Everest: Beyond the Limit (2006–…): Season 3, Episode 4 - Death Zone Gridlock - full transcript

The weather on Everest is perfect and hundreds of climbers are all heading for the summit on the same few days. Legendary expedition leader Russell Brice's first team are caught in the human traffic jams high on the mountain and at 28,000 feet every minute counts. Delays mean running out of bottled oxygen or freezing to death, so one of Russell's guides takes matters into his own hands. He holds back rival climbers while his team push through a notorious bottleneck. But is it too little too late?

Everest. Camp 4. 26 000 feet. -10oF
At the highest campsite in the world...

...more than a hundred climbers
begin the most dangerous day of their lives.

Climbing Everest today!

Each spent a fortune to be here
risking it all to fulfill a dream.

We're feeling nervously. Final day.

But traffic jams in the death-zone put every climber at risk.

There's a line of probably, I'd say...

...twenty-five to thirty people, quite a ways up the hill.

The fight for the summit becomes a battle to survive.

Season 3. Death Zone Gridlock

It's three weeks into the busiest season ever on Everest.

300 climbers pack the slopes... all ready to race
for the summit when the next weather window opens.

Crowds equal danger.
You can control an awful lot of nuances.

But you can not control all that people are doing around you
or how many people are around you.

Two weeks ago expedition leader Russell Brice
put the first climber on the summit this season.

Now he's got a new team acclimatizing their bodies
to survive at the top of the world.

This time Russel's contending with royalty.

Valerio Massimo is an Italian prince by title
and a venture capitalist by trade.

He has been dreaming of climbing Everest since childhood.

My father and grandfather were at mountains when I was five.

I was given two books on the Himalayas. I was hooked!

Valerio is an experienced climber,
but this is his first attempt on Everest.

It's almost a holy ground for me, so it was a serious child's dream.

Journalist Billi Bierling is an Everest expert, but only on paper.

She's never even been to base camp until now.

It's... It's stunning. You get a fantastic view of
Everest, of course, Makalu...

Baruntse, Cho Oyu on the other side. It's stunning.

Billi writes about climbing and keeps records
on every person who summits Everest.

Her goal is to add her own name to that list.

Seeing people coming and going to and from Everest
I just thought: "Well, if they can do it, I can".

I wanna have a look what it's like
to be at base camp...

...what it is like to be at Camp 2, at Camp 3...
Yeah, that's why I'm here.

Two other Everest first timers are Lance Fox
and Jon Hansen, friends from Wisconsin.

- Fear the second sight.
- High-five. Alright.
- See ya

Lance is veterinarian taking three months away from his practice.

He is climbing Everest as a tribute to his dad.

My father died when he was 36 from cancer and...

I've got some ashes from his... from his urn from home and a...

...one of my goals is to get to the top and ??? those ashes.

Lance's climbing partner is Jon Hansen.
A small business owner, who loves climbing.

People ask me why I climb, when I go?

The only reason I really want to get to the summit
is that at that moment in time...

...that moment in time out of all the hundreds of millions of people
on this sweet world that live here...

...I can say and feel to be the highest.

That's what drives me.

But even base camp on Everest is higher
that any peak jon has ever climbed...

...and he is already suffering from altitude sickness.

The cough starts in your chest from breathing
so hard to get oxygen in your system.

Then the headache starts at night.

And you try to lay in bed and hear
the throbbing of your pulse, your heart.

And on your hearing is everything around you.
Your head's just throbbing.

Jon needs to overcome his altitude sickness...

...to have any chance of battling
the summit crowds two miles above.

Yeah, the demons kinda hit us, in different ways,

don't they... between the headaches,
and the nausea, the vomiting, but ah...

...you get through that, and you look at that, and go, it's worth it.

- ?? like you said?
- Absolutely.

- Put together, man?
- Absolutely. Absolutely.

- All the way, baby.
- All the way.

Crowds are only half the danger for expedition leader Russell Brice.

The rumblings of Khumbu Ice Falls are keeping up at night.

Clips of glacial ice titter on a verge of collapse.

That's like a... gaming russian roulette because
we don't really know when this ice is going to fall.

Can fall at nighttime or daytime.
That's incredibly dangerous.

