Film review: “Everest” (2015)

1280x720--njFascinating film loosely based on the disaster occurring on Everest in 1996 in which 8 climbers died in a freak storm. Several books were written about it. Jon Krakauer’s version is considered to be a masterpiece on life and death at high altitude and is mandatory general education reading.

The plot involves the trek of two coincident expeditions, costing each climber US$65,000 to attempt the feat with no guarantee of success. However, because of pressure to succeed, both trek leaders Rob Hall (New Zealand) and Scott Fischer (USA) bend their own safety rules to accept more risk in hopes of making the summit. Both sets of climbers actually reach the summit but there is a delay in descending, allowing a sudden vicious storm to move in, wiping out 8 climbers including Fischer and Hall, both of whose bodies have never been recovered from the mountain. There are said to be over 150 bodies scattered around the mountain today.

The real saga, however, consists of the story of Dr. Beck Weathers from Dallas, Texas who, left for dead on several different occasions, manages to find the strength to descend the mountain in perilous condition. He describes in detail how it felt to be dead and for what reason he felt the desultory need to move on anyway. When he finally stumbled into a lower camp, they set him in a corner of a tent to finish the dying process. But he’s alive today and his book is fascinating for his descriptions of very existential concepts involving death and survival:

The cinematography is stunning and greatly enhanced by the new 3-D process that gives splendid depth to the visual effects. Of course, the effects are a little too good, suggesting the liberal use of Computer Graphics Interface (CGI). Most of the mountain scenes were filmed on the Tyrol in the Italian Alps for safety and cost-effective ergonomics. Some scenes were filmed on Everest but in the lower altitudes. Many panoramic shots of the mountain were superimposed with actors via computer effects, especially the high altitude scenes.

“Everest” is a very tense experience, but in the end the tension dissolves into sadness amid tearful goodbyes, violent storms and frozen corpses.

I give it five of five icy eyebrows. Highly recommended by me. Warning: the ending is a four-hankie weeper.

Addendum: I can offer some perspective on this film because I was on Everest in the spring of 1983.

I came upon a private group that wanted to go to Nepal to do some serious peak ice and snow climbing with all the accouterments. So after some discussion, they agreed to take my wife and I even though we didn’t have much practical experience. They said we could learn on the job and they would look after us. I studied up on high altitude issues and brought a supply of Diamox and IV solumedrol, antibiotics, decongestants and other things.

After some acclimatization time doing lesser peaks, we crossed the Khumbu Glacier uneventfully complete with all the scary cracking of the ice. We reached Everest Base Camp at around 18,000 feet and decided to go ahead and climb up the col to South Face Base Camp I at about 20,000 feet just to see it. It was pretty arduous.

There was no point in climbing up to Base Camp II at 21,3000 feet. The route to the summit begins there. It was really more of the same and we would have to spend more time coming back. These camps are nestled between steep ridges on both sides to the only way out is the way you came in.

The Base Camp and Base Camp 1 are famously filthy dumps, with abandoned oxygen bottles and other detritus laying everywhere. It looks like a junkyard with hundreds of climbers in season milling around waiting to go their way in whatever trail. At times in the past there has actually been a “traffic jam” of climbers trying to get to the various bases. Many of the would-be summiteers were famously inexperienced as were their guides, setting situations up for disasters in the “Death Zone” (over 26,000 feet) where many of the physical laws of God and man are suspended.

We swung around to the Southeast back over the Khumbu to the other peaks in the Nuptse vicinity. It was all ice climbing with crampons and ice axes, attached to each other via ropes through pulleys.

As we climbed, I progressively felt the effects of altitude. Over 21,000 feet or so, every step was a superhuman effort and required stopping to catch your breath such as it was.  Much of this for me meant no sleep. Every time I’d doze off I started hyperventilating and work up with a start. I also developed a very irritating persistent dry cough said to be common at high altitude. Acetazolamide helped somewhat until we got over 20,000 feet. I was pretty much sleepless the rest of the time.

Some of the things I saw were so spectacular I can close my eyes and see them now and I took a lot of photos but to be truthful, I have no interest in ever doing it again. It was a good thing to do at my then age, but it was definitely a one-time thing. For the life of me, I cannot remember the formal names of any of the peaks we climbed, if they even had one.

* A YouTube montage of other photos I took in the area. This montage is high-def and so you can open it up to full screen. (60’s-era Nikon FTn).


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