the rescue, the organizing of the supplies, placement of people
to help other people, organized the helicopter pad with a quart of KoolAid from
Araceli that she happened to have—red KoolAid—to mark the landing spot.
It was a group effort.
We're so thankful he was ambulatory. He's a big heavy guy and we never could
have gotten him off the Col, even if he had been alive, if we had to carry him.
The terrain's too difficult to move someone that heavy. It's hard enough work
to get someone down the lower mountain in the thick air of 19,000 feet; it took
twelve people 8 hours to evacuate the dead Taiwanese through the Icefall and
there you're talking about warm weather, working without mittens, and pile
NOVA: I know this is difficult for you to relive... Can you explain for
us what hypoxia is and what it feels like?
BREASHEARS: The problems with climbing at high altitude are two things.
There's wind and there's lack of oxygen molecules available. Your body turns
into a machine to process whatever oxygen molecules it can find in the thin
air. People are chronically hypoxic, which means operating at an oxygen
deficit. Up higher your skin isn't red and pink, it's always got a bluish cast
to it. Your body very cloverly finds what oxygen it can and delivers it to the
places that need it—your brain, your heart, your liver. Your skin isn't
necessarily a priority. You are always dehydrated. The air is very dry here,
you breathe very hard, your respiration rate is high, your pulse rate is high,
and maybe there's 1 or 2 percent humidity here so it's a constant struggle to
drink enough. On the one hand you know you should, on the other hand you don't
have the appetite to just gulp down the 4-6 liters of fluid you need a day.
Sometimes it's incredibly hot in the Western Cwm in this great sun reflector
and without a breeze, you can hardly move. In a moment's notice the clouds
cover the sun and you're freezing and shivering. You don't sleep well at higher
elevations, its a very restless sleep; you wake up a lot. If you're drinking
enough fluid, to be very matter of fact here, you have to get out and pee two
or three times in a night. You don't have much of an appetite sometimes. The
food in your tent gets cold quickly. You put food on your plate and before
you're half finished it's as cold as the ambient temperature which may be 10
or 20 degrees F. You're always changing clothes during the day. If a wind comes
up you have your wind jacket on, the next moment the sun's out and you're too
hot. It's very hard to move from camp to camp, it's a struggle to keep your
Often times I find the hardest part of climbing at the higher camps is this one
moment when you go from the horizontal in a warm cozy sleeping bag and you
have to get up and get moving. You have to put ice in the pot, light the
stove, get out the tea or cocoa or soup, the condensation starts to melt on
your tent, everything is wet. You don't want to move because when you shake
the tent it all falls off and gets down your neck and in your boots and in your
ears and some nights some nights are spent wondering if your tent is going to
collapse in a high wind—the flapping and the flexing and the bending of the
poles and the fabric. You can't sleep. It's too noisy. You have to be ready
to put on your boots and get out if the tent falls apart. lot of
discomforts, but huge rewards.
You are always survival oriented. You're very introverted at high altitudes.
Did I have enough to drink, have I had enough to eat, is my sleeping bag dry,
is my part of the tent level, am I warm enough?
The wind is very demoralizing. It's noisy, incessant, its just annoying. You
get so fed up hearing the wind and having it on you and swirling around you,
blowing snow in your face one minute, coming from the other direction the next.
Your feet get cold your hands get cold . The most debilitating part of
climbing on Everest besides the lack of oxygen is probably the wind.
NOVA: How cold can it get on Everest?
BREASHEARS: We have the reports here. It's averaging around -40 on top,
the middle camps lower down maybe -10, at Base Camp we're generally eating
dinner in 15 to 20 degree temperatures. Just imagine if you spent the next
month and a half in a meat locker, and sit down to eat at night in your down
parka and hat, no place to put your plate down, before you can finish your food
NOVA: David, you talk about introversion on the mountain. Do you
typically climb with someone? How far apart are the individuals in a given
expedition, for example, on the summit day?
BREASHEARS: You are together but you are not with anyone emotionally.
Our team, we always climb together. Through the icefall, in between camps; some
of our members fall behind the other members but no one is left on their own.
