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Responses and Comments #12
May 22, 1997


First let me say thanks for sharing your adventure with us. The QTVR shots allow me to experience Everest in a way that's as close to being there as I'm ever likely to encounter. I am curious as to how the locations of the various camps were established? Camp III seems to be located in a very precarious position.

Greg Hilton
Austin, TX

Response from David Breashears:
The various camp locations have been established since the earliest expeditions on Everest's traditional South Col route. They are spaced according to available space and manageable ascent for acclimatization, as the camps are about 2,000 feet apart. Camp I is at the top of the Icefall, located on the first flat ground above the several thousand foot ascent from Base Camp. Camp II, in the Western Cwm, is also located on flat ground a few thousand feet higher, just enough for good acclimatization. Then, Camp III on the Lhotse Face is situated in one of the few possible locations on the sheer face of Lhotse. Here, people have to dig tent platforms out of the 35-degree ice slope. Camp IV is located on the next possible flat ground on the South Col. It is interesting to note that Hillary and Tenzing's expedition in '53 had eight camps. Base Camp was located at what is now Gorak Shep and Camp I was what is now our Base Camp. They then had the same camps we have today with an additional (and final) camp at 27,000 feet, i.e. above our current Camp IV.


We are a seventh grade class who would like to know your personal feelings about being on Everest. Please write back.

Your friend,
Rebecca Clark
Kansas City, MO

Response from David Breashears:
It is hard for us to write individually to all those writing e-mails to us, so we respond in this public fashion. We are feeling both elated and sometimes over-worked being back here on Everest. But there's no doubt that it's a magical place to us. It's always a tremendous sense of achievement and accomplishment if one reaches the summit. Thanks for following us on our climb.


Hey Land lord! (Dave Carter) I hope all is well! My question is how does the recent deaths of those five people effect you and the rest of your climb? I wish the best of luck, as you continue to reach the summit. We are excited for your safe return to Indy. Best of Luck to all of you.

Amanda McCarthy
Indianapolis, IN

Response from David Carter:
The deaths on the north side tell is how dangerous this adventure really is. We will still be moving up the mountain, but we are being very careful. I'll buy you a beer when I get back.


At your altitude what does the sky look like? Are you anywhere high enough to above the dust-causing blue of the sky? Has the twinkling of the stars started to diminish as you get above turbulence? Good luck and "don't ever give up"!

Jack (father) & Matt (son)
Charlottesville, VA

Response from David Breashears:
It's a very deep azure blue, startlingly blue, especially when contrasted with the white peaks of Pumori and Nuptse. I went outside last night and looked; I think the stars twinkle less up here.


Dear Spin the Crash Test Dummy,

This is your mother. Is Pete treating you well? Are you eating properly? Did your chaperone, Howard Donner, inform you of the dangers of HAPE, HACE, and, especially, HAFE (of which he suffers from time to time)? Take care, Spin. Come home safely to Telluride. We miss you.

Telluride, CO

P.S. Hi Howard! xoxoxo
Response from Dr. Howard Donner:
Pete Athans reports that Spin's HAFE has been overwhelming, especially during ascent. Otherwise, he is well. The biggest problem at this point is determining a protocol for obtaining an MRI of his brain following his summit climb. Love, Howard.


To the members of the Everest Expedition team,

My question is concerning the time of year at which you are climbing. This coming Nov. I am signed up for a trek to Base Camp and to climb Kala Pattar. Last year when I signed up for the trek I had a choice of May or Nov. After doing some research Nov was my choice because it was the driest month. My question is: if there is over 100 people at Base Camp now, is there a lot more than that in Oct. and Nov.? A lot of tragedy seams to happen in April and May why did you chose this time of year and not the fall? Good Luck to all of you on your final assent. My thoughts are with you.

Jack Leary
Simsbury, CT

Response from Base Camp:
Historically, there are fewer expeditions on Everest in the fall weather window because that window is smaller and the atmospheric pressure at that time of year is lower. Heavy snowfalls also present greater avalanche danger. The spring presents the longest window of opportunity, more hours of sun each day, and generally warmer temperatures for climbing.


I am in the film business and living in Minnesota we have shot in a lot of extreme conditions. Obviously nothing comes close to the conditions on Everest. My question is how do you recharge your batteries ?? Do you bring enough to last the entire trip ? How many rolls of film do you bring up above Camp III? And, on the IMAX expedition how much footage did you actually shoot in these higher camps ? I cannot imagine reloading that camera in those conditions !!! Please comment and I wish you a safe trip and no hairs in the gate.


Response from David Breashears:
We had specially designed lithium batteries. Three of these batteries powered the camera for the entire expedition. They are disposable and non-rechargeable. In the course of the expedition we shot 120 rolls of large-format film. The real challenge of filming IMAX on Everest is that 500 feet of film only lasts 90 seconds.


It is truly fascinating being able to follow your adventure on Everest. Many thanks to PBS & NOVA for making this possible!! Can't wait to see the film next year! In an earlier e-mail one of you mentioned that Sherpas are superstitious with regards to removing bodies from Everest. Do they have any other superstitions about Everest? Are any members of the NOVA crew superstitious? (Anyone carrying a pair of lucky socks or some such oddity that they might admit to?) Hope you are warm and that you will all succeed and return safely! Good Luck!

All the best,
Sara-Jayne Parsons
Denton, TX

Response from David Breashears:
The Sherpas have many superstitions about the mountain as they revere the mountain gods that are embodied in the surrounding mountains. When they read the lama calendars, by example, they have good days for climbing and bad days for climbing. When an event happens, like when one dies on the mountain, the Sherpas look for a physical cause or natural action that could have lead to that event. To answer your other questions, none of the NOVA crew are superstitious or believe in lucky charms as we hope our own will and hard work will help us reach our goals, (knock on wood). Pete and David have incorporated Buddhist beliefs into their climbing. They throw rice when they walk around the burning chortens at Base Camp, and both have amulets that they wear that were given to them by a lama.


