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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 this season.

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 mistakes.

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.

May 27, 1996: Interview with David Breashears
May 24, 1996: They Made It! (Update)
May 20, 1996: They Made It!
May 16, 1996: Emergency on Everest
May 10, 1996: Taiwanese Victim
May 9, 1996
May 5, 1996
May 2, 1996: Team Returns to Base Camp
April 26, 1996
April 25, 1996
April 21, 1996
April 19, 1996

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