For the past two years, as the stream of books (including Jon
Krakauer's memorable best-seller Into Thin Air) and TV shows
about the May 1996 disaster on Mount Everest--in which eight
climbers died in a horrific storm--has become a torrent, people
who climb nothing higher than barstools have once again been
contemplating the psyches of mountaineers and wondering, What
the hell are you guys thinking?
This is an article from the March 16, 1998 issue
Now they have an answer. This stunning 45-minute documentary
demonstrates the powerful allure of a mountain so immense that
Sherpas call it Sagarmatha--Mother Goddess of the Earth.
Director David Breashears and his crew of hypoxic filmmakers
lugged a 25-pound, large-format IMAX movie camera to the
29,028-foot summit of Everest. They returned with images that
capture, better than any still photography or video yet, the
overwhelming scale and indescribable beauty of the Himalayas.
Everest chronicles the efforts of a world-class team of
climbers, one of 15 groups attempting to scale the peak during
that tragic time in the spring of 1996. Three members of the
team are the focus of the film: leader Ed Viesturs, a veteran of
four Everest expeditions; Araceli Segarra, who is trying to
become the first Spanish woman to conquer the mountain; and
Jamling Tenzing Norgay, climbing to honor his father, Tenzing
Norgay, who made the first ascent of Everest, with Sir Edmund
Hillary in '53.
The now notorious storm hit during the group's ascent, and
Breashears's footage depicts the terrifying whiteout and
hurricane-force winds that accompanied the alpine tempest;
visibility is reduced to the length of an arm, and the sound of
tents snapping in the gale is agonizing. Everest recounts the
slow death of Viesturs's friend Rob Hall, a guide for another
climbing party, caught in the storm near the summit, as well as
the astounding rescue of a frostbitten climber who had been
given up for dead. In emotional footage Viesturs and his
climbers talk about the effect that Hall's death had on their
efforts and of their subsequent decision to press on to the
Ultimately, though, this isn't a story about the storm or death.
It's about the triumph of three amazing athletes. Everest
audiences are more likely to remember the cobalt blue of the
Himalayan sky, the shifting ice castles of the Khumbu Glacier
and the touching summit offering Tenzing leaves to the Mother
Goddess of the Earth. When they do, they'll have their answer
about why climbers head to the mountains.