PBS Frontline: 'Storm Over Everest'

David Breashears
Wednesday, May 14, 2008; 11:00 AM

Mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears was online Wednesday, May 14 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss his film "Storm Over Everest," which recounts a stormy 1996 expedition to the summit of Mount Everest that left five dead, and returns to the mountain in 2004 for reflect on the fight for survival.

"Storm Over Everest" will air Tuesday, May 13 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

The transcript follows.

Breashears' filmmaking credits also include producer, director and director of photography for the IMAX film "Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa"; director of photography for "Seven Years in Tibet"; co-producer, co-director, director of photography and expedition leader for the IMAX film "Everest"; and and cameraman, climbing consultant and adviser to "Cliffhanger." In 1983, Breashears transmitted the first live television pictures from the summit of Mount Everest, and in 1985 he became the first American to reach the summit of Everest twice.


Jamestown, N.C.: Your compassion and understanding for the climbing fraternity was brilliantly displayed in the film ... thank you for avoiding the negative "who's at fault" issue. Focusing on the "guts" of the survivors was compelling. Question ... what are your plans for any more of this type of film in the near future?

David Breashears: I plan to take a breather from climbing and concentrate on films about mountain cultures and human rights issues.


Syracuse, N.Y.: Your film so clearly helps people to visualize the conditions, both natural and human, that were described in the book "Into Thin Air." The obvious question is, why doesn't Jon Krakauer appear in your film. He is clearly referenced while at the same time being carefully avoided. Is it because of his antagonistic references to Anatoli?

David Breashears: Jon was not in the storm -- he was in his tent before the storm hit. He and I talked a lot about the film, as we know each other well. He was a great resource, but he has told his story, and very well.


Chicago: How could a cyclone from the Bay of Bengal "sneak up" on these teams with their support? A 1 p.m. curfew for the summit seems like it was more a suggestion than a rule, especially with Doug's history.

David Breashears: There was no accurate weather forecast back then. The weather normally comes from west; the bad weather came from the southeast, as we have just seen in Myanmar.

Yes, it was a suggestion. Obviously weather conditions, climbing rates and the condition of the climbers needs to be taken into consideration


Leesburg, Va.: Hi David. I'm submitting this before having seen the broadcast, so my apologizes if it was answered in the film. As a long-time climber, but not a high-altitude mountaineer, I have a real fascination with the big Himalayan peaks. It seems from what I've read recently that many of the issues that caused problems in 1996 have if anything become more pronounced. More and less-experienced climbers on the mountain, unqualified guides, and many people there motivated only by the opportunity for profit. Did you find that to be the case on your return to the mountain in 2004, and can you comment on it in general?

David Breashears: Each year there are many experienced climber on the mountains and highly skilled guides as well, but also the experienced teams, clients and guides.

It can be a big mess, but the best lead teams always will do the best -- especially if the are willing and have the "authority" to turn around clients who should be going down and not up.


Cincinnati: This documentary was incredible. I have a renewed respect for mountain climbers and guides the world over. Is the soundtrack available?

David Breashears: Everyone visit the film's Web site for more information. It's a stunning Web site with more interviews routes guides and photos


Pacific Northwest: Are there any estimates on how many climbers have died trying to climb Everest? Have all or most of the bodies been recovered? Thanks.

David Breashears: Yes, it's in the hundreds, and many of the bodies are still there. Scott and Rob still lie where they died.


New York: Has there been any improvement in climbers' equipment to battle frostbite since this event?

David Breashears: No improvement. The equipment isn't the problem, it's how one looks after oneself on a big mountain. In those conditions frostbite cannot be avoided, especially in a hypoxic, exhausted, dehydrated and mildly hypothermic state.


Seattle: David, is there any way to contact you offline? Doug was my father-in-law, and there are questions that you may be able to help answer, or where you can point us in the right direction.

David Breashears: Contact Frontline at 617-300-2000 and they will direct you to me. This is for only. I will be pleased to talk with you


Jamestown, N.C.: You say Scott and Rob still lay where they died ... where exactly is that? I thought they were in a heavily traveled area that would require moving the bodies to another location.

David Breashears: This is very clearly marked on the fantastic Web site. It's the best and most comprehensive Everest Web site I've ever seen.


London: Your film captures an important record of this historic event. Can you comment more on the local legends about what happened that year, and about current local attitudes toward the "Everest industry"?