The deadliest section on Everest has already
claimed the life of one Sherpa this season.

Filling the icefall with a mass of climbers
is a sure way to see casualty figures rise.

So to minimize that risk Russell devises
his own strategy to acclimatize his team.

Five miles south-west of Everest is mount Lobuche...

...at 20 000 feet it's the same altitude as Everest Camp 1.
Only there is no icefall.

What we will to do as a team here
is be fit and strong...

...acclimatized and technically ready
to get through the icefall...

...without actually having to do practice in the icefall.
Now, in my view, we're going down to Lobuche.

We are heading to Lobuche to climb Lobuche
for acclimatization in the next two days.

Russel's team can have Lobuche completely to themselves...

...and avoid the crowds until they are ready
to take on Everest itself.

It's quite hard climbing because it's a...
It's very steep.

And it's very hard ice.

Watch out behind some of the slabs...
a little water runoff might have frozen.

While climbing higher on multiple tracks
their bodies produce millions of extra blood sells.

The more red blood sells, the more oxygen they can absorb
in the thin air at higher altitudes.

It's called a trekking peak.
Let me tell you one thing: it is not a trekking peak.

Chris Dovell should know the dangers of climbing better than most.
He is Russell Brice's next tour neighbour.

That's how you do it.

My wife banned me from summiting Everest.

Pretty well as soon as I've mentioned that it was
something that I've... I'd quite like to go and do.

And... in the end she very kindly...

...and gave me permission to getting climb Everest
as my fortieth birthday present.

But there was one condition,
and it was to climb with Russell Brice.


From Everest base camp Russel keeps a close eye on their
progress on Lobuche, five miles to the south-east.

There is a certain fraction in this team here that are... pushy.
They are running everywhere, they are wanting to...

...be everywhere at the same time, then...
Actually they are ones that are getting more sick at the moment.

At the bottom of Russel's performance list is Jon Hansen.
Altitude sickness is hindering his progress.

The pounding headache every step you take
in gaining altitude. It just throbs, throbs.

And along with this comes a nausea.
And you just heave your guts up.

But the physical challenge of mountain climbing
is only a part of Hansen's problem.

He'll need the right frame of mind for Russell
to give him the green light to climb Everest.

Jon Hansen, he needs to relax. He is totally hard-taut
the whole time. Now he's sick and slowing down.

Valerio, Billi, Lance and Chris
make the summit of Lobuche in under four hours.

That was tough. Steps are quite large. Very steep.

Got out of wind a few times,
but after you get over this crest, you'll see the summit.

It's like "Oh! Almost there".

It was an alternative to going through the icefall
for acclimatization - gets my vote anyway.

Yes, it's beautiful. And this is one of the most perfect days.

You wouldn't get this view of Everest otherwise.

See you guys later.

Go ahead. Go Moses.

As the strong climbers make their way back down...
Jon Hansen is still struggling up.

You know, this is tough.

The is lot of times you think of turning around,
but you have to draw on some ?? spirit here.

We keep going. ?? So I want to just
take my time and get there when I get there.

Beautiful summit.

Lance is proving a much stronger climber that his friend.

I'm ready.

Jon Hansen hits a wall just 150 feet from the summit and stops.

I'm really happy to be acclimating at almost 20 000 feet.
I'm not kinda going to beat myself up...

...for another 20 minutes going up to that peak.
I don't have anything to prove.

5 miles from Everest Russell Brice's team...

... is acclimatizing their bodies on Lobuche
and avoiding the crowded slopes of Everest.

But altitude sickness is taking its toll
in Wisconsin native Jon Hansen.

Last night at supper I got up and I fell over.
My equilibrium is totally gone.

Still the allure of Everest is hard for any climber to resist.

First part of acclimatization climbers are in.
I don't think I wanna do it again.

I?d rather going to the icefall now. Think of the
Camp 1, 2 and, you know, see how far I can get there.

This is where Russell earns his 60 000$ per person price-tag.

He allows his climbers on Everest only when he decides it's safe.

And Russell's not happy with Jon Hansen's performance.

- Sorry. You and Jon came together?
- Yeah.

- Jon is not doing so well.
- Great, great.

He thinks like, logically,
he is kind of keeping himself up a little bit.

