Everest (1998) - full transcript

An international team of climbers ascends Mt. Everest in the spring of 1996. The film depicts their lengthy preparations for the climb, their trek to the summit, and their successful return to Base Camp. It also shows many of the challenges the group faced, including avalanches, lack of oxygen, treacherous ice walls, and a deadly blizzard.

[Narrator] There is a place
that is above all others...

a place where dreams
are chased above the clouds,

a place where only
the strong and lucky survive.

The top of the world,
where the wind is fiercest,

is a desolate, deathly place,
where humans cannot live.

Every breath burns the lungs
like cold fire.

Many have died there,
on the mountain known as Everest.

[Man] When I was a boy,
my father told me...

that the highest mountain in the world
is the home of the gods.

My people, the Sherpa people,
are Buddhists.

We call Mount Everest "Chomolungma,"
for the goddess who lives on the summit.

For 50 years or more, those who tried
to climb to the summit failed or died.

Then, in 1953, the first
two climbers reached the top...

Edmund Hillary
and my father, Tenzing Norgay.

When I was just five years old,

I lit butter lamps
to honor the mountain gods...

who protected my father
at the top of the world.

He said the mountains
gave him great strength.

I thought he was
the bravest man on Earth.

Now, 43 years after
his great climb on Everest,

I'm training
for my own summit attempt.

I think it's in my blood.

The first thing I learned
was the self-arrest.

It's the only way
to stop yourself if you fall...

and begin sliding down
a steep, icy slope.

My father was a hero.

Before he passed away, my father
warned me about the dangers on Everest.

But I always felt kind of a hunger
inside to live up to his legend,

so I have to try it.

[Narrator] This spring, Jamling
will join an Everest expedition...

led by Ed Viesturs
of Seattle.

Ed has climbed Everest
four times.

He trains every day,
even when he's on vacation in Utah.

[Viesturs] Well, I brought together
a team of highly skilled climbers...

to assist a scientist who's studying
the geology of the Everest region.

This year, Paula, my fianc?e,
will be our Base Camp manager.

We're going to Everest
just two weeks after we get married.

I figured Everest would be
a cheap place to honeymoon.

[Paula] The difference
between me and Ed is...

that when we go for a five-hour
bike ride, I call it a workout.

He calls it a warm-up.

[Narrator] The third lead climber
of this Everest team...

will be an accomplished
young mountaineer from Barcelona.

Araceli Segarra has climbed
high mountains before,

but she is best known
for her skills as a rock climber.

[Segarra] I like to go
to the beach and just hang out,

but I prefer climbing mountains.

I'm not trying to prove anything.
I just love to climb.

It's my passion, that's all.

[Narrator] If she makes it
to the top of Everest,

Araceli will be the first
Spanish woman in history to do so.

Even when she's training
in Mexico,

Araceli's real goal
is halfway around the world.

Mount Everest is part of the highest
mountain range in the world...

the Himalaya, which stretches
1,500 miles across Asia.

Far below the icy peaks
of the Himalaya...

lies the capital of Nepal, Katmandu,

basking in a warm,
subtropical valley.

I love this city.

In 1953, Katmandu was
the point of departure...

for my father and Hillary.

On March 15, my teammates and I
gather here to make final plans.

The climbers have come to Katmandu...

to help a scientist
from England, Roger Bilham.

Roger wants the team to place
instruments high on Mount Everest...

so he can study its geology.

Sumiyo Tsuzuki of Japan
will document the expedition.

I don't know if I'm strong enough.

I've never climbed Everest.
I need to see it.

We have three tons of gear all told,

and probably half to two-thirds
of that might be food.

It's been in my dreams, you know,
ever since I was a kid, to climb it.

[Jamling] Tomorrow we helicopter up
into the foothills of Everest.

Sumiyo joins me in spinning
the prayer wheels...

to offer prayers
for the dangers that lie ahead.

When I saw the rickety old
Russian helicopter Ed had rented,

I figured we'd need
all the prayers we could get.

