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David Breashears Discusses the Difficulty and Danger of Climbing Mount Everest.

Cinematographer David Breashears. The first American to climb Mount Everest twice, he attempted last year to film from Mount Everest's summit on an IMAX camera. But Breashears had to put down his camera to help with the rescue mission of a group of climbers who were part of another expedition at the time, and who were caught on the mountain in a May blizzard. (Chronicled by John Krakauer in his book, "Into Thin Air.") Breashears' film of his own expedition is titled "Everest," and will be released in February. He has won four Emmy awards for his filmmaking. (Interview by Marty Moss-Coane)


Other segments from the episode on November 11, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 11, 1997: Interview with David Breashears; Commentary on George Copeland.


Date: NOVEMBER 11, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 111101NP.217
Head: Everest
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane, filling in for Terry Gross.

Everest has exerted its psychic pull on mountain climbers through the century. One-hundred-and-fifty climbers or so have died attempting to scale its treacherous terrain. In recent years, many amateur climbers, inspired by the possibility of making it to the summit, have signed on to expeditions to scale the forbidding, dangerous, oxygen-poor environment.

In May, 1996, eight climbers were killed while trying to descend the mountain during a sudden freak blizzard. This was the story documented by journalist and climber John Krakauer in his bestselling book "Into Thin Air."

David Breashears was also on Everest in May, 1996. He was there to make a movie using a large-format IMAX camera. His team decided to suspend filming to assist in the rescue efforts. They eventually returned to their expedition and reached the top of Everest. Breashears is a veteran climber and a four-time Emmy Award winner. He's made 18 trips to the Himalayas and has climbed to the top of Everest four times.

His IMAX film about Everest will open in theaters in March. National Geographic has just published a book about his expedition called "Everest: Mountain Without Mercy." David Breashears told me about the physical challenges of climbing Everest. He says that at high altitudes, breathing is like running on a treadmill while inhaling through a straw.

DAVID BREASHEARS, CINEMATOGRAPHER, FILMMAKER, "EVEREST": It's impossible for me, in any film or any book, to convey to someone who hasn't been there what it's really like to be at those elevations -- 26-, 27,000 feet where we're breathing about one-third or one-quarter of the oxygen that we're breathing here in these studios at sea level.

And it's about a profound kind of lethargy, and feeling tired and lying in your tent at 26,000 feet and knowing you have to get ready to go, to leave your tent on -- for the summit day. And looking at your boot and saying "I need to put that boot on" and five minutes later, you're still looking at that boot. And then maybe you've picked up that boot and then maybe, you know, you eventually get it on. It's just a profound kind of lethargy.

MOSS-COANE: Well, it sounds like everything is in slow motion.

BREASHEARS: Yeah, it is. It is. And we did a considerable amount of what we call "psychometric testing" this year for Nova, and we were administered tests, pages and pages of tests, over the radio and two things happened the higher we go. The accuracy of your responses decreases, but much more dramatically, the speed of your responses decreases. So, you do start to live in a state like you've just described -- a somewhat slow motion state. You're not thinking as quickly.

It's not to say you don't think as clearly at times. In my tests from sea level to the summit, I had a 97 or 98 percent accuracy rating. But I slowed down so I could think more clearly. Other members of our team taking these same psychometric tests, if they tried to respond in the same speed, then the accuracy went down greatly.

So it seems that if you -- you can think virtually as clearly, but much more slowly.

MOSS-COANE: Well, and that's because at those altitudes there's just much less oxygen that's getting to the brain even when you're wearing face mask. Can that make up for the decrease in oxygen?

BREASHEARS: Well, let's describe it like this. That oxygen-deprived state is called hypoxia, and that's basically the state you're in whenever you're above 24-, 25,000 feet on Everest, with or without supplemental oxygen. Its -- your body's oxygen-starved. You're wearing supplemental oxygen, but it's mixed with ambient air. You generally put on or start using supplemental oxygen, which is bottled oxygen, above 26,000 feet. But it's not a closed system.


BREASHEARS: It's -- you still are relying predominantly on the ambient air. The flow rate, if you can imagine this, in volume is only two liters per minute. You know, you inhale and exhale at least two liters of volume in every breath. So two liters of nearly pure oxygen is trickling into that mass per minute to be mixed in with the ambient air.

So it does, in effect, place you lower on the mountain -- maybe 4-, 5,000 feet lower than if you weren't wearing and using supplemental oxygen. But the other important factor to remember, and it's a more complicated concept, is that the partial pressure is very low up there, meaning while you are able to breathe this extra oxygen, these extra oxygen molecules coming from your bottled oxygen, the barometric pressure is so low that it's not entering your system at the same pressure as oxygen at sea level.

MOSS-COANE: And that, of course, explains then why things take so long; why you have to move so slowly; and it seems to me, why so many people have such a hard time at those upper levels on Mount Everest because of just the sheer difficulty of breathing.

BREASHEARS: Well, that's a large part of it. But you have to look at a couple of other things to understand the whole picture and what's actually happening to one's body up there, 'cause it's quite extraordinary when you really examine it. For instance, let's say you're at the high camp. It's 26,000 feet -- camp four on the south coal (ph). And your -- you've acclimatized for four or five weeks. That's how long it takes to get ready to be able to climb at those elevations.