Yeah, that's what we're concerned about.

- I think he's stronger than what he's leading on...
- He's sharp.

You know, I don't know, he stopped
at 50 meters, 30 minutes to go.

I... I didn't ask him why.
I was a bit surprised by that.

We... We feel he's too tense. Too tense. Uhm-m.

This length is good. This length is set for me.

Russell decides to keep Jon on a team for now.

The team becomes methodical
if he becomes concentrated on a mountain.

He can get to the summit
but he has to overcome a lot of mental barriers.

The final test for Russell's team can only take place on Everest.

He needs to see how they function at extreme altitudes
before he decides who can attempt the summit.

They'll traverse the Khumbu Ice Fall to Camp 1...

...than recede to Camp 2 for two nights.

Then Camp 3 for one night at 23 500 feet.

They'll camp at Camp 2 and spend another night
and then return back to base camp.

And that's the last of our acclimatization
before we actually start heading for the summit.

The safest time through the icefall is well before dawn
when the ice cliffs aren't melting.

I would like to be moving from base-camp
to Camp 2 directly leaving early in the morning...

...like 4 o'clock in the morning so that we are at the top
of the icefall before the sun really starts beating down.

We need to be finished by nine - nine-thirty.

I preyed ?? last night.

Now we are here. It's six hundred.

- Me first.
- Have a crampons on?

We are getting ready to launch on crampon.
Just nervous anxiety right now.

Just want you wearing crampon whenever are you stopping.
Crampon unless we tell you differently on a trail.

To get here and then come out of the icefall.
And you are going start seeing tents.

As soon as you start seeing tents
cut off the trail and straight to it.

Lead by guide Adrian Ballinger the early start
gives the team a jump on most of the other climbers.

- Looks like we got just one group ahead of us.
- Roger.

Ladders breach gaping crevasses

Tug the mooring.

- Excellent.
- Hands up.

An avalanche in the icefall already killed Sherpa guide
this season and another could strike without warning.

Moses, Billi, Valerio, Chris Dovell.

They've got to move as fast as they can.

Now we are actually moving and you should know
what that pace is that is right for you.

Make sure you hold the line.

My intestines... They've been acting up today.
Had to stop a few times, but...

It was a dangerous place, but, you know...
You look around and go: "Wow!"

Hilarious! A lot less stressful that I thought it.

Words can't describe this, you know. We are mere humans.

We... We have words to describe what we see every day...
in towns and cities.

We don't have words to describe this.
This is beyond belief.

I feel like I hit a wall.
I think being sick has really caught up to me...

...because I haven't been able to really eat.
And the food hasn't tasted good.

I don't eat full so my energy level has dropped down.

I started good and then just dropped off.
But I'll make it!

Lance, Valerio, Chris and Billi are making a good time.

They skip Camp 1 and head straight for Camp 2.

Camp off there within sight.

I like it. Feel the altitude. It just takes
me I'm in Florida. On a foot Friday.

Trying learn from my guys not to take off too fast.

1500 feet below Jon Hansen struggles into Camp 1.

He's still disoriented. He loses track of where he is.

Russel, over. This is Jon. Arrived in base-camp.
It was a... ??

It was harder that I thought it was gonna be.

It was harder that I thought it was gonna be.

I reached a Camp 1 at 10:30.

It's not fast enough I feel to keep up with the rest of the team.

Jon's already higher that he has ever been.
Higher than he has reached on Lobuche.

But his altitude sickness is getting worse.

And he still has to train his body to survive
another one and a half vertical miles of climbing.

I haven't been eating and it's basically
it's natural that my health is affected here.

It... everybody needs to have a full steam to get up to win.

Let alone two, let alone three.

The higher he climbs the harder it gets to breathe.

But overcoming the extreme altitude
is also a psychological challenge.

Only Jon can make a mental commitment to keep climbing.

At Camp 1 he radioes the expedition leader Russell Brice.

I reached Camp 1 at 10:30.
That's not fast enough I feel...

...to keep up with the rest of the team.
Hit a wall a... around 9 o'clock.


The next morning Lance, Valerio,
Billi and Chris leave Camp 2 for Camp 3.

In front of them is the Lhotze face.
A nearly 4 000 foot wall of rock-hard glacial ice.

