“I think it’s really all a matter of challenge, not so much challenge only with the mountain, but challenge with oneself. Seeing if you can force yourself to overcome your fears and hopefully, ultimately get to the top.” -Edmund Hillary
With the recent news of Melissa Arnot’s summit (and surviving descent) of Everest without supplemental oxygen and the deaths of more climbers to add to the mountain’s death toll, Everest is once again in the headlines.
For those of you who want a deeper look into the quest (besides the Hollywood produced “Everest”), this 2013 film is worth a evening on the couch.
Using both archival footage and modern recreations, the film both retraces and recreates Edmund Hilliary’s arrival in Kathmandu to Everest base camp. The goal was to summit on May 15. Enter Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa climbing Everest since 1935, who had been up the mountain 6 times already.
Here are a few factoids:
In 1953 there was a race to summit the yet-to-be conquered Everest. At that point 10 attempts had been made. By range of comparison, over 7k people have now attempted Everest to date, according to Outside Magazine. The British Everest Expedition led that year included beekeeper, Edmund Hillary, age 33. But he had also been a climber for 10 years, and already had several trips to the Himalaya.
There were 13 members of the expedition, 30 full time sherpas, and 600 porters. There had already been 7 British attempts already. The Swiss had almost done it in 1952, so there was incredible pressure to succeed.
Remember folks, the knowledge of altitude at this time was limited. As noted in the film, “It was like sending someone into space. No one knew wherther or not it could be done.” 13 deaths had already occurred and zero summits.
Throughout the film, there is rolling commentary from Edmund’s and Tenzings sons along with Jim Whittaker, the 1st American to summit Everest in 1963. As he notes, “Put a pillow over your mouth and try and breath through it as you’re running…you’re trying to get enough air, and the oxygen debt builds up until you just can’t go.”
Tension mounts as the men struggle to get up the Lhotse Face and reach the South Col, and a monsoon is building in the Bay of Bengal. The expedition seemed to be unraveling. By this time it is the 21st of May and Hillary and Norgay are forced to lead 13 Sherpas who only had tea for breakfast into a 13 hour climbing day without oxygen. (cue jaw drop)
(Imagine…no top of the line North face clothing, no Black Diamond ice axes, no Scarpa boots… from the looks of the film, they wore flannel shirts, wool sweaters, parachute pants, and whatever the best technology had to offer at the time, and according to the movie, even leaving camps with bare hands.)
As poignantly noted by Whitaker, “There’s just certain human beings able to put one foot in front of the other, you know, relentlessly, psychologically able to do it, whereas other people would fail.”
The result: On May 29, 1953 at 11:30 am Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay summited Mount Everest at 29,035 feet.
Definitely a worthy watch for all those interested in the outdoors, alpine climbing, and of course, the mystery and history of Mount Everest.