Your pacing at altitude is so personal; you get into a rhythm, whatever you can
sustain. And that's it, you get locked into it. If someone's faster or if
someone's slower you don't really notice it. Your body finds where it likes to
be in terms of the pulse rate, the movement of your legs, your breathing. We're
very very committed on the summit day to staying together and people get strung
out and everyone has a different pace. Ed will be climbing without oxygen. We
have strong Sherpas who can climb twice as fast as us, we have Sherpas who are
climbing relatively slow due to the burden of carrying the camera gear. What
happened on the day of the tragedy was that people were strung out all along
that mountain. Stronger were twice as fast as the slower people, twice as fast
to get down, twice as strong and having the reserves to deal.
On summit day, you have your mask and your goggles, and you get into this
mantra, you're in a cocoon. Every bit of focus and concentration and drive and
ambition one has goes into putting the next foot in front of the other. And you
look up and say oh, so and so is 200 feet above me. And you look down and say
so and so is 300 feet below me. And you look back and you put the next foot in
front of the other. That's all you're thinking about for 12 hours, without
food, mostly without water. With 2 oxygen bottles, 15-20 lbs on your pack,
camera, spare mittens, spare goggles, those are all the things that we carry.
It's very hard to describe. You're just a machine that `s trying to process
whatever oxygen there is and just trying to put one foot in front of the other.
It's as simple as that.
NOVA: You've mentioned the rewards. What are the rewards? Will this
tragedy affect your love for climbing?
BREASHEARS: It's too soon to say. We knew a lot of these people.
There's a couple of rewards. One of course is getting on top. The other is
coming down and feeling safe and warm and knowing you don't have to go back
up—that's a huge reward. We have a lot more at stake here than some of the
other teams, but we're not letting it affect us. Probably the moment you leave
Base Camp, we've been camped here on rock and ice for 7 weeks, the day you
leave this place and you walk down into the trees and bushes and streams and
flowers, and you're away from the cold and the thin air and the cold food and
the nagging feeling that you always have to go back up the mountain until you
are done—that's my favorite day, that's the day I'm looking forward to.
We've worked 2 or 3 times harder than any team here. This IMAX camera is huge,
it's a burden, and we have obligations. When other people are lying in their
tents resting, we're out with this monstrous IMAX camera, putting it on a
triped, trying to get shots, using energy, precious energy that should be
devoted to the summit, and it's all been a bigger burden than we thought, but
at least from what we understand we've been doing a good job. But we've had the
wind taken out of our sails here. It's not an easy thing to have rescued (a
dead climber's body), to be the ones to cover his face and bring him down to
his grieving companions. It's been really tough here with all these people here
dying and the impact on their loved ones and companions down here.
We feel okay, and we're going to go back. And in the right conditions we'll go
up. But it's been a very sobering, few days. It's frightening really.
NOVA: You just said, weather-pending, you'll make a bid for the summit
again. Have you received a forecast for the next week and how does the jet
stream play into that?
BREASHEARS: The jet stream has been sitting on top of Everest because
it's in a southern position. It's just fierce, ferocious winds. No human in any
condition could have gone up to save Rob. Those days he was up there, we were
up there at Camp II and you could see the clouds just tearing across the
mountain at a terrifying speed. The sound is what's extremely unsettling. It's
a terrible roar. You think of the people up there fighting for their lives, you
think of what it would be like to climb in it yourself. It's impossible. It's
the great force of nature that makes Everest the great challenge that it
is—people have been misled through several seasons of good weather to think of
Everest as a benevolent place. But it can be a place were no one can move,
tents are ripped apart. All the special modern down and gortex gear in the
world can't save you, you cant move, you can't see, you can't hear. There have
been days where as mountaineers we could have climbed Everest in the last two
weeks, but as a film team, we need to hold the camera steady and load it
virtually barehanded—the only way you can load this big camera and thread
this mechanism is barehanded—we need very calm weather. Any three of us
could have gone up and down the mountain safely by now only as climbers.
But we're waiting for the right configuration of high and low pressures which
precede the onset of the monsoon in this region, which will push the jet stream
north. The stream does not move north vertically in elevation it moves north
and south, and in the last few years it has been normal for the jet stream to
move north, leaving the mountain relatively calm for a ten day period before
the monsoon. We expect we'll get it. We hope we'll get it. We're going up
expecting to get it, but if we don't we don't. The climbing permit is up June 1
and probably our will to stay here will be up before then. We've been up to
Camp III now four times, that's 24,000 feet, and each time we had to come back
down... well.... for whatever reason.