David Breashears: Hard to answer briefly in a chat forum, but a very good question. More of my thoughts are at the Web site. To everyone: Many answers to your important and thoughtful questions will be found there. This is very exciting but I can't type very fast.


Waterloo, Iowa: In your memoir you mentioned doing some filming on Everest for a producer (I'm sorry I don't recall his name), possibly for a future movie about the 1996 disaster. Have there been any developments on that project?

David Breashears: Universal has a project in active development; in fact they helped fund Storm Over Everest


Bethlehem, Pa.: Hi David. At what point did your perspective on Makalu Gau's experience change? Did you spend a number of years thinking that he'd blindly gone up the mountain despite his lack of experience?

David Breashears: It changed when I sat in front of him with an camera and listened to his story for five hours.

He is a man of great dignity. I'm ashamed of how wrong my thoughts about him were. This was covered in depth in my interview on "Talk of the Nation" on NPR on May 12.


Columbus, Ohio: Wrapped up in the best modern clothing, do you actually feel the cold when you pause, or when you summit?

David Breashears: Always when paused, which filmmakers do too much of.

But for me the big problem with Everest is the heat on cloudless, windless days


Beaufort, N.C.: Beck Weathers often talks in interviews about how some people acted honorably and some dishonorably on the mountain, yet nothing more ever is spoken about it publicly. I really was hoping that Frontline, given its nature, would focus more on this relatively untold aspect of the story and dig deeper into why people did or didn't help those that were stranded. Perhaps this is the real reason why Krakauer wasn't in the film, as not being in the storm didn't exclude Helen from being in the film.

David Breashears: Helen was an important storyteller because she was in contact with Rob and could show us what is was like at Base Camp. Cotter wasn't in the storm either, but his testimony is vital.

It's unfair to think that Krakauer or anybody else viewed this incident through the a perfect prism. The climbers all said that controversy was manufactured by the media. They had very few critical things to say about their companions.

They only have themselves to blame. Each could have turned around of their own volition, as did Lou, Stuart and John Taske. To think otherwise to take away the concept of free will. No one forced them up that mountain


Columbus, Ohio: What difference has climbing Everest made in your life? Has it given you a true sense of who you are? Has it made you more self-reliant in everyday life? Does it affect your everyday life, or do you keep the experiences on the mountain in a box, the way many World War II veterans have?

David Breashears: We all have our boxes.

Everest, mountains and rocking-climbing gave a skinny, awkward boy a place to feel a part of something important and a way to define himself and find the confidence that comes from being good at something.

I was ill-suited for team sports mentally and physically, unless of course someone was needed to fetch the ball.

Thank goodness for climbing and the mountains, and a mother who let me follow that path.


Braintree, Mass.: Hi David. My name is Leo and I am 7 years old. Can you touch the stars on top of the mountain? Thank you. I liked your movie, it was cool and sad.

David Breashears: Thanks, Leo. You can't touch the stars, but it sure feels like they are within grasp.

The air is so clear and cold high on Everest that the stars and the Moon brighten the white snow of the mountain's slopes. Some night we can climb without our headlamps.


Columbus, Ohio: You would be in a unique position to document how the passion for climbing Everest has changed the culture of Nepal and affected the Sherpas' lives. Any intent to go in that direction?

David Breashears: Many have done that quite well. Just Google "Sherpa culture and the West" or something like that and you'll find many choices


Elkhorn, Wis.: Several times during the film the comment was made that this tragedy change attitudes about Everest. How so?

David Breashears: People are more cynical, more prone to judge and more aware of what going on on the mountain.


Lansing, Mich.: Why are the "bodies" left up on the mountain?

David Breashears: It's too hard and too dangerous to bring them down. Why risk the living to bring down the dead?

But I wouldn't want to be left up there.


Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.: Thank you very much for making this film. I have a much better understanding now of why people attempt the ascent of Everest. Could you say a bit more about how the re-enactment scenes were produced? How close are they to the real circumstances? Also, what are the personal responsibilities of climbers when attempting such a challenging expedition? Again, thank you for making such a beautiful and moving film.

David Breashears: It's all on the Web site, with nice picture too.


Washington: It was a very powerful film and gave a great feeling of what it was like to be on the mountain at the time. However, I wonder if you could now give us your take on what lessons you take away from it. Was this just the (bad) luck of the draw? Does it show that putting too many people on Everest is a sure recipe for tragedy? Should climbing be limited to true experts?