Raising at more than 50 degrees it's steeper
and longer than any ski slope in the world.

Mountaineering journalist Billi Bierling...

...has interviewed dozens of climbers
about the rigors of the Lhotze face.

Now she is facing it herself.

I do think it's the most difficult part of mountain.
And a... it's a way of cool for lot of people.

Very tough lately. Lungs! Arms!

It's just tough. This is Everest.

6 000 feet below Jon Hansen comes to a painful decision.

Jon Hansen last night decided at Camp 1
that he didn't want to continue further up the mountain.

He is just not acclimatizing
and has decided to leave the expedition.

If I start pushing myself past the limit
I'm going to be a detriment and...

...I'm going to be a hazard to other climbers, also to the guides.

If something happens up high that I just can't control...
by pushing myself beyond the limit.

So I've chosen to go home to my family safely
and not put other people in harm's way.

Halfway to Camp 3, Lance Fox is unaware of his friend's decision.

Pretty amazing. Pretty amazing.
Happy to be here.

Feeling pretty good today.
I am going upward...

Climbing the face takes skill and stamina.

One false step sends you tumbling
thousands feet down with no way to stop.

The team reaches Camp 3 at 10 AM.

And just in time.
A cold front descends over the high camps.

The storm with gusting winds and snow
is no time to be climbing on the Lhotze face.

At 23 500 feet Camp 3 is shut down. All
they can do is wait out the storm.

The next morning the windchill at Camp 3
drops to 33 degrees below zero.

It has been colder this morning.

The jet stream is returning.

In just hours the winds here
can be growing up to 100 miles per hour.

It's the worst time to be caught on a mountain.

I've got very cold fingertips.

Guide Adrian Ballinger prepares the team
to descend to the base-camp...

...to wait for good weather to launch their summit bid.

?? close to ready and go.
You're welcome to move after Shaun gets on the ropes.

Please have your partner or someone else double-check
your harnesses to make sure they are correct.

No fucking off today. Sorry, never meant it.

I just gotta pace myself. Conserve my energy.

Not to take off so fast.
If I could do that, I am in a pretty good shape.

- My helmet.
- You can get it.

- Team's in sight. Could be worse. Not halfway down.
- Thank you. Doesn't fit as well.

As the jet stream closes in, the team
needs to get off the mountain fast.

At camp 2 Lance gets the news that his friend
Jon Hansen is headed home to Wisconsin.

That's a bummer. I thought I heard that yesterday when I was up high.
I have to admit brought over a tear off my eye.

Back at basecamp the weather map isn't good.
The jet stream has the top of the mountain locked down.

Until it clears again attempts on a summit are impossible.

I think that 19th is the first real...

...good summit day. 19th, 20th, 21st.

Russell picks the following Thursday as a summit day.

But with hundreds of other climbers looking at the same
forecast summit day is going to be crowded on Everest.

I'm very happy if I don't make
the summit of Everest because I get ill...

...or because I just can't hack all the day.

But to fail because, you know, a couple of morons holding up
the ropes on a Hillary Step would be hard to take I think.

Four days before summit day it's time to start back up the mountain.

Here we are. We're off to... to climb Everest.

And it's a big undertaking, I can tell you right now.

Or we gonna go 110%.

I'm comfortable that all of you are physically fit and strong.

We all can get to the summit. This is your game.

To... sort out mentality.

How you can do that in your mind.

I can't get inside your body. Your head.

Only you.

Good luck.

Be safe.

- Let's go.
- Yeah.

After two months of training and acclimatizing theirs bodies...

...Russel Brice's team is leaving the basecamp
to begin toughest five days of their lives.

The short weather window draws hundreds of climbers...

...turning one of the most challenging climbs on a planet
into the mad scramble for the summit.

Ladders aren't just for painting anymore.

It takes two days for Lance, Billi, Chris and Valerio...

... to reach Camp 3 halfway up the Lhotze face - ...

...the highest they reached when acclimatizing.

Now looking up, you know...

...you see the people going up like ants from Camp 3 to Camp 4.

It scares me. Yeah.

There is only one road to Camp 4. And it's jammed with climbers.

It takes six hours traversing legendary Everest landmarks
the Yellow band and the Geneva Spur.