NOVA: Can you give us a brief look at your communications center?
Obviously you have a satellite phone. What are your capabilities?
BREASHEARS: I am sitting here at Base Camp in the dining tent at 17,500
feet. We have a briefcase-sized satellite telephone which at the moment is
being powered by a generator, and when our batteries are charged enough we can
power the satellite phone by batteries which are charged by solar power and by
the generator. We have a fax machine which is 120 volts, so the only way we can
receive and transmit is when the generator is running. For communications on
the mountain we have hand held 2 watt Motorola radios which are supplemented by
a 25 watt bay station, with antenna, which allow us to communicate anywhere on
NOVA: There are most likely going to be difficult moments on your way
back up the mountain. Is everyone else on the expedition prepared for this
added emotional challenge? How will you handle that as expedition leader?
BREASHEARS: My first time on this mountain was 1981, so I've had 15
years of experiences from rescuing people to recovering recently dead bodies to
recovering bodies in pieces all over the mountain.. We're not looking forward
to and we really don't know yet what we'll do yet if we're up there and we have
three or four bodies to pass, people who were our friends and who were alive
three or four days ago. They are there, they're on the trail, there's no way we
can avoid them. There's Scott, there's Rob, there's Doug. Andy's missing, no
one can find his body. And the Japanese woman we probably won't pass by her
body, she's a 100 or 200 feet away from the main climbing route.
The only thing I can say, is you go back to how I described climbing on the
summit. You don't have a lot of energy emotional or otherwise available to
you. You're almost in a trance, in an oxygen-deprived hypoxic state, food
deprived, dehydrated, and I don't expect to have the emotional capacity there
to be too upset about it. But we do have some debate here as to what to do with
the bodies because we don't want them to end up as slide number 21 in the next
50 people to climb Mount Everest's slide shows.
NOVA: It sounds like it's an incredibly trying thing to undertake in the
best of conditions and there's no way that you have the best of conditions
anymore—given what you've been going through physically and emotionally.
What keeps you going?
BREASHEARS: Well, we're professionals. We came here to do a job, we
still have the chance to do it. We like climbing. I can't speak for Ed, it'll
be his fourth time on top. It's been 11 years since I've been on top of
Everest and I'd really like to get on top this time. The thought of doing it
again and recording it in IMAX, having some people be able to experience that
on the giant screen and maybe really feel it and enjoy it, I guess that's what
keeps me going.
NOVA: David, you once described what climbing means to you—in
terms of the rhythm and movement of ascending a route. Does that still hold
true or is it really just a job for you here, making this film?
BREASHEARS: No, for some strange reason, against everything we've just
described, all the difficulties, it's still a joy to be up here. It's still
great to get to camp III and look out and see Puo Mori and see clouds building
and the Western Cwm. There's still a lot of joy in it, it isn't just work. We
would have all gone home by now after this if it were all just work. Plus we
have three people here who haven't climbed Everest—Araceli, Jamling, and
Sumiyo—and they are really excited about the chance to climb. They'd like
to climb Mt Evereest, all 3 of them. I can understand the drive and desire
they have. Seeing them and their desire, they're young and enthusiastic, it
helps Ed and me.
NOVA: Would you say this has been an extremely atypical year on
BREASHEARS: Three or four deaths on the North and five here—yes.
And the fact that three or four people got by by the skin of their teeth and
should have probably frozen to death. All of us, if you could call us
veterans, have not seen it remain so windy so late and a wind with such
ferocity as the one we saw during the accident. Everest is like this. There
will be three or four good years and there'll be 2 bad years when no one has
climbed Everest from any side. People have very short memories. In the 80s
there was a year and a half when no one got up Everest because of wind. So I
think it's unusual in the context of the past 4 or 5 years, it's not unusual in
the last 25 years. We have cold winters in New England we have snowy years, we
have wet winters and we have dry winters; it's no different. It's just the
rhythm of nature in this region. It's to be expected. I'm just damned mad and
frustrated that the year I come here to make this film I can't get the weather
that allows people to just walk up and down the mountain unscathe. We need a
break. And we'll get it.
NOVA: Well, good luck and get back here safely.
BREASHEARS: Well, keep your fingers crossed. All we need is good
weather. We're all very fit and very healthy and none of us are afraid to come
home without doing it. We feel we've done enough already.