David Breashears: The tug of Everest is strong and I guess it always will be. There are many steps that could be taken but the real problem is ambition that is not matched by experience.

Remember what Alexander Pope wrote: "A little learning is a dangerous thing."


Washington: I recorded the show and have watched half of it so far. It's riveting. When was the video of Everest shot? Was it taken by the original IMAX crew in 1996, or is it more recent footage? I can't wait to watch the end of it. As always, Frontline is amazing.

David Breashears: In 2004 with 35 millimeter film. The Web site tells this story. No footage from the IMAX film in 1996 was used.


Denver: What are the general "agreements" or expectations that guides and clients have in terms of rescues? For example, is the expectation generally that others should risk their own lives to save yours, should you need saving?

David Breashears: That's a very important question. The critical point is how much do you put yourself at risk by aiding a stricken climber whether they are on your team or not.

What are our moral obligations? Of course one should always offer assistance when there is little risk in doing so.

But stricken climbers are more often passed by people on the way to summit, so assisting the climber would be an extreme inconvenience. One would have to give up their summit ascent, and they should. Otherwise where has one's humanity gone. It's only a mountain.


Newton Centre, Mass.: Hi David Breashears. Have you ever climbed at Carderock outside Washington, or at Seneca Rocks in West Virginia? Thanks for the books and movies.

David Breashears: Unfortunately no.


Greenbelt, Md.: I wonder about to what extent you can discuss missed opportunities, poor choices, or those who may be at fault for their individual choices ... especially in such a personal drama. I'm sure there were some interviewed who felt that some team members were to blame. Were you able to touch on any of this, or is it best to leave it alone?

David Breashears: Answered earlier, but we didn't get into the finger-pointing. The climbers realized that they got themselves into a dire situation and they should get themselves out of it.

Climbing Everest can be a very high stakes game. Go there with experience and fortitude.


Maple Ridge, B.C.: Give me a sense of spending two nights at the height Rob was at. Most of us couldn't survive one night, yet Rob was still communicating on the second night. Was he superhuman?

David Breashears: His last call was in the late afternoon. He was a strong resourceful climber. It was astonishing that he lived as long as he did.


Detroit: At what point (if ever) do you think the interest in Everest will wane for armchair mountain climbers? Also, I am big fan of your work and truly enjoyed your most recent project.

David Breashears: Thank you.

Perhaps never -- 500 climbers reached the summit last spring. Everest has become a very popular place and aspiration. But the romance and adventure are still there for many.


Atlanta: Where were Pete Athans and Todd Burleson during the storm? Camp three? I know they really helped Beck, but their clients came out with all their fingers and toes. Why were they in such good shape comparatively? In a separate question, how long would it have taken a powerful climber to reach Scott while breathing bottled oxygen at four liters per minute?

David Breashears: Pete Athans and Todd climbed up from Camp III to the South Col. They worked very hard in difficult condition in providing much-needed assistance to the storm survivors. It was Pete and Todd who brought Beck down to The Yellow Band at 25,000 feet.


Seattle: You stated earlier, that each climber could have turned around at any point. However, could the guides have done more to get people to turn around earlier -- especially given the fact that several of these climbers were very not experienced and they agreed to take them up the mountain? Shouldn't the guides, with all their experience, have realized that they could be in trouble if people were summiting so late, and shouldn't they have done everything in their power to get people to turn around?

David Breashears: I wasn't there looking into the faces of the climbers, so I don't know their conditions. Obviously the guides didn't want or expect the eventual outcome.

I never considered that the teams were out too late, only Robd and Doug, who were far too late. I reached the summit of Everest at 4 p.m. on May 7, 1983, and wasn't too concerned.

We thought it was ridiculous to climb through the night with a headlamp. It wasn't done that way back then. We left at dawn.

The storm can at a very vulnerable time for the climbers and guides, and hindsight is 20/20.


Chicago: Where were you during the storm? Did you go down before it hit?

David Breashears: Camp II. There's more at the Web site.


Toronto: Mr. Breashears, I was surprised that no mention was made of Weathers's helicopter medevac. I understand that flying at that altitude is quite a feat.

David Breashears: That's another story, and would give the film a double ending.

Beck was already safe, and he could have gotten through the Ice Fall, albeit very slowly.


Portland, Ore.: Do you think the greater scrutiny of climbers on Everest has changed their behavior? Are they more likely to give assistance to stricken climbers?