The psychology of a climber?

From what I read and hear, the sherpas are adapted to the altitude and seem to climb Everest with ease. Well, I know heart surgeons that do their job with ease and I simply accept that I'll never be able to do that. Why is it that climbers don't simply accept that they aren't meant for Everest and simply leave it to the sherpas. How much of that drive is EGO? How much of that drive is Adventure Quest? or are these the same? Let's face it. We presently can't swing from trees like monkeys, can't swim like fish, why is that climbing like sherpas draws us ill-equipped people to the mountain? Do the Sherpas think we are a bunch of western loonies?

PS. I'll buy some more lumber to help David and his climbers.
Andy Thomas
Indianapolis, IN

Response from David Breashears:
  1. There are many western climbers who climb nearly as quickly and nearly as strong as Sherpas. They are not a race of super humans. The Sherpas would not go into the mountains on their own. It is a job for them and climbing mountains is an idea introduced in the 50s. The Sherpas are only here on Everest because Westerners want to climb mountains.
  2. There are very few exceptional mountaineers among the Sherpas. They have very little training to make judgments about weather and avalanches, etc. They are the powerhouses able to carry loads but they generally do not have the technical expertise to pioneer hard alpine routes on their own.
  3. It is their spirit and hard work and unyielding ability to function at these altitudes that makes these big expeditions possible.


When you look out over the top of the world from the vantage point of being closer to the heavens than anyone else except astronauts how does that affect your perspective of everyday life as we know it. You are engaged in a struggle to survive while we watch from the comfort of our modern conveniences. How has this altered your views on society as a whole? Also, is it possible for amateur radio operators to contact you and what frequency are you on? Keeping you in prayer for a safe and successful journey.

Bernie David
Georgetown, TX

Response from David Breashears:
Here's our favorite quote by Rene Dumal, author of Mountain Analogue: "You have to come down from your summit, so why climb in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below. But what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees, and one descends. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by what one has learned higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least know."


It seems as though most deaths on Everest occur on the descent from the summit. Is there any particular reason why? Also, how long does it take to ascend and descend the summit from the "last camp" (Camp III?). I also appreciate the time that you men are spending to inform us of your journey. My prayers are with you!

Jeff Renison
Stockton, CA

Response from Base Camp:
Hope this doesn't disappoint you, but the 'informants' of the journey include women—the producer and associate producer of the NOVA film. As I understand it, the predominance of deaths upon return from the summit is due to the fact that this is when climbers are most tired and most often caught (after climbing for nearly 20 hours and having not slept for 48 or even 72 hours) out in the elements of a late afternoon storm or in the cold(er) hours of the night. Often the descents are made too late. After being exposed to such an oxygen-deprived environment and, for those climbing with supplemental oxygen, then running out of Os (or bottled oxygen), the body has a greater chance of just giving up at this point. The last camp (on the south side) is Camp IV and from there it takes some 15-18 hours on average to return to camp after reaching the summit. Therefore, climbers leave Camp IV at about 11 p.m., summit by mid-day and then return to Camp IV by mid to late afternoon.


Greetings Howard,

It's been a while since we've spoken. I have enjoyed your responses to the previously posted questions. Knowing how you love a challenge, my questions are: "what is the one question about altitude that has given you the most difficulty in answering? And, what steps are you taking towards figuring it out?"

Your friend,
Jimmy Rosen
Durham, NC

Response from Dr. Howard Donner:
Hey Jimmy, how's pre-med? Thanks for writing. Probably of most interest to me is the path of physiology of simple AMS, i.e. what causes the headache, anorexia, and malaise. The most lucid hypothesis is reviewed in a journal article by John Krasney entitled "A neurogenic basis for acute altitude illness" from Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 1994:26 (2) 195-208. Please give me a call when I am home (mid-June) and we can talk more about this—work needing to be done.


Hi, my name is Pam. I am from Wisconsin, and I am following the Everest climb with a friend at work. My question is: Do you feel that the loss of life is worth the experience and other data you gain from this climb? Also, is the job of climbing assistant the main means of income for the Sherpas?

Good luck and stay safe.
Pam Holewinski
Menasha, WI

Response from Pete Athans:
Our team has not sacrificed life for this data. For many Sherpas, climbing is their main means of income.


Everyone is motivated by different things and please don't interpret this in a negative way. My question is, while you are in the process of ascending the mountain and learn that other skilled climbers have just lost their lives attempting the same thing, what is going through your minds and do you have second thoughts?

Good Luck and God Be With You,
Robert Myers
Lancaster, PA

Response from Pete Athans:
We regret the loss of their lives for their families. On our part, we have no second thoughts.


Hi...I'd like to direct this question to David Breashears. This last Christmas I read an interview with Dick Bass (The Seven Summits), and he said he has plans to attempt Everest again. I was wondering if A) he has contacted you to be his guide (again), and B) whether or not it's a good idea for someone of his ability to make another attempt just to beat some age record?...It seems to me (based on his own story) he barely made it down alive, and it was only because of your experience he did so.

Thanks, and best of luck to all.
John Whalen
Sleepy Hollow, NY

Response from David Breashears:
I regularly see Dick Bass as we've been close friends since our summit of Everest in 1985. Dick has contacted me about going back to Everest. I've discouraged him from doing so. His tremendous victory of 1985 when he became the first person to climb all 7 summits should be enough. But we all need to dream, and Dick's dream of going back to Everest sustains him through difficult times as do dreams for many of us.
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