New Brashears video on Everest 1996

5:38 p.m. on May 12, 2008 (EDT)
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PBS's Frontline program is running the new video by Dave Brashears on the 1996 Everest incident starting tomorrow May 13. Nominal time is 9PM Eastern. My local station KQED runs it at 10PM-midnight both on the old-school standard broadcast and HD (1080p) channels, then a half dozen repeats, including the "encore" digital channel. I haven't checked the other local PBS channels yet, but expect that KTEH will also show it. Gotta learn how to use my HD recorder, I guess (don't really watch enough to justify it, but gotta keep up with all the widgets).

Brashears is an excellent film maker and will, I'm sure, have the straight story with none of the "EXTREME! RISKY!" hype. The on-line preview and discussion on Frontline's site has a number of the central players giving interviews. It says that Brashears and crew went back in 2007 to recreate some parts.

If this starts another of the "real tv" discussions, I will ask Dave to move this thread to Off-Topic. But as long as people stick to rational discussion. I will vote to have it stay here. So none of the "what idiots to climb such a dangerous mountain" stuff, ok?

9:21 a.m. on May 14, 2008 (EDT)
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Nicely done film, as one would expect from Breshears, presenting the facts with little or no moralizing or opinions from "experts" and leaving the viewers to draw their own conclusions.

9:53 a.m. on May 14, 2008 (EDT)
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I just watched it.I thought it was very well done. Seemed nice to watch something real,very moving. Sure beats all this so called reality TV.

9:59 a.m. on May 14, 2008 (EDT)
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For those of us who missed it last night, you can watch the full program online at:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/everest/

10:47 a.m. on May 14, 2008 (EDT)
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Thanks for the link. True to form I had great intentions to watch the program, got busy in the evening with the kids and the daily routine ("Your foot may indeed hurt but you still have to practice the piano"), and completely forgot about the show until reading today's post.

1:23 p.m. on May 14, 2008 (EDT)
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I had a meeting last night, but it started at 10PM here. So I got to watch it, and on a big screen in HD (well, not like the IMAX Everest film that Brashears did some years ago, or like the latest greatest giant flat panel TVs, but my neighbor has a pretty big screen). Doubled my weekly viewing time and got to bed way after my normal sleepytime.

As others said above, top quality, very well done, just what you expect from Brashears.

2:56 p.m. on May 14, 2008 (EDT)
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I saw it as well. The re-creations were well done and the combination of archival footage blended in very well. I had read a lot about this climb, but haven't read Krakauer's book.

I think the fact that Brashears knew many of the people involved made a difference in how he approached the film. The ten year time span no doubt gave everyone plenty of time to reflect on what happened and why.

Beck Weathers's comment on how some people were selfless and others were not was a bit off-putting. His "you know who you are" attitude bothered me.

I've never been in anything like that situation, so it would certainly not be my place to judge what anyone did, except to say that some of those people probably should have realized that summiting was beyond their capabilities and accepted that. If they had done so, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

I also don't understand why the team leaders seemed to let the clients make some critical decisions about whether to turn back or not. Unfortunately, they aren't around to ask about it.

3:37 p.m. on May 14, 2008 (EDT)
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Tom,

What are the qualifications someone must have to be an Everest "client"? Is it just $$$, or do you have to be in excellent physical shape, etc.?

Just curious.

3:54 p.m. on May 14, 2008 (EDT)
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It seems pretty clear that some people were more selfless than others; that happens in every situation. Thus, I was not put off by Weathers' comments--if I were in his position I might be less restrained in my comments, given the events he described. Of course, I realize that there are usually more than two sides to every story, and this one looks spherical to me.

5:22 p.m. on May 14, 2008 (EDT)
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Good question, Tbastress. I really don't know. I don't think guides will take just anyone-you have to have some climbing credentials, I believe. You also need a lot of money, but that can't possibly be the only factor. I bet if you look at some of the guide sites, they will have some criteria posted for various climbs.

If you read any of the books by Ed Viesturs, Rheinhold Messner or other famous climbers, you see that they learned by doing for the most part, climbing with other more experienced climbers and eventually climbing the most challenging routes and mountains. You also find out that virtually all of them either lost teammates on a climb or at the very least, knew someone who was killed climbing-usually more than one.

7:12 p.m. on May 14, 2008 (EDT)
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Tbastress -
Having friends who run commercial guide services or are professional guides, and having been on a couple expeditions where we had to use commercial guide services myself and having been assistant guide on a couple, I can answer that in part.

The guide services offer everything from raw beginner (never camped, never hiked more than from the car into the fast food place) to experienced and expert. For the less experienced, they offer training courses. They send you a questionnaire asking about everything from your health to your training regimen to your outdoor skills and climbing resume. To keep those who embellish their credentials to a minimum, they will often ask for some sort of proof. Based on that information, they will suggest a series of trips with their organization (in Europe, if you show up at the guides' office and say "take me up the Matterhorn", they will make you go up a couple of other easier climbs with the guide to see how you do). For example, if you want to do Mt Rainier, all the current vendors with permits will want you to do a 2 or 3 day training course to be sure you know how to self arrest and participate in crevasse rescues.

For Everest, usually they want you to do things like Rainier in winter (to learn how to deal with storms) and one or two of the other 7 Summits. The thing is, they want their people to come back alive and unharmed, even more than the clients. So they want a certain, verifiable minimum skill level.