[Segarra] This cargo helicopter
cannot fly as high as Base Camp,

but it gives us a head start,
up to 9,000 feet.

From there, we will walk over 30 miles
to the base of Mount Everest.

I love to climb
the highest mountains in the world.

Most of them are here,
in the Himalayas.

[Narrator] Araceli's passion
is climbing high mountains.

Roger Bilham's mission
is understanding how they form.

[Bilham] Continents actually move,
and when two huge land masses collide,

all that rock has to go somewhere,
and so it goes up.

And that collision is what pushed up
the Himalayan mountains.

About a hundred million years ago,
the land we call India...

began moving north,
towards Asia.

As the continents slowly collided,
India slid under Asia.

The rock in between was squeezed
and piled up, forming the Himalaya.

India is still pushing
further underneath Asia,

so every year, Mount Everest grows
about a quarter of an inch higher.

At 29,028 feet,

Mount Everest soars five and a half
miles above sea level,

making it
the tallest mountain on Earth.


[Narrator] Tall mountains
are built by many tiny movements...

which Roger tries to record
with G.P.S. Satellite receivers.

Roger is, uh...

He's happy when he explains
to you what he knows.

It's a life for him,
the geology.

[Bilham] The powerful underground
forces which pushed these mountains...

five miles high
also cause massive earthquakes.

In a village like Khumjung, few houses
are built to withstand such tremors.

We can't forecast earthquakes,
but perhaps,

if our team succeeds in making
a G.P.S. Measurement on Everest...

that will make our
earthquake data more accurate.

[Narrator] On a ridge
at almost 13,000 feet...

is the remote Buddhist monastery
known as Thyangboche.

Forty-three years ago, my father...

stopped at this monastery to seek
blessings to climb Mount Everest.

[Narrator] The Sherpas
believe the mountain gods...

protect those who honor them,

but pride and arrogance
can anger the gods...

and cause great suffering,
even death.

[Viesturs] With a train
of 60 yaks to carry our gear...

we headed for Base Camp,
5,000 feet up from here.

[Narrator] As the climbers go higher,
they risk altitude sickness.

But if they ascend gradually,

the body adjusts on its own
to the low oxygen level.

It's called "acclimatizing."

The number of red blood cells doubles
so the blood can carry more oxygen.

Just surviving at 29,000 feet is a
challenge in light of this medical fact.

A person taken directly from sea level
to the top of Mount Everest...

would be unconscious in a few minutes,
and dead soon thereafter.

Those who have died on Everest...

are honored by stone monuments
called "chortens."

[Segarra] You walk into Khumbu,
you see the chortens.

You think about the people who died
for the mountain we are going to climb.

[Viesturs] On April 2,
we reached the foot of Mount Everest.

Here, on a huge glacier,
we set up Base Camp.

Next to our tents are those
of a dozen other expeditions,

all with the same goal...

a summit that's two miles higher.

[Narrator] Ed is concerned that there
are too many teams on the mountain,

and some of them show
a critical lack of experience.

From this base of operations, Jamling
is in charge of organizing the loads...

and sending them up with the strongest
Sherpas... the summit team.


[Jamling] Most Sherpas like me
can carry heavy loads up here...

without getting sick
or short of breath.

Our blood carries more oxygen.

So when I say, " climbing
is in my blood," I'm not kidding.

[Paula] As much as I like
everyone on the team,

I somehow never expected to bring
30 people along on my honeymoon...

30 hungry people.

The head cook is called Chyangba.

He is always singing
and laughing...

and he is really a funny guy.

Several times a day at Base Camp...

you hear the roar
of an avalanche.

[Narrator] One hundred and fifty
people have died on Everest.

About a third of them
have been killed by avalanches.

We hope to follow the same route...

my father and Edmund Hillary
took to the summit in 1953.

There are three main danger zones.

The first is the Khumbu Icefall,

where huge ice towers
tumble without warning.

Above that is the steep
and icy Lhotse face,

which rises nonstop
for 4,000 feet.

