Armchair Everest Can't be there? Films, books and websites help capture peak experiences

April 14, 2003
April 14, 2003

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April 14, 2003

Armchair Everest Can't be there? Films, books and websites help capture peak experiences

People don't climb Everest, it seems, without a film crew
accompanying them on the way up or a book agent greeting them on
the way down. Of course, not every expedition yields a
blockbuster like Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air or David
Breashears's IMAX film Everest. It's likely that more people have
made it to the top of Everest than to the end of the many
ponderous tomes and films on the subject. The best of the lot,
though, capture the exhilaration of being on the top of the
world. Here are our favorites.

This is an article from the April 14, 2003 issue

Several Everest documentaries are built around firsts--the first
to ascend a particular route, for example, or make the climb
without supplemental oxygen--but for sheer audacity it's hard to
top the feat captured in this Oscar-winning 1975 film, a lost
classic you'll have to scrounge for on eBay. Give Yuichiro Miura
credit not only for climbing and, yes, skiing down from the
South Col, a 7,000-foot run (followed by a 1,300-foot free fall
into a snow patch), but also for presaging the extreme-sports
movement by a couple of decades. And Miura isn't done yet: To
mark the 50th anniversary of the first successful climb of
Everest, he is, at age 70, attempting another climb. If he makes
it, he will be the oldest person to reach the summit. This time,
though, he plans a more conventional descent.

You'll never find a climbing team with a better pedigree: Peter
Hillary (Sir Edmund's son), Jamling Tenzing Norgay (Tenzing's
son) and Brent Bishop (son of Barry Bishop, who in 1963 was part
of the first U.S. expedition to reach the summit). This National
Geographic Channel special intersperses footage of this
mountaineering dream team's 2002 climb with accounts of other
historic Everest expeditions. (Premieres April 27.)

EVEREST: THE WEST RIDGE by Thomas F. Hornbein
Hornbein is a mountaineer, but his story is accessible for
readers whose most challenging climbs are out of their
Barcaloungers. He can be riveting ("Imagine the horror," he
writes of a misadventure halfway up the mountain, "of suddenly
waking to find your tent sliding across the snow, accelerating
in a headlong journey toward Tibet"), but he allows himself to
wax poetic when the moment demands. His description of the
summit: "Just rock, a dome of snow, the deep blue sky, and a
hunk of orange-painted metal from which a shredded American flag
cracked in the wind. Nothing more. Except two tiny figures
walking these last few feet to the top of the Earth."

SEVEN SUMMITS by Dick Bass and Frank Wells, with Rick Ridgeway
This is the tale of two men who set out to climb the highest peak
on each of the seven continents, but half the book is devoted to
their repeated attempts to get up the world's highest mountain.
Frank Wells was a studio head and Dick Bass a millionaire
businessman; the story of the moguls on the mountain, though, is
told in a charmingly straightforward manner. Here's the
description of Bass, reaching Everest's peak in 1985: "He hummed
in his mind the Colonel Bogey march from Bridge on the River
Kwai. He straightened up, squared his shoulders, he was finishing
in style, with class."

The disastrous 1996 climbing season was documented most
popularly in Krakauer's book and Breashears's film (available on
DVD and VHS), but several other books give accounts of those
treacherous days. Dickinson is an Everest Everyman--a relatively
inexperienced climber hired by an expedition to make a film
about British actor Brian Blessed, who was attempting the climb.
"I was well out of my depth on Everest, and I am the first to
admit it," Dickinson says. When Blessed quits partway up,
Dickinson and the crew finish the climb (carrying a scarf of the
actor's with symbolic importance). In a way, it's the perfect
modern Everest saga: The first climbers challenged Everest
because the mountain was there; Dickinson did it because a
camera was there.

Don't want to wait until the book or the movie comes out? You can
boot up and follow the action on the Web. offers
regular reports from expeditions. Here are four to follow this

THE KID Ben Clark, a 23-year-old climbing guide, attempts to
become the youngest American to reach the summit.

THE FIREFIGHTER Thirty-five-year-old Glenn Edwards of Markham,
Ont., is going for the glamour of being the first Canadian to
reach the top without supplemental oxygen.

THE ONE-ARMED MAN Gary Guller (right), who lost his left arm in a
mountaineering accident, leads a team of nine climbers with

POWDER HOUNDS A team of seven Americans will climb the North
Ridge without supplemental oxygen or porters and then ski down.

--Bill Syken