David Breashears: Nothing has changed. But please remember that seasoned Everest guides like Dave Hahn, Jim Williams and Dan Mazur have given up their ascents and performed extraordinary rescues on Everest above 27,000 feet. We just don't hear these stories -- we only hear about the negative ones, which reminds me a lot of the media storm in 1996.


Houston: The Sherpa with Scott Fischer -- what happened to him? Did all the Sherpas make it down? For some reason I'm thinking that they seem to make the most objective decisions about whether someone can be rescued. Is this correct?

David Breashears: Lobsang made it down to the high camp, but sadly he died in the fall of 1996 in an avalanche while climbing on Everest.


Binghamton, N.Y.: Were Beck and Makalu Gau the only survivors to have severe frostbite and loss of appendages? Great, great show.

David Breashears: Yes, the other frostbite injuries were superficial in comparison. Thank you.


Studio City, Calif.: Hi David, thank you for this magnificent film. I've also just seen your IMAX film as well, which is also great. I was just wondering whether this tragedy of 1996 still haunts you, or whether making this film helped get it out of your system? And now a journalist-type question -- were there any conditions on the participation of Sandy Hill and others (as in, only if Jon Krakauer didn't)? Thanks for considering my question.

David Breashears: Thank you for the kind words. No, it doesn't haunt me. Ed Viesturs climbed Everest again in 1997, which helped considerably in dealing with our sadness.

There were no conditions -- one cannot make a proper documentary if conditions are requested and accepted. I took time to explain to each climber the film I intended to make. They then could decide to talk or not to talk -- it was up to them.


Renton, Wash.: Your portrayal of Doug Hansen as inexperienced is completely without merit. Yes, he made his living as a postal employee (much like you make yours as a filmmaker). His passion, however, was mountain climbing. He had summited five of the "seven summits" -- Everest was to be his sixth -- and many other challenging peaks. The year before, at the South Summit, Rob's team (including Doug) was delayed by the fact that the fixed ropes had not been set in advance (or had come loose). At that time, Doug had said that was it -- his one and only shot, and he had given it his best effort. (Can you back up your claim that Doug collapsed on that trip, and had to be assisted down?)

Rob called Doug that next fall, and offered another trip, and urged Doug to return. Doug declined. Rob offered to waive his fee, and promised to get Doug to the top. The fact that the fee was waived, and that Rob had convinced Doug that he could get them to the summit convinced Doug to give it one more try. Perhaps that explains why Rob broke his own rule regarding the strict turn-around time.

David Breashears: Sorry I never finished that comment, as I pushed the wrong button.

As I mentioned, both Ed Viesturs and Guy Cotter carefully and thoughtfully explained Doug's collapse on the South Summit in 1995. I trust them because they are close friends who have no bone to pick with Doug.

We are not trying to blame Doug. It's terrible that he died. But it's clear to all that met him on that trip that he had too much "invested" in reaching the summit.

Why Rod didn't turn around is something that confounds and perplexes many of us. But Doug could have made the call on his own. The storm didn't "kill" Doug, climbing so late into the day did.

I'm sorry for your loss.


Raleigh, N.C.: I watched much of your film on Frontline. However, I was confused about one thing -- was all of the film footage actually shot on site during the storm? It looked very realistic, but doesn't seem possible given the conditions. If not, how did you re-enact the scenes?

David Breashears: We are proud of our re-enactments, as we never had done one before. Go to the Web site and learn more about how we did it. It was our goal to make the storm as authentic as possible -- but we did it in the safety of a parking lot at the Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah!


Richmond, Va.: How strong is the competition between tour guides to have the most summits?

David Breashears: Don't know.


Granite Bay, Calif.: I saw Dick Bass mentioned in the credits. He's an amazing guy and wants to make another attempt on Everest. What was his contribution to this stunning documentary?

David Breashears: We used his Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah to film the recreations. Dick and I climbed Everest in 1985 and have been close friends ever since.


East Longmeadow, Mass.: Would you recommend the traditional route up the south side of Everest versus the north side for a first attempt, in terms of technical and physical demand?

David Breashears: Yes, the tradition route. But mostly because you walk to Base Camp instead of driving, and along the way you get pass through the Khumbu region, the homeland of the Sherpas.


Richmond, Va.: I would love to see some attention to the state of the natural environment and pollution and littering around Everest. That's what blew my mind -- to see the landscape scattered with discarded tanks.