The third danger zone is
the southeast ridge, near the summit.

The icefall is a frozen river,
about 500 feet deep,

that surges downhill
almost four feet a day.

Some of the gigantic ice blocks
weigh over 40 tons,

and if they suddenly break loose
they can crush you in a heartbeat.

On the icefall we use ladders a lot,

which can take
a little getting used to.

[Segarra, Laughing]
I like to get my falling done early,

because later on
I don't like to fall again.

When you look down you wonder,
"How deep is that crevasse?"

Well, I don't want to find out.

The Sherpas say that if you
fall in the crevasse,

you will fall
all the way to America.

After we climb through the icefall,

we head towards Middle Camp,
where we spend where we spend
a few weeks acclimatizing.

If you go too high too soon,
you risk getting edema,

which is where your lungs begin to fill
with fluid, and that can kill you.

[Narrator] At Middle Camp, the
climbers must begin to drink more water,

which they get by melting snow.

The dry air sucks moisture from each
breath, and also makes them cough.

Coughing fits have left Sumiyo
with two cracked ribs.

[Viesturs] Whenever porters went
back down to Paula, at Base Camp,

they brought her videos because Paula
wanted to see that I was okay.

It was, after all, our honeymoon.

- Let's see what we've got.
- Yeah, we're gonna have some...

probably sliced,
lightly sauteed Spam...

along with some mustard.

It looks like breakfast time at, uh,
Base Camp. That's pretty boring.

Now I'm thinking about ice cream...

with chocolate.

And a little cream
on the topping.

Can be great.


[Narrator] May 7.
After five weeks at 22,000 feet,

the team has acclimatized.

Each drop of blood
can now carry more oxygen.

They're ready to go for the top.

Right now the summit is being blasted
by freezing, hurricane-force winds.

[Viesturs] Almost all year storms
and high winds make Everest unclimbable,

but some time in May you may get
a week of calm, clear weather,

which then allows you
to sort of sneak up to the summit.

It was still very windy up high,
so I chose to sit tight.

It's not easy,
watching other teams going up...

and then wondering if perhaps
you're missing your only chance
of reaching the summit.

Of the 12 other teams here,
the largest is led...

by my good friend Rob Hall
from New Zealand,

a very experienced Everest climber.

The memory of May 8, and the days
that followed, will haunt me forever.

Heading up the steep,
icy Lhotse face that day,

we watched a column of over 50 climbers,
including my friend Rob Hall.

They faced a three-day climb
to reach the summit.

At the time,
even though I felt uneasy,

I never suspected what a nightmare
they were heading up into.

[Narrator] Two days later, most of the
same climbers set out for the summit.

Late on that fateful day,
a fierce storm...

slammed into the upper part
of the mountain without warning.

Over two dozen climbers were scattered
along the route to the summit,

many of them caught
high on the mountain...

much too high
to get down safely.

[Narrator] In the final hour
of daylight a few climbers...

fought their way back
to the chaos of High Camp,

but for the rest it looked grim.

People have been caught before
in storms high on Everest,

but very few have survived.

[Viesturs] The stranded climbers
ran out of bottled oxygen.

As the wind chill dropped
to a hundred degrees below zero,

seventeen climbers were still trapped
on the mountain... including Rob.

When night fell,
most of the climbers hunkered down...

just hoping to survive the night.

When Paula called me that night,
she reminded me...

that Rob's wife Jan
was seven months pregnant.

We were all struggling
to face the fact...

that we had friends high on the mountain
in the storm, fighting for their lives,

and that perhaps some of them
weren't going to make it.

I knew I wouldn't get much sleep.

The next morning we got word
that seven climbers were still missing.

But one of the stranded climbers
was still in radio contact... Rob Hall.

He'd beaten the odds
and survived a night...

of arctic winds at 28,000 feet.

Rob just couldn't
find the strength to move,

but he wasn't ready to give up.

Clean the ice out of your mask
and start moving.