Camp 4 and South Col at the 26 000 feet
is the last stop on Everest.

It's the highest and bleakest campsite in a world.

Tough day, but a good day.

I've written the word "South Col" so many times in my life

And now I'm here.
Never thought I would get that far.

That's the lot harder that I thought. When I was caught
in that massive jam up the Geneva Spur it meant that...

It was literally, just, you know, 25 going up and then,
you know, 25 coming down from yesterday.

Camp 4 sits at the threshold of the death-zone.

Above this invisible line in the sky no human
can survive for long without bottled oxygen.

Russell?s team can rest for just 10 hours.

To get ahead of the crowds tomorrow they need
to leave Camp 4 at 11 PM tonight.

Summit day on Everest cover some of the most
notorious mountain geography in the world.

First The Balcony at 27500 feet.

Then the Cornice Traverse.

A narrow ledge with a sheer drop of more than a mile on both sides.

The last obstacle is The Hillary Step...

...of 40-foot wall of rock and ice
just a few hundred feet below the summit.

And all of it inside the death-zone

From basecamp expedition leader Russell Brice tracks each climber...

...following the team by radio and
microwave-length to Discoveries Sherpa camps.

Adrian Ballinger and fellow guide Shaun Hutson
lead the way out of Camp 4.

Each climber gets two cylinders of oxygen
that last ten hours apiece.

More than enough for 18-hour round trip.

- Lance and his Sherpa, leaving. Do you copy? Over.
- Yeah, roger.

Russell enforces a strict deadline.
Reach the Hillary Step by 9 AM or turn around.

With more than a hundred climbers struggling to reach
the summit it's too risky to stay up high any longer.

There's a line of probably, I'd say 25 to 30 people...
quite a ways up the hill.

Today is the busiest day of the year inside the death-zone.

The Balcony on the next part is cool.
That could be another a... between four and six hours.

Chris and Valerio reach The Balcony in under three hours.

The Balcony is where we do an oxygen cylinder change-over.

As the sun rises, Chris, Lance
and Valerio keep ahead of the crowds.

These guys are nurturing along.
These two are way ahead of our schedule.

Chris Dovell, Russell's neighbour, is the first
of the team to reach the Cornice Traverse.

A narrow ledge barely wide enough for a pair of boots
with the 8000 feet drop just inches away.

- That looks quite steep. Beautiful.
- Yeah.

Then the legendary Hillary Step. A 40-foot rock wall
with a drop off more than a mile down on both sides.

Dozens of rocks from years past litter the rocks.

At the top of the Hillary Step one last slope leads to the summit.

But behind Chris Dovell the rest of the team
grinds to a halt on the Cornice Traverse.

There is gridlock ahead at the Hillary Step
with climbers waiting to go in both directions and down.

We've been... we've been standing here for about half an hour now.
There's been a lot of people coming down.

At 28750 feet standing still
is the worst thing a climber can do.

Their bodies stay warm by moving.
Stuck in line they risk frostbite and hypothermia.

But worse, they are using their last bottle of oxygen.

At the top of the Hillary Step Chris Dovell
and guide Adrian Ballinger have a clear run to the summit.

You just walk to the summit as it's walk in the park
because their training just kicks in.

After six hours of climbing and years of dreaming...

...Chris Dovell is the first of the team
to stand on the summit of Everest.

There's nothing higher!

Well done, mate!

Nice job! Congratulations!

Well, well done, you guys. How is my... my neighbor there?

Look up at the camera! Oh, that's better!

Russell's Head Sherpa Phurba Tashy makes
his second summit of the season for a total of sixteen.

Phurba, congratulations on your sixteenth.

Yeah, Phurba, sixteen!

But back at the Hillary Step Lance and Valerio are still
stuck in traffic along with fellow climber Moises Falcony.

Moises, John Black, Valerio, all together. Over.

OK. Thanks.

Russ, this is Adrian. Looks like a big blockade
formed backed up below the Hillary Step.


Going down is quicker, so Chris and Phurba
take theirs chance to descend.

Year. You go.

Hey, Phurba. I didn't recognise you!
Heeey! Ha ha. Way to go, man.

But the traffic jam is turning into a crisis.

