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Responses and Comments #13
May 23, 1997


I was just reading David Breashears interview in regard to the recent tragedy from the Northern route. David made the comment that Everest is this huge magnet that draws people to it so that in their quest to fulfill a dream and accomplish it some give up their lives and that this a natural consequence of high altitude mountaineering. I understand that even under the best of situations, and with the most experienced there can be mishaps...but are these large numbers of deaths on Everest in the last two years a lack of preparation and experience and due to the sheer number of expeditions? Or the ambitions and motivations of these expeditions to blame? I am sure David and his NOVA team are patient and prudent. But don't these other teams endanger those that are experienced? And where is that line drawn? When will one team not come to the aid of another due to either ambition of its own...or lack of resources...or possible danger to themselves? Or is life in the death zone one of every man for himself? I suppose one cannot protect someone from himself, that one will reap the consequences of one's actions. But can those actions endanger others? Good luck to David and the rest of the NOVA team. God speed and safe climbing.

Thomas Auyong
Diamond Bar, CA

Response from David Breashears:
With the dramatic increase in the number of people on Everest along with the commensurate increase of people trying for the summit in a short weather window, it follows that there would be an increase in fatalities. It is as much due to bad weather as poor decision making in climbing. It's worth noting that inexperienced and experienced climbers alike have been dying over the last years. It is up to each team to decide who aids those who need assistance. When in the death zone, there is an extraordinary level of self preservation. This is often much stronger than the urge to help others, when this could endanger oneself. But there are also very heroic acts of selflessness seen at high altitude and we've also seen similar acts of deep selfishness. It is an interesting question as to how climbers in a hypoxic, sleep deprived, dehydrated extremely exhausted state should be held accountable for the decisions they make at high altitudes. You can also read my essay written several years ago for the American Alpine Journal, titled "Every Man for Himself" which addresses this issue.


It is ironic that mountain climbers are willing to risk their lives to obtain high altitude views, yet when these same views are available from a high flying passenger plane, the passenger is often urged to close the blind in order to facilitate the watching of a movie that could be seen anytime on video.

John Harding
Washington, DC

Response from Pete Athans:
Actually, viewing from an aircraft the same panorama a climber would view is impossible. Further, there is a distinction in succeeding in the process of climbing Everest—not just arriving by public conveyance—that makes the view satisfying.


I have visited other Mt. Everest web sites and I noticed they mentioned the "gorak" as a type of animal that they saw on their climb. I know that this is a bird, but I was wondering what does it eat, what are its predators, what does it look like, and what are its behavioral characteristics? Please write me the answer if you know.


Response from Base Camp:
Goraks are scavengers, living off any scraps they can find. They do not have many predators, but do have to brave the elements such as the cold and wind.


Where can I get a copy of your book, Everest, the West Ridge. I have tried quite a few book stores and dealers that specialize in hard to get books with no success. I have just finished Jon Krakauer's book, and I am starting it again tonight. My prayers go with the team.

Tom Walsh
Denmark, Maine

Response from Pete Athans:
Try Michael Chessler Books in Kitteridge, Colorado for Tom Hornbein's book.


In recent years there has been a growing trend in individuals with relatively little mountaineering expertise paying for guide service to be escorted on a summit attempt. Based on your experience, is such commercialization inherently flawed or have technological advances actually brought an Everest summit attempt closer to the general population? Have you had any contact with such individuals on your current trip?

Scott Kennedy
Huighland, CA

Response from Pete Athans:
The trend is not growing. People's awareness of it has grown. Some individuals have the skills and training to be guided, others do not.


Hope everyone continues to enjoy good health there and things progress for you guys. I have a couple of questions. Many of the more successful Everest climbers are more "mature" (sorry guys!). At least compared to the typical rock-jock/gym rat set anyhow. My question is, given that some of you have had multiple Everest experiences, have you noticed a change with age that in some way might give you an edge that you might not have had the first time you were there? Certainly it's true that a person's physiological makeup (breathing/heart rate, etc.) changes with age, and I just thought that maybe age here might at times be an advantage (separate from experience). Also, a quick question about weather. There have been a few winter ascents if I remember correctly. Besides the cold temperatures that one would have to deal with, I was wondering if the jet stream moves and stays away from the mountain for long periods of time during the winter months, thereby possibly decreasing the wind factor that otherwise always.

Doug V.
La Jolla, CA

Response from Pete Athans:
Experience being on a mountain is always a positive asset. Knowledge of the route provides a security when climbing. During the winter months, the Jet Stream is right over the mountain.
Response from Dr. Howard Donner:
There is current evidence that intracranial dynamics play a role in the development of AMS and Cerebral Edema. There is preliminary suggestion that some of the cerebral changes occurring with aging may protect older climbers from developing symptoms as readily.


I remember reading somewhere about a film crew that was producing an IMAX film while climbing and attempting to summit on Mt. Everest around the same time as the tragedy in 1996. Do you know anything about this, and whether or not they ever succeeded in summiting and making the film? Also, have any of you climbed any of the other 8000-meter peaks? Good luck on your summit bid! (I can't think of climbing anything higher than14'ers!)