David Breashears: A lot of people are paying a lot of attention to this problem.


Voorhees, N.J.: What are Rob Hall's wife's thoughts of the events leading up to her husband death?

David Breashears: Don't know.


Voorhees, N.J.: What was Anatoli like? He comes up as sort of arrogant and self-serving, but if not for him, many more would have perished that night

David Breashears: Didn't know him well, but he was a very strong and experienced mountaineer. One of the strongest on the mountain that year


Jamestown, N.C.: Why was there no interview of Tim Madsen? If he declined to be interviewed, can you offer your opinion as to why?

David Breashears: When we were in Aspen to interview Neal and Charlotte, Tim -- who lives there -- was busy getting ready to get married.

After looking at all our interviews we realized that it would be hard to include another character. The film has a lot of talking heads as it is.


Gainesville, Fla.: David, thank you for making a visually stunning film with such empathy and respect for those who endured those terrible days and nights. Besides stopping at the established turnaround time, in hindsight, is there any one thing that those climbers or guides could have done differently to change the outcome?

David Breashears: Doug and Rob climbed too late.

The mountain is mighty and we are fragile, and it's also unpredictable. Let's not forget that.


Rochester, N.Y.: The PBS program on the 1996 Everest Expedition was powerful. I climbed quite a bit when was I was younger and experienced (in a small, small, small way) some of the risks, pain and excitement of scaling a mountain. Despite climbing in the Adirondacks, Rockies and throughout Canada, I still cannot come close to imagine what these individuals were able to tolerate. I have one disappointment about the PBS Web site -- there are no tributes to or photos of the climbers who perished. It would have been a kind gesture if we readers were able to place a face to a name like Rob, Doug and Scott.

David Breashears: Good point, I'll mention it. We tried that technique at the end of the film, but it didn't work. Also, remember we need the permission of families and access to photos to do that sort of thing.


Belmont, Mass.: I don't know what to make of the difficulty of climbing Everest. I heard that just a few days ago the Olympic torch was carried to the top, and that heavy motion picture cameras routinely are carried up. My question is, just how difficult is it to get to the top for a person in decent shape?

David Breashears: The torch was taken up by very strong and experienced Chinese and Tibetan climbing team

On Everest you need to keep your health and acclimatize well to reach the summit. Conditioning is the easy part -- if you can run ten miles, you're fine. It's experience in wind, cold and thin air that you need. Get that and you'll be fine.


Afton, Minn.: I am not attracted at all to mountain climbing; I would be too scared to do this, and I don't think I have the fire in the belly to reach the summit no matter what. Would these qualities actually make me a decent climber? Is fear a necessary part of the landscape? I don't mean respect, I mean fear. And what are you afraid of?

David Breashears: Fear it not necessary. A healthy respect for the mountain's dangers is.

What you also need is a strong desire to stand on the summit, and the prudence to temper that ambition when things aren't going well.


Richmond, Va.: Are Sherpas comfortable saying "no" to their wealthy American clients?

David Breashears: Perhaps not.


Chicago: K2 has been described as taller than Everest by some and a more difficult climb. Does it have similar "pressure" in numbers that Everest does, or is it restricted more by its location and technical difficulty?

David Breashears: No, not at all. It doesn't give you the same feather in your cap.


Toronto: Congratulations on an excellent documentary film, Mr. Breashears, in particular for dramatizing the survival of "Makalu" Gau and Beck Weathers, and offering them a personal chance to provide "the moral of the story." Your film's recreations of the conditions on the South Col and the Hillary Step were compelling and terrifying, but it lacks a recreation of the perspective of a climber suffering from hypoxia, which could have served as a strong caution to those heedless of hazards of an oxygen-deprived environment. Did you attempt one and discard it because it wasn't sufficiently realistic? Is there one you would recommend to viewers? Please accept my heartfelt wishes for the success of your film projects about mountain cultures and human rights issues!

David Breashears: This is hard to do, show hypoxia. Usually one ends up with a bunch of climbers staggering around like zombies. That's for a different film.

And yes, we thought about it. How could we not? It's Everest.


Uppsala, Sweden: First a big thanks for the movie. I am a big fan of your work! How much do the porters and Sherpas know about the dangers of working at high altitude? Do they recognize the early signs of acute mountain sickness and edema and respond to them, or do they keep working despite feeling ill, in fear of loosing their job? Do the people who pay them for their services pay enough attention to their health?

