Remembering the Everest Disaster
May 10, 2001
This is the anniversary of the worst-ever climbing disaster on Mount
Everest. On May 10th, 1996, a sudden storm engulfed climbers in snow and wind as
they descended from the summit. Eight died, and the story has haunted climbing ever
Filmmaker and mountaineer David Breashears was on
Everest during the disaster. He was making an Everest
movie in big-screen IMAX, a project he abandoned
temporarily to help lead the rescue of survivors.
Last month, he returned to the Himalayas on a pilgrimage to
revisit parts of the mountain -- and the past. Alone on a
10-day trek, he carried a recorder and microphone for our
National Geographic Radio Expeditions
, making field
notes and observations as he drew closer to Everest and the
lessons of what happened there.
is presenting a two part compilation of David's journey, including a
moving meditation of the death of his friend, the New Zealand guide Rob Hall.
I want to reacquaint myself with the sights and smells and sounds of
the place and try to better understand what was gained and what was
lost during those difficult days in May. And also to see the familiar
faces of old friends along the way.
It's early in the morning at Thyangboche Monastery at 13,000 feet. I
arrived here too late in the evening last night to wander out this ridge.
It' a beautiful place, and it's a beautiful morning. About three inches of
snow fell overnight, so all the peaks above us are covered with a
frosting of snow.
I'm walking out here to a secluded little place, which I always try to
visit. Not many people know about this place. Back here in the
rhododendrons, in the juniper trees, on the side of the ridge, are
memorials to members of the 1963 American Mt. Everest Expedition.
Thatís Everest: different moods, different weather; a very forgiving
place at times, an utterly unforgiving place; a place where you canít
make a mistake, a place where you can, sometimes, make a mistake
and live to tell about it, to talk about it.
I have no doubt that Rob could have saved his own life that night. He
was an immensely experienced Himalayan climber; he was a talented
and competent guide. But I just donít think he could bring himself to
do it. At his urging, and under his leadership, Doug had been allowed
to climb too late in the day. And Robís final responsibility on that
mountain was to look after Doug.
And I know - know in my heart that there was a time, for a moment,
when Rob knew Doug was finished, that he would never get him down
that mountain. But Doug was probably still conscious, and able to talk
to Rob, maybe even pleading to be not left behind. And that would
have been impossible for Rob to do, to leave Doug behind while there
was still one breath of life in him.