Jolene Fox
Denver, CO

Response from Base Camp:
The MacGillivray Freeman Films' sponsored Everest Film was shot by David Breashears and crew. They summited successfully and shot precious film on the summit. The film will premier in March of 1998.


Since I have been following your climb, I was amazed to discover the number of climbers and groups attempting the summit at once. I was disappointed because it seemed like a 'tourist' stop. But then tragedy strikes and your snapped back to the reality that the mountain is rock and ice and unforgiving. I know you know this, more than anyone of us flat-landers, I would like to know how you brace yourself for this? How do you go on finish what you started?

God bless,
Byron McClure
Response from David Breashears:
If one of your friends of family died in a car, would you quit driving a car? There's nothing about climbing Everest that's dangerous—most people die of human error. We're experienced, we're cautious, we watch the weather. We don't think climbing Everest is a death sentence. If you're willing to make the right decisions, such as turning around in storm, we don't think that climbing Everest then has to be governed by fear.


I've stumbled across your web site and I'm completely amazed that in this day and age, we can communicate our thoughts to the top of the world with the press of a button! Great Job! I called my Aunt who has been trekking in Nepal and spent a wonderful evening discussing your journey and the fascinating information that has been provided on the web site. We came up with a few questions for you: At one time, the bell of the monastery at Thyangboche was an empty oxygen bottle. It made a wonderful reverberating sound. Is this still the case and did the bell tower suffer in the fire in 1989? With the large numbers of climbing groups that come in every year, is all of their food imported or are there enough local vegetables, etc. grown to supplement the climbers diets? What kind of equipment will you be using to perform your physiological tests? Does this equipment behave differently at altitude than at sea level? How is it transported and how does the transportation affect the calibration? Thank you for the response! Good luck and safe returns to each of you!

Scott Connigham
Stillwater, OK

Response from Pete Athans:
Aside from meager foundations, the entire monastery was destroyed by a fire in 1989. Most of the expeditions here at Base Camp bring in half of their food from their own country.


I am overwhelmed with the number and quality of questions and responses coming from the climbing team and base camp (BC) support group. Do you keep all the info flow in electronic form? If you were to print out all the communications, BC would be a massive clutter of paper and used supplies. Usually camping requires a major plan to conserve resources to the very minimum. Does having a yak train and lots of porters mean that you can plan a 3 month stay at the base of Everest to have lots more amenities than you would if you were hauling the materials yourself? Do you hear the cry go out each day that "The 12:52 yak train is arriving on Path 7?" How do you decide what records to keep for later film production out of the massive flow of information that you have established at BC?

Peter B. Clark
Hamilton, MA

Response from Liesl Clark:
Hey, great last name. Yes, we do keep all information flowing in electronic form as we have to respond to the e-mails and then retransmit them back to NOVA. We also print out all of the e-mails, which results in about 15 pages-worth of cut and pasted e-mails every two days or so. It's nice for those who are unable to hover around our two laptops to be able to read the e-mails on a hard copy and then respond in ink. Associate Producer Kate Churchill and I then type them up. Our resources are conserved to a relative minimum, but since we're producing a live web site, we need to have laptops, satellite phone, printer and paper for that. Our 'office supplies' are confined to two medium size cases. Yes, having yaks and porters enables us to carry in much more than we would if we were to carry these things in ourselves. For example, I would've immediately nixed the three hole punch if I knew I had to carry it in on my own back. The CD player and stash of CDs from home certainly helps for ambiance up here, too. Yaks do come and go, carrying in local foods (sometimes even beer), but we only see the large "trains" when an expedition is moving in our moving out of Base Camp. To answer your question of how do we decide what records to keep for later film production—we keep all records. Basically all info is stored in the computers in a folder called "get high" aka "going higher." We then have folders for camera notes, sound notes, climbers' e-mail (in and out) from the Web site, personal e-mail, research, newsflashes, text for the website, still photo logs, digital images, images transmitted by sat phone, pulse oximeter readings, transcriptions of all interviews conducted on digital audio tapes here, vital statistics of the climbers at various camps on the mountain, notes on the neuro-behavioral tests we're giving, etc. All of this info will be useful (and imperative) for the film.


Thank you for sharing the expedition with us! We are all looking forward to a safe and successful outcome, both in terms of the summit and your findings. A few years ago, I did some research on the effects of Acetazolamide on max and submax exercise at normoxic and hypoxic conditions. It was the treatment of choice at the time for AMS. Can you tell me why Nifedipine is now the preferred treatment? How long does it take to reach therapeutic levels? One of the potentially negative side affects of Nifedipine is periferal edema, and it is contraindicated in cases of CHF. Is periferal edema a problem in climbers on Nifedipine? Is it used to treat already existant HAPE or merely to prevent it? Thanks again for this exciting venture!