David Breashears: Some know nothing, some know a lot. But we should know more about the symptoms of AMS before setting off for the high mountains.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi David: I was riveted by the movie last night -- I thought it was great. I met you once many years ago at the tattered cover in Denver and you were very kind to this geeky climber-girl. It's interesting to me that people want to place blame on someone. Sometimes things just are -- there is no one to blame ... nothing to be done different ... it just was. And that is okay.

David Breashears: You got it. But sometimes people act in manner that is out of step with their professional and moral obligations. Then there will be problems.


Chicago: How were you able to follow along with interviewees who were speaking in a foreign language? I'm assuming you used a translator. How did this affect the flow of the interview?

David Breashears: Translator. But I really didn't need one with Makalu Gau -- his body language and expressions said it all.


Toronto: In your interviews with the survivors, how has their epic experience changed their lives? How have you changed in the intervening years between the IMAX film and this one? Did this one purge or help express stuff you didn't express earlier? You mention in the film that your perception of Everest has changed -- how? What was it like to climb Everest again after 1996? Mr. Krakauer took a lot of heat regarding "Into Thin Air" -- how did the survivors feel about his point of view, and his later defense? What did you think of his book?

David Breashears: Powerful and well-written. But like the rest of us, Jon has a point of view.


Tysons Corner, Va.: Thanks for making this film and coming online to discuss it. I've long had a question about that night: If Charlotte Fox was able to give Sandy Hill a shot that enabled her to keep going, couldn't shots also have been given to Yasuko Namba and Beck Weathers at critical moments help them?

David Breashears: Didn't ask, but conditions were much different then -- darkness, howling blizzard. Perhaps it was impossible to find or handle the syringe.


New York: Have there been any procedures implemented to avoid the bottleneck near the summit? The climbers lost much valuable time waiting to be able to descend. For the climbers, was there any knowledge that there was an oncoming storm?

David Breashears: No procedure, and there was no knowledge of the approaching storm.


Washington: Having read "Into Thin Air" several years ago, I looked forward to seeing the survivors talk about their experiences, but I couldn't take the way-too-frequent, way-too-long all-but-black scenes of a violent storm. A little bit of that goes a long way. I finally turned it off. Disappointing.

David Breashears: Thank goodness you're not a film critic.

Thankfully most of the viewers did not. We are pleased and proud of the universally praiseful reviews.

But after all, that's what the switch on the TV is for. Looking back I would have cut a little storm footage myself.


Washington: Dave, thank you for your work and honesty. The same week that your friends died. I had a life-long friend with a 2-year-old die of brain tumor. He hadn't willingly and carelessly put his life on the line, he hadn't built his professional life upon exploiting wealthy clients who had no business climbing the highest peak in the world, he didn't then spend his time making fun of and ridiculing those people who he exploited to make his "pure living." He didn't make fundamentally flawed judgments that cost other people their lives.

So tell me, why in the world should I care that a bunch of self-absorbed people who voluntarily gambled their lives lost that gamble? I am supposed to cry that Rob wanted to make sure he sounded good? the last bit of delusion and deceit makes him a hero? Are you that divorced from the reality of individuals who don't have the liberty to be this completely and totally self-absorbed? That somehow makes them noble? No, that makes them incredibly selfish people, and those of you who glorify them do a disservice to humanity.

David Breashears: You don't understand them or their motives -- you only have opinions related to your obviously negative attitude of climbing high mountains.

There is no explanation -- you either get it or you don't. I never met a climber who thought they were saving the world by climbing a mountain, but I have met dozens of climbers who haven't let the two months spent climbing Everest diminish their ability to conduct the important work they do in improving the world upon their return to sea level.

Stop whining about people and a pursuit you don't understand. But do try to understand yourself. That's a lot more important.


Jamestown, N.C.: You helped bring down the body of Chen. Who helped you with this, and where did you pick up the body and where did you hand it over?

David Breashears: Ed Viesturs and then other climbers. Ed and I reached Chen at around 23,000 feet.


Binghamton, N.Y.: Do a person's feet survive in boots much better in the cold on Everest than hands and face/noses to frostbite? Thanks again.

David Breashears: Sometimes. Depends on the conditions.


Monticello, N.Y.: What sort of healing had to occur before you began work on the documentary? My media class currently is working on documentaries; What advice do you give them in dealing with a subject matter that is so intimate and poignant? Can you ever compartmentalize your involvement enough to provide the necessary distance between subject and author? Thanks.