Having said that, I have been surprised at how minimal the minimum skill and experience level is. Several friends who guide on Everest and others of the 7 Summits have told me horror stories about clients who had more money than experience or skills and had summit fever from Day 1.

There is a wide range of prices for Everest, with the north side (Tibet) being much cheaper than the south (Nepal). I know of people who have managed to do Everest as clients, despite having incomes below the average US salary. They saved for several years, but if you want to do it, money is the least of your problems. Getting your skills to the level of safety is much harder.

9:49 p.m. on May 14, 2008 (EDT)
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Thanks for the info. I saw on one guide web site recently that a fully-guided ascent up Everest was $70K.

What kind of physical condition does one have to be in to do these things successfully? If I'm a marathon runner in my 30s, do I pass the physical requirements? Some of the people on the PBS documentary looked to be in their mid-to-late 40s.

11:02 p.m. on May 14, 2008 (EDT)
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And that tbastress is the answer. Too many people with too much money who want to have that trophy on the wall of having been on the Everest. There must be deaths.

Having all kind of equipment is not the same as understanding how and when to use it. Last year we had an accident here in the mountains where one young italian man died, the other barely survived a strong snow storm. They were found in a hut by one jogging-friend of my wife as she came there for a wisit, and stumbled upon a dead body in the entrance.

In the same storm some norwegians also had trouble another place. But they reacted sensibly, and were just delayed by one day in their tour. Both groups had good winter gear, the italians did not know how to use it, and how to survive in a snow storm.

Wery interesting film by the way. May I spread the link to a norwegian forum for mountain walking?

2:23 a.m. on May 16, 2008 (EDT)
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Otto, the link is to PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service-the closest we have to non-profit, semi-government sponsored television. You can find all kinds of interesting programming on their website that you can view over the Internet.

Your point about gear and experience is well taken. Unfortunately we usually see a few accidents here (USA) each year where someone has the gear, but not the knowledge about when or how to use it. One I recall reading about, two years ago I believe, was on Mt. Rainier in Washington. Two hikers died in a whiteout snowstorm sitting next to backpacks full of all the gear that could have saved them-clothes, stove, tent, bags-had they deployed their gear before they got so cold they couldn't think straight.

9:56 a.m. on May 16, 2008 (EDT)
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The Science Museum in St. Paul added the Imax Everest film as a double feature with the Alps movie that is currently showing. I've got until mid June to get there, definately a must see. I still need to make time to see the Frontline piece.

2:14 p.m. on May 16, 2008 (EDT)
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National Geographic is going to run a show on their channel (next week I believe) about Lincoln Hall, the guy who was left for dead on his way down from the summit in 2006 and was found alive sitting on a ledge at around 27K by a team coming up the next day. Nightline did an interview with him and showed clips from the show last night. It looks like it was done in the style of Brashear's show-real footage, interviews and re-creations.

5:37 p.m. on May 17, 2008 (EDT)
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I must say, that documentary was amazing to me. I did read the book "In to thin air" about this climb. I am that guy who has little experience. I just hiked my first mountain last week (Mt. Mitchell -black mountain campground trail) to get started. I figure I have about 15 years left of climbing with difficulty increasing. I am 34. I liked the feeling of pushing my body to the limits that day. I know next time will be scores easier, but I am no where near being able to climb even a 14'er. I must also add in closing that even though nothing can immitate real world on the big screen, the big screen can motivate me to experience adventures. Thanks to all the shows that have got me off my treadmill in to my path to my limits...

2:10 a.m. on May 19, 2008 (EDT)
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I watched the program. I was wondering how come so many all at once? When they all got bottled up near the summit it sounded like it really slowed things down. I enjoyed the show and PBS

11:38 a.m. on May 19, 2008 (EDT)
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NewHiker -
The bottleneck is a combination of the Hillary Step and the ridge just above the South Summit. It is difficult to pass another climber in either direction there. There are several things to manipulate at the same time - you have to move through a very narrow area, trying to use the same footsteps in the snow that others used, and you have to transfer your safety line around the climber you are passing. Some of the climbers are very slow, due to tiredness, lack of oxygen, and just plain lack of skill. It is the same with any waiting line/queue or like a narrow hallway that has crowds going in both directions. If you had only one or two parties on the route, the delay would be fairly insignificant. But when you are trying to run a half-dozen teams of up to 10 people through the funnel, you can have delays of literally hours. If someone gets so exhausted they just sit down in place or if they don't have the strength or skill to get up the 20 or 30 feet of the Hillary step, there is almost no way to get around them. The only way around it would be to limit the number on the last section to, say, 10 people on a given day. There is a similar choke point on the North Ridge at the Second Step.

I have been on mountains with crowds trying to get through choke points, none with the time criticality and most with ways to pass, given sufficient skill - several popular routes in the Alps (Hornli Ridge on the Matterhorn, for example, or even some via ferratas in the Dolomites), the cables on Half Dome on a summer day, the officially permitted route on Ayers Rock, the headwall above the 14k camp and the passage of Washburn's Thumb on Denali's West Buttress, and others. If you look at the photos of Half Dome's cables taken on summer days, you see people crowded against each other for close to 1000 feet of the cables. A skilled climber with rock shoes can readily walk around the crowds by stepping outside the cables, and can be safe by clipping a safety line to the cable on whichever side. But this can tempt unskilled hikers to try the same thing with inadequate footgear and no safety line. At the choke points on Everest, you don't have that much space off the fixed lines and packed path.

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