Interview with David Breashears
Everest Base Camp
May 27, 1996
NOVA: First of all, we're all shocked to hear about the death of
British climber Bruce Herrod on Everest this weekend—yet another death on
the same route on Everest. Have you had to help, once again, in any rescue or
communications efforts regarding his death?
BREASHEARS: No, all that happened was this: We climbed up in fairly
good weather. We were coming down from Camp 4 to Camp 3 and we passed Bruce
and a woman and Ian coming up, and I took time to spend with them to say "look,
please be careful, you've seen what's happened here in the past month. You're
not experienced mountaineers. Remember that getting up Everest is the easy
part, getting down is the hard part. You have all the energy in the world, and
drive, and adrenaline, and ambition working for you going up. And suddenly
you have to turn around and come down and the oxygen is finished and the day is
diminishing." And I hope that those words had some import on them. All I can
say is we got down here yesterday, and they said Bruce was missing. He hadn't
come back from the summit, and today this woman (I don't know her name) and
Ian, the leader, walked through camp appearing fairly devastated. It's obvious
he's lost somewhere on Everest. We don't know where and that 's all we know.
We don't know anything else. But for sure he's another victim to this year, to
NOVA: It's just unbelievable—never ending. You mentioned in our
last interview that it was going to be difficult passing the bodies of your
friends on the way up. Is that what happened and how was it for the rest of
the team, especially for Ed?
BREASHEARS: We passed Scott and saw him with our head lamps. He was
half buried by snow, fortunately, because then we didn't have to see his face.
It's impossible to determine what happened. It's only very obvious that he
died of exposure there. It's a very lonely place and we weren't very happy to
see him there. Higher up, much higher just beyond the South Summit, we found
Rob where we thought we would. Rob had obviously made a heroic attempt to
survive. He had surrounded himself with a lot of extra oxygen bottles. He had
taken off his crampons to keep his feet warm. Thankfully, like Scott, his face
was covered. But we found his bivouac, it's right on the route. It was just
very sad for us because he must have been very lonely there. It's a long way
from help. Scott was much closer to the camps and another hour and he'd have
been in camp. Rob's situation was much more desperate There was no way he
could've been saved. I hope that the snow will just cover them both up. Rob
had the skill of a mountaineer and the willpower to have made a good fight for
his life. You could see he was doing all the right things and nobody—Rob
Hall or anybody else—could've survived in that wind in that situation.
NOVA: It's just amazing that Scott was so close to camp, I mean an hour
seems like nothing to save your life, to just keep walking.
BREASHEARS: An hour on Everest is like it could be a million miles.
Remember some of those people died a hundred feet from camp. And there's no
visibility and in wind-driven snow in the dark, an hour is—it's no better
than ten minutes from camp. How many people die in the mountains of New
England fifteen minutes from the road in a blizzard? It's just all of us, when
we're there and see this, we just try and ask why and we try and understand
what happened—put the pieces of the puzzle together and learn from their
NOVA: Well, you all made it. Can you tell us, how was this summit
attempt different for you? I'm sure there is some elation in making it to the
summit. How was it this time, truly?
BREASHEARS: We had a wonderful day. We had some minor problems with
the Sherpas who couldn't keep up with the camera gear, so we didn't shoot as
much as we wanted to. It was a beautiful sunrise, a beautiful morning, a lot
of deep snow. Ed Viesturs broke trail without oxygen through this waist deep
snow. It's been 11 years since I climbed Everest on this side and so there
were many memories along the way, passing certain points that I remembered
differently. I think for me as the leader and director of this film, getting
on top was a very anxious moment. We know a lot of people got on top this year
that didn't make it down. And we did our filming, we took pictures. It was
really really wonderful to be there with Jamling Norgay, Tenzing Norgay's son,
but for me the day wasn't joyful or happy until the moment we were all down on
the South Col in our tents, in our sleeping bags, safe and sound. It just was
a lot of pressure and a lot of tension. But the day itself was a wonderful
climbing day. We were graced by Everest with 2 days of fine weather. We were
rewarded for our patience and perseverance and it's been a tremendously hard
expedition for me physically and with the IMAX camera and emotionally, trying
to make the right decisions, after all, with the tragedy, and I'm just ready to
come home and relax.
NOVA: Well you deserve it and we can't wait to see you back here
finally. We have to ask about Araceli. Of course she's the first Spanish
woman to reach the summit and we're now receiving tons of email on her behalf
through the Web site. How does she feel about all this attention?
BREASHEARS: Oh, Araceli's been great. She's received a tremendous
amount of phone calls and interviews and attention here. The Spanish have a
fine mountaineering tradition and the Catalonians—don't forget the Pyrenees
are half in Spain. She's taking it very well. She's a mountaineer first. She
climbed Everest because she wanted to climb Everest. Being the first Spanish
woman is just a byproduct which I'm sure she'll have fun dealing with in
Barcelona where the Catalans are known for enjoying food and drink and having
parties. But you could look at her and she doesn't look like she's ever left
Base Camp—there's never enough chocolate for her.
NOVA: Has it been any different this time for you knowing that people
have been following your daily experiences through our Web site? Do you
realize how much of an inspiration you are?
BREASHEARS: We don't realize how much of an inspiration we are to
anyone. That's just part of being at altitude and being isolated. But we can
honestly say that in the past week, when we were getting ready to go up, the
warmth and generosity and support we felt from the Web feature viewers and
their email was very meaningful to us and gave us tremendous moral support
because you do tend to feel isolated, like you're the only ones left in the
world up here and no one really cares what you do or don't do. And people have
been very eloquent in their email and it's just amazing for us to see what
people can write when they have the time to think and type.