David Breashears: Don't have an answer, as I didn't have a problem with the subject matter. Ten years is a lot of distance.


Norwood, Mass.: I read "Into Thin Air" some time ago but I seem to recall mention of a young man (Japanese maybe) and his girlfriend who rode bicycles to the mountain. The man then summited the mountain without external oxygen bottles and descended safely. I think this occurred during the same time five climbers lost their lives. Wondered why there was no interview or mention of him in your show last night.

David Breashears: Goran Kropp was at Base Camp during the storm.


New York: I'm not a climber, but an old Nepal trekker -- I prefer birds, flowers, trees, wildlife and local people to ice and snow, but I admire the mountaineers. You did a great thing with this program. Everything that has been written about that dreadful season on Everest has placed blame on someone or other, and demonized many -- guides, Sherpas, climbers -- and pointed fingers for mistakes made.

You've presented everyone's viewpoint, and made them more real because they are given a chance to speak for themselves. From what I'd read in Jon Krakauer's book, I had gotten the impression that Makalu Gau was a real idiot, but seeing him speak, I only have great respect and admiration for him. (I also think he could be a movie actor because he has such a dramatic presence, but that's another story.)

It was a really great program, and thank you so very much for doing it. I should like to mention that I attended a lecture you gave in New York a few years ago at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. George Mallory's body had just been discovered on Everest, and you expressed an opinion that it was improper to display a photograph of him, deceased, on the Internet. I respectfully would disagree: Without that picture, nobody would have believed that he actually had been found -- and I, as an artist, was profoundly touched by the beauty of that photograph. He was my childhood hero, and he looked, in death on that mountain side, like a beautiful marble statue, the hero we always knew him to be.

David Breashears: Thank you for the thoughtful comments

About Mallory: Looking back, I agree -- but at first it was a shock to see that revered figure exposed in the manner. I have no concerns now.


Washington: Wonderful film! I simultaneously was struck by the compelling survival stories and the amazing scenery from the mountain. Deciding to climb certainly means taking a calculated risk with your life, although I'm not sure the survivors who spoke to you expressed that belief. Nevertheless, the guides came across as real heroes, and I can see exactly how single-minded a climber could be with Everest in front of him/her. Question: I missed about two minutes of your film; did I miss Jon Krakauer? "Into Thin Air" is so associated with this disaster that I was surprised not to hear something from him. Did you approach him, or were you trying to tell a different story?

David Breashears: No, Jon is not in the film. It was my choice to tell the story almost exclusively through the people who had been out in the storm

Plus Jon and I agreed that he already had told his story, and quite well.


Colorado Springs, Colo.: A comment, rather than a question: Your film is a remarkable achievement. It speaks to many deeper human issues than only the ins and outs of an expedition on Everest -- trust, responsibility, our deepest fears. And it does not judge. I was very impressed. Thank you.

David Breashears: Thank you. That was what we wanted to achieve.


New York: David: Excellent program, thanks. Unfortunately I missed a few minutes near the beginning, so I was unclear on how much of the footage was from the actual event (because you happened to be on the mountain with an IMAX crew), what footage was recreated, and how any recreation footage was filmed. Thanks.

David Breashears: Go the film's Web site. Thanks for the question.


Arlington, Va.: Mr. Breashears, by the looks of your biography, it appears you have crafted an amazing career for yourself meshing your work life with your personal interests. I am curious to know how it all started; What was your first job out of school? Did you have any idea of where you wanted to go? Thank you for your insights!

David Breashears: I wanted to be a climber, that was all. Then I got hired to carry packs loaded with camera gear up high mountains. Then I noticed that I could make an income traveling to faraway places. Then I struggled, and then I struggled more.

And now there is "Storm Over Everest." There was no plan, just passion, dedication and the belief that life had something good is store for me. But it was never easy.


David Breashears: I have to leave the chat. I was supposed to be on for only an hour, but I enjoyed your thoughtful comments and questions so much that I stayed for nearly three hours.

Thanks to those of you who found the time to view that film. The team that made it is proud of it, warts and all.

There is so much to be learned at Frontline's "Storm Over Everest" Web site. Please visit it.

If you're a climber, I wish you safe climbing; if not, then enjoy whatever pursuits provide you challenges and rewards. Best regards, and thanks again.


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