You gotta pull yourself
up over the South Summit...

Talking to Rob on the radio
was tough.

- It's downhill from there.
- Okay.

There was nothing
I could do for him.

I was at Middle Camp, and he was
at least a two-day climb away.

You can't wait all day for them.

Using a makeshift radio patch,
we then connected...

Rob with his wife Jan
in New Zealand.

When we heard them
talking on the radio,

I mean, we all lost it.

We all started to cry.

Later they chose a name
for their unborn child,

and Rob went to sleep
in sub-zero temperatures,

but he didn't survive the night.

Just above the High Camp,

a climber named Beck Weathers had been
out in the storm for over 22 hours.

He had been left for dead
by other climbers,

and then, nearly blind,
his hands literally frozen solid,

Beck stood up, left his pack,
and desperately tried to walk.

All I knew was that as long as my legs
would run and I could stand up,

I was gonna move toward that camp,

and if I fell down,
I was gonna get up.

If I fell down again,
I was gonna get up.

And I was gonna keep movin'
till I either hit that camp,

or walked off the face
of that mountain.

[Narrator] Beck's teammates were
certain he was lying dead in the snow,

so they were pretty startled
when he staggered into the High Camp.

Beck's life hung by a thread,
but Ed was determined to rescue him.

[Viesturs] The camera team
put down their gear...

and followed me up the mountain
into the storm.

We'd just lost Rob. We sure as hell
weren't going to lose Beck too.

He was so blind and so weak
that we had to support him...

and physically place his feet
in each step.

Even with our help Beck just didn't have
the strength to get through the icefall.

His frostbitten hands would have to
be amputated, so time was critical.

We had to get him out of there soon.

[Narrator] A helicopter rescue at over
20,000 feet seemed out of the question.

Up here the air is so thin that the
blades have almost nothing to bite into.

At any moment the aircraft may
lose lift and fall out of the sky.

The only previous flight up here
ended in a crash.

But a Nepalese pilot named
Colonel Madan K.C. Decided to risk it.

Even when the helicopter
flew up above the icefall,

Beck's survival was still
very much in doubt.

The pilot had trouble setting down.

No one knew if they would crash.

After the climbers loaded Beck in,

the pilot struggled to lift off.

Finally, he did.

[Weathers] As we flew away,
the tears began to flow,

and I was just so grateful
to be alive.

Colonel Madan, Ed Viesturs,
the guys in the film crew...

I literally owe them my life.

Yet, as remarkable as this rescue was,

it could not dull the grief
that settled over Everest...

after the worst disaster
in the mountain's history.

Eight people lost their lives
in the storm.

We all went back down to Base Camp.

Paula and I held each other
for a long time.

The tragedies
hit our team very hard,

myself in particular
because Rob was a close friend.

It was very sad to think about his wife,
who was seven months pregnant,

and-and realize that my good friend
wouldn't be there...

to see his first child born.

Mm... Wait-Wait a moment.


Well, I don't like
climb a route...

with people dead on the way.

I'm not afraid of...

to cross dead people
and frozen... see them...

I don't like. That's all.

Base Camp was becoming a ghost town.

Almost all the other expeditions
packed up and left,

and we thought maybe we
should get out of there too.

I sent word to the monastery,
asking if I should abandon the climb.

Seven days went by,
and I felt my dream slipping away.

But then we got word about Beck,

and that made me feel
lighter and stronger.

[Viesturs] A few days
after Beck got back home to Dallas,

he began the long road
back to recovery.

He would ultimately lose
both of his hands to frostbite,

but he never lost his spirit,
never lost his will to live,

and it was his remarkable recovery
that lifted our spirits.

We started to think
about going up again,

but a strong wind was still blowing
a huge plume of snow off the summit,

so it didn't look all that great.

There's no reason to climb with wind.

If it's not possible,
well, it's not possible.

It's the mountain who say
that you can climb or not.

[Jamling] I finally got word
from the monastery.

The gods were not
opposed to my quest.

