May 4—They slipped out of camp silently in the darkness, like the juniper
smoke that drifts skyward from nearby burning altars, disappearing into the
Khumbu Icefall for what we think will be the last time this year. After nearly
a year of putting together this project on Everest, the thought of sending our
climbers off for the last time onto the mountain is at once frightening and
overwhelming. David Breashears, Jangbu Sherpa, Pete Athans, Ed Viesturs, and
Dave Carter left Base Camp this morning at 5:00 am for their summit attempt on
In the twilight, they slipped through the Icefall and climbed past Camp I
directly up to Camp II, known as Advance Base Camp. They will all be climbing
together for the summit attempt, along with New Zealand expedition leader Guy
Cotter, Tashi Tenzing (Tenzing Norgay's grandson), and Finnish climber Veikka
Gustafsson, who is climbing Everest this year without the aid of supplemental
It was hard to let them out of our grips, knowing the dangers of what lay
ahead. Still, this is undoubtedly the strongest team of climbers on Everest
this year, with 15 successful summits of Everest between them: (Ed Viesturs
four times, Pete Athans four times, David Breashears three times, Guy Cotter
two times, Jangbu Sherpa once, and Veikka Gustafsson once). As they moved off
into the blue ice pinnacles of the Icefall, crossing a frozen pond in the early
morning light, all were in good spirits and ready to get up on the mountain.
Little did they know they would be coming back down in a week's time without
having had a chance to try for the summit.
For the NOVA documentary we filmed the climbers putting on their crampons at
the base of the Icefall amidst blue ice pinnacles standing stately before the
small ice pond crossing. The blues of the ice matched the early morning sky in
a scene that had just enough light for the 16mm camera to make out the bright
colors of the climbers' double boots, gators and shell jackets. First light
hit the top of Pumori with an orange glow that lit up the climbers' faces—just enough for our high speed film to register their features.
Within three-quarters of an hour they were tiny dots on the jumbled glacial
horizon that stretches up toward the top of the Icefall. Watching them climb
higher toward Camp I was difficult for us; we believe that this will be the
last we see of them before they head into the thin air above Camp IV, where we
will be conducting neuro-behavioral tests on them with and without oxygen. The
climbers will take regular pulse oximeter readings, measuring their pulse rate
and the oxygen level in their blood, and report back to us at Base Camp.
Expedition doctor Howard Donner will be maintaining close communication with
them as they move to ever higher altitudes.