Barb Engebretsen
Laurel, NE

Response from Dr. Howard Donner:
Acetazolamide is still the "treatment of choice" for AMS and prevention of AMS. Nifedipine is considered the drug of choice for HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) especially when lacking the availability of supplemental oxygen. Therapeutic levels of Nifedipine are reached very quickly especially when initiated with a 10mg bite and swallow dose. This can be followed by the 30mg sustained release form once or twice a day. Peripheral Edema is not typically seen with Nifedipine administration at altitude (unless pre-existing), because cardiac function in HAPE patients is usually quite normal. The biggest clinical side effect would be orthostatic hypotension, but this is rarely seen in hydrated climbers. Nifedipine has been used for both treatment and prevention of HAPE.


Read all the comments with great of luck. With all of the pressure you must be feeling, does anything FUNNY ever happen up there, and, if so, what (other than getting silly notes like this...) ?? How do you keep a sense of humor?

David Jamieson
Tampa, FL

Response from Pete Athans:
Medication helps! Our Sherpa team reminds me of the juvenile band I "studied" with in Junior High—pure comic relief.
Response from Base Camp:
Things got pretty hilarious when Howard Donner arrived with various tools from his trade: 1) a big plastic eye with veins popping out of it for use in a retinal hemorrhage sequence we were shooting (it's called a "gurgling gutz eyeball"); 2) a plastic arm that appears in the strangest places (imagine, an arm lying underneath the entrance to your tent); 3) a yet-to-be-placed rubber excrement (poop) that will surely appear in someone's sleeping bag in the next few days. David Breashears is the most likely candidate; and 4) SPIN, our crash test dummy friend who will hopefully be the first plastic hero to the summit of Everest. Also, the daily radioed-in rap songs sung by our virtuoso, Pete Athans, have kept us hooting. We need to find him an agent.


As we were reading your previous information we noticed that the first two weeks of May were considered prime time for summitting Mt. Everest. How long into the season can a successful climb be attempted? As May turns to June, July, and August how does that effect the climb? Also, I was able to listen to your interview of May 14 and was amazed and pleased. Tears of joy came to my eyes to realize that my students and I were able to hear from the "top of the world". With all your efforts and duties there we wish to express sincere appreciation that you and your team are willing to share this experience with the rest of us. Take care and tell Liesl Clark that my fifth grade class still thinks of her!

Sharon Simon/Helen Smith
Barboursville, WV

Response from Pete Athans:
The spring or pre-monsoon season is over on the first of June and we are not allowed to be climbing after that date. The last summit dates are the 27th and 28th of May.
Response from Liesl Clark:
Hello to Sharon Simon's Class from Base Camp. The pressure's building up here and we're so pleased to know that you're with us on this expedition. We've just received a weather report stating that a projected cyclone is moving north from the Bay of Bengal, but weakening. That's good news for us as we only have a handful of days to get this show on the road. Keep your fingers crossed.


I find your medical information of sats and vitals to be quite interesting. When climbing, what flow of O2 do you use and what are the sats and vitals with activity? Do you ever consider high dose steroid injections (decedron) in times of distress? Also, how about the use of free radical inhibitors or carbonic anhydrase inhibitors?

Scott Hardeman
St. Louis, MO

Response from Dr. Howard Donner:
The flow rate is set at 2 liters per minute. As an example, during a test, David Breashears' oxygen saturation at 21,400 feet was 94% on 2 liters per minute. Our climbers usually do not use bottled oxygen until they are above 26,000 feet. Decadron is used along with descent for cerebral forms of severe mountain sickness. Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (Diamox) are often used for prevention and or treatment of AMS (acute Mountain Sickness). Our climbers prefer to acclimatize at a rate which avoids symptoms without the use of pharmaceutical agents.


This question is for climber David Carter.

I understand that you are native to Indianapolis and was just wondering how you be came interested in climbing and taking expeditions in such uncharted and dangerous areas when the area around Indianapolis is flat with just a few rolling hills. I would also like to inform you that I am a 7th grade student at Franklin Township Middle School, on team 7-2 we recently studied Mount Everest. Our Social Studies teacher Ms. Carnine has spoken about your visit to the Middle School several years and she has told us about your first trip to Everest and many of the things that you mentioned when you came to speak to team 7-2 at the middle school. I hope that you have a good climb and return safely, thanks for your time.

Indianapolis, IN

Response from David Carter:
I went on a vacation when I was 15 and challenged my dad to climb Mt. Rainer. The next year we went and climbed Rainer and fell in love with the mountains. It beats watching corn grow in Indiana. It's good to hear from you at Franklin Town Middle School.


David Carter,

I saw in your response to a letter that you climbed Mt. Rainier in your first days of climbing. I did that climb in '88 and the guides said they train for Everest on Rainier. I was wondering how much more of a technical climb Everest is compared to Rainier. Good luck to all of you during climb.

Peter Gatchell
Cincinnati, OH

Response from David Carter:
Rainer in every aspect is like Everest except in altitude. There are some technical areas on Everest such as the Khumbu Icefall, Lhotse Face and the Hillary Step which, at altitude, can be quite challenging.
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