From his position at the top of the Hillary Step
Adrian takes charge of the ropes.

OK. We are going to play team politics here.
You guys need to get ready to go.

There's a guy in red right now.
And there is a guy in yellow...

...as soon as they're down, you guys are rolling.

I'm gonna hold this traffic.

Good job!

No one passes you.

So where does our team go back to?

John, wave your hand. OK.

The queue's moving!


OK, you guys... work hard. Move fast.

Take no prisoners!

After a thirty minutes of directing traffic
Adrian finally clears the gridlock...

...giving Lance, Valerio and Moises
their own shot at the Hillary Step.

Hope you have a traffic cop license for me. Over.

You'll have to learn with more training.

As most of Russell's climbers take on a Hillary Step
journalist Billi Bierling is still missing.

Dean, do you copy?

Billi and her guide Dean Staples were last seen at the Balcony.

But there is no signal form their camera or their radio.

Dean, do you read it? Copy.

Phurba Tashi. Copy?

Right, Big Boss. Me and Chris at South Summit.

Yes, I can see. You didn't see Billi or Dean or anyone?

Not yet, Big Boss.

Looks like Valerio is almost at the summit.

7:30 AM. Valerio reaches the final
slope in sight of his life-long dream.

Amazing. 29 years!

Russell. This is Valerio.
I'm on the summit. Feeling great.

- Fantastic! Over.
- Yeah, roger.

From the top of the Hillary Step Wisconsin vet
Lance Fox is next to climb the summit slope.

Shaun is just ahead of me, Russ. We're approaching the summit.

OK. Let's know when you're on top.

Top of the world, baby!

That's real to be here, next to...

He's a handful, you know. I can't get him off the top!

Rodun hit the top.

But the last climber on the team is a long way behind.

Missing for two hours, Billi Bierling
finally appears at the South Summit.

- Russ, do you copy?
- Hi, Dino.

I've been trying to call you all day.
I'm at the South Summit, waiting for Billi.

Dino, would let me know when she comes.

But it's already late to attempt the summit.
She risks running out of oxygen on the way down.

Russell's rule is simple.
Climb the Hillary Step by 9:00 AM or turn around.

40 vertical feet of rock - the Hillary Step -
is the most difficult technical climbing on the entire route.

As the 9:00 AM deadline passes, Billie is just halfway up
the Hillary Step with a mile drop-off inches to her left.

At 9:12 she reaches the top
of the Hillary Step. 12 minutes late.

But it's close enough. Even for Russell Brice.

In sight of the summit she passes Lance Fox on his way down.

Nearly there, baby, nearly there.

I know that.

For years mountaineering journalist Billi Bierling
has been an expert on mount Everest.

Except for the actual experience of standing in top.

It all changes at 9:50 AM.

Pasang Kami... Congratulations! Well done.
And a... Billi. Also well done.

Russell, this is Billi from the top. Thank you so
much for all your help. I never thought I'd make it.

Well done, Billi. A... Hope you've got the names
of everyone that you passed that morning. Over.

Yes! This is very hard work!
But I'm here. Thank you so much, Russel.

Well done.

In 18 years of leading Everest expeditions
it's the biggest ever day for Russell Brice.

26 climbers, guides and Sherpas on the summit.

Well done, you guys.

The next day Chris, Lance, Valerio, Moises and Billi...

...return together to basecamp's
traditional heroes welcome for summit teams.

Those who stand on the summit feel
that you are the tallest person in the world.

The whole world. And that same second
there is no one higher in the world.

It just... weird, weird feeling.

Those moments on the summit or the summit ridge...

You know, treading in the first steps of... heroes of mine.

Being in places that I've read about and seen and...

...and... you know, for years, was just... magical.

Top of the world, baby!

Just to get up there and know
you can't climb any higher in the world.

That's amazing feeling and...
there is not many people who've done that.

Billi Bierling can now add her name to her database of
the elite group of mountaineers who conquered Everest.

It's actually fantastic.
As much as it is hard work.

It needs a sinking that I've actually...
you know, that I've stood on the top of the world.

You know, you've all this preparation and when after
everything you've done it and you think...

Wow! What's next?

Subtitles: alexarjev, alexei_suhov