[Narrator] Each of the climbers
made the same courageous decision.

They had to try again.

They held a puja ceremony
to cleanse their spirits.

Then they put aside their grief...

and followed Ed back up
through the icefall, once more.

When we got up to the Middle Camp,

the wind was still
very strong up above.

We start to think
we'll have to give up.

[Jamling] When the other Sherpas
said they were afraid,

I told them
what my father had taught me.

A climber must always treat
the mountain with respect...

and use caution
in the face of danger.

I just wasn't ready, emotionally,

to have Ed trying
for the summit again.

So I just summoned up my courage
and told him to go for it.

It was the hardest thing
I've ever done.

We were running out of time.

We decided to go higher...

so we'd be in position to go
for the top if the wind stopped.

But first we had to ascend
the Lhotse face,

which would be
an exhausting two-day climb.

[Jamling] The Lhotse face is
a steep wall of ice, 4,000 feet high.

We used fixed ropes,
but people die here all the same.

They unclip,
make a mistake and fall.

After rocketing downhill
for as much as a mile,

they then plunge
into a bottomless crevasse.

[Segarra] Up here we really
start to feel the lack of oxygen,

and that's the biggest danger
on Everest.

The less oxygen your brain gets,
the harder it is to think straight.

You believe your mind is sharp,
but it's not.

[Viesturs On Radio]
Yeah, hi, Roger.

[Viesturs] At High Camp, we're already
three-quarters of the way to the top.

Finally, the wind on the summit
had calmed down.

...G.P.S. All set up
and it's collecting data.

At 26,000 feet, it was quite a struggle
to set up the G.P.S. Receiver,

and-and it worked.

I did not tell Roger that we
could see hundreds of rocks...

that were once
at the bottom of the sea.

We've got enough to carry
without picking up rocks for Roger.

You should be able
to see us from Kala Patar...

[Narrator] May 22. The team
would try for the summit that night,

while Sumiyo stayed at
the High Camp as the radio contact,

despite her cracked ribs.

Ed wondered if Paula had received
the video he had sent down to Base Camp.

[Viesturs] By the time you get this
video I'll be heading for the summit.

If I have to turn around, I will.
I'll be very careful.

[Jamling] At this altitude
your mind runs in slow motion.

You can't sleep, you can't eat,

your brain is starving for oxygen,
your body is deteriorating...

and your muscles are wasting away.

That's why the final 3,000 feet
is known as the Death Zone.

I was feeling tense
because in a few hours...

I was gonna set out
on the climb of my life.

It takes about 12 hours
to get from High Camp to the summit.

You have to start around midnight
so you can get to the top by noon.

Ed was going to climb
without oxygen,

so he started at 11:00 that night,
an hour before the rest of us.

At midnight it was 30 below zero.

Araceli, Jamling
and five Sherpas...

packed up their oxygen supplies
and started for the summit,

following Ed's trail.

[Segarra] In the night,
with my goggles and oxygen mask,

I felt like I was on the moon.

The others were nearby,
but we never spoke.

I felt completely alone.

All I heard was the sound of my own
breathing through the oxygen mask.

[Narrator] High on Everest,
there is nothing to breathe.

There is only a third
as much oxygen in each breath...

as there is at sea level.

Most climbers need
bottled oxygen up here,

but not Ed.

You stagger along.

Every ounce of energy is sucked
from your muscles.

You just can't get enough air.

This is what
it must feel like to drown.

The sun rose, but whenever I stopped
to wait for the others, I got cold,

so I had to move on.

I climb without bottled oxygen
because I like the challenge.

It's just me and the mountain.
It's as simple as that.

Hey, Paula, good news.

I think I can see our team
on the South Summit. Over.

[Viesturs] The human body
is not built to survive up here.

It screams at you
to turn around and go back.

[Segarra] It took all
my strength and concentration...

just to put one foot
in front of the other.

I've never been so tired
in my life.

Sometimes I'd want to sit down
in the snow and rest,

but I told myself,
"ten more steps,"

and I keep going and going.

[Jamling] The wind begins to
sound like drums in the monastery...

or maybe that's just the blood
pounding in my brain.

As the pain gets worse,
I feel...

that I'm closer to death
than I've ever been...

without passing over
to the other side.

Every half hour I radioed Sumiyo.

"Have you heard from Ed?
Have you heard from Ed?"

[Viesturs] I knew exactly where
I'd find Rob lying frozen in the snow.

When I got there
I sat down next to him and cried.

I wanted to hear his friendly
New Zealand accent one more time.

But then the voice I heard
was Paula's...

the echo of what she'd said
on the radio.

[Paula] I said, " Climb this mountain
like you've never climbed it before."

And he said he was very choked up,

but he said he thought about that
all the way to the top.

Just below the summit...

is the most difficult pitch
of the whole climb...

the wall of rock and ice
known as the Hillary Step.

When I got past that,
I knew I was gonna make it.


[Viesturs On Radio]
Paula! Hola, hola!

[Viesturs] I radioed Paula
and calmly told her I'd made it.

But without bottled oxygen I got too
cold to wait for Araceli and Jamling.

I passed them on my way down.

[Segarra] Ed came down from the summit
and gave us a small hug.

He told us the summit
was not far.

After 12 hours of climbing,

I had to really force myself
to concentrate.

There was a drop-off of over a mile
on either side of the ridge.

There were only 100 meters left,

[Laughing] but they were
the longest 100 meters in my life.

After nine long weeks on the mountain,

they made it.

Araceli Segarra became the first Spanish
woman to reach the top of the world.

When I got to the top I was tired,

but then I realized
that I had really done it...

and I started to feel happy.

I was sure I could see
halfway around the world.

I wondered if my friends
were thinking about me.

They had no idea I was standing
on the top of the world.

I wanted to shout to them,
"I'm okay! I made it!"

Even with cold hands
I took pictures of Jamling.

He had worked hard to get here.

I was so happy for him.

[Jamling] I've been dreaming
of this moment since I was a boy.

To finally stand on the summit,
my heart just overflowed.

My tears froze to my cheeks.

I left a picture of my late mother,
my late father,

and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama,

and also a little toy I got
for my ten-month-old daughter,

and a prayer flag as an offering
for Chomolungma,

the mother goddess
of the world.

[Segarra] When we started down
we were careful... no mistakes.

But we hurried to see
our friends at Base Camp.

It's way down there,
below the clouds.

[Narrator] As the team began
the two-day descent to Base Camp,

they had time to reflect.

They had never expected
to be swept up...

in the disaster
that would touch the whole world.

Yet, even in the face
of extraordinary hardship,

they had always acted
with courage and grace.

[Paula] I've never been so glad
to see someone in my life.

We did it.

[Narrator] High on Everest
Roger's G.P.S. Was putting out data...

that one day may give geologists
more insight into earthquakes.

And Jamling's prayer flag fluttered
in the wind at the top of the world...

and sent a different kind
of message.

Looking back, I sometimes wonder...

how I found the strength
to get to the top of Everest.

I know now that
my passion for climbing...

gave me the strength.

[Viesturs] This year, Paula
was waiting for me at Base Camp.

It was wonderful. She put aside her
own fears and encouraged me to climb.

And that has made us
closer than ever.

I didn't think getting to the top...

would change my life,
but it has.

Back in Katmandu, I arranged
an offering with 25,000 butter lamps...

to give thanks for our safe
and wonderful climb.

Those moments on the summit
were sacred.

Up there above the clouds,
I touched my father's soul.

Ever since I was a boy
I've looked up to him,

but I always felt
kind of a hunger inside...

to live up to his legend.

I know he'd laugh to see me
on the summit of Mount Everest.

He'd say, " Jamling, my son,

you didn't have to come such
a long, hard way just to visit me."

As if he knew all along
I was worthy of the mountain.

[Crowd Cheering]

Thank you very much.