Now -- and you're going to leave for the summit that night. Well, from our research last spring, we found out that by the time you reach the summit of Everest, you've gone nearly 60 hours on three to four hours of sleep. So you're incredibly sleep-deprived and that is because sleep apnia, or interrupted breathing, or just the inability to get good rest, is a symptom of hypoxia. Once you leave the lower camps and you reach camp three and camp four, there really is no good sleep. There's little cat naps -- two or three hours at a time.

On top of that, you're severely dehydrated. You're -- once you get up there, you lose your appetite and you can't eat and you can't drink well. So you're having maybe a half a liter of water or a quart of water in a day, when you should be drinking on the recommendation of the high-altitude physiologist, four to six liters.

Then you're malnourished because also those last few days, you're not eating well. In fact, a lot of people don't eat well in general on expeditions. It's not uncommon for people to lose 25 to 30 pounds. So, that's the big picture.

MOSS-COANE: Let's talk a little bit about this IMAX camera that you had built specifically for this expedition in the spring of '96 up Mount Everest. Now normally, an IMAX camera weighs about 80 pounds. You had one designed to weigh much less, and obviously designed for these kinds of conditions.

Tell us about some of the specifics, then, of this IMAX camera that you had designed to take up on top of Mount Everest.

BREASHEARS: OK, well they had to start with a 70-pound camera and they reduced the weight to 42 pounds. And what that meant was we had a camera box, which weighed around 26 pounds. That's the body. We had a magazine loaded with film, which is about 10 pounds, so now we're at 36 pounds. And then we had lenses and batteries which weighed eight pounds. And that's what we took to the summit.

But the interesting thing about shooting on Everest in the IMAX format was that it uses 500 feet of film -- that's 4.5 pounds of film -- in 90 seconds.

MOSS-COANE: So you have to choose your shots very carefully.

BREASHEARS: Yes, yes. It uses 5.6 feet of film per second. Now, I grew up in a format -- 16 millimeter format...


BREASHEARS: ... where 400 feet of film -- a pound and a half of film -- lasted 11 minutes. So, I had to make this great leap of a format where I could basically, you know, leave the camera running and it wouldn't -- for a minute -- and it wouldn't make or break us. But if I left -- you know, you had three shots in this format per roll, and then you had to take the camera apart, unwrap this mechanism, reload it, and it was elaborate thing to load. And had to be done bare-handed.

MOSS-COANE: Why did you want to take an IMAX camera? Why not just get a regular old video camera or film camera and go from there?

BREASHEARS: The simple answer to your question is: Greg McGilovrey (ph) or McGilovrey-Freeman (ph) Films, one of the preeminent producers of IMAX films in the world, came to me and said: "David, we have this project. We want to make a film on Everest in the IMAX format and we want you to get that camera to the top."

And at first, I said no. I tried to convince them unless you shoot it in IMAX format up to 26,000 feet, which would be reasonable -- and then we'll just shoot the top in 35 and on that very, very large screen you can do kind of a form of what we call letter-boxing and just project the 35 millimeter image in the center of that big screen.

And he said: "but wouldn't that be anti-climactic? To get people to the top of Everest and just show them this little picture? Because you can't blow up a 35 millimeter image to fit an IMAX screen. They're 90-feet high and 110-feet wide, and the grain would be the size of golf balls -- the grain of the film.

But you want to know the reason why I really, really decided to do it? It's because I've been filming in the Himalayas for 16 years, and working really, really hard to bring back these images. And these wonderful, beautiful peaks -- the majesty and grandeur of which you cannot imagine -- are being seen by people on a 17-, 18-inch, 20-inch TV screen.

So for the first time in my career as a filmmaker, I had the opportunity to bring back film images that would be projected -- not only projected onto a screen, but the largest screen in the world.

MOSS-COANE: My guest is climber and filmmaker David Breashears. We're talking about climbing and filming on Mount Everest. We'll be back after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Let's get back to mountain climber and filmmaker David Breashears.

Let me ask you a little bit about the sherpas who accompany these expeditions up Mount Everest. Could professional guides make it without the expertise, the hard work and the courage of the sherpas who, of course, live in the region?

BREASHEARS: The sherpas are an invaluable part of any expedition, not only for their sheer brute force of the manpower, the hard work they provide, the load-carrying capacity, but because of their spirit and their sense of humor -- incredibly playful sense of humor, and always there with a grin and a mug of tea.

But I'd like to point out that when you're dealing with people as talented as Rob Hall (ph) and Scott Fisher or Ed Viesters (ph)...

MOSS-COANE: And these, of course, are the professional guides.

BREASHEARS: ... yeah. Those -- that is where the expertise lies. The sherpas do not take the time. It's not in their interest to develop great skills as mountaineers; to read snow conditions; to become incredibly proficient climbers on technical terrain and hard-mixed terrain -- that's snow and ice and rock -- and things like that.

They're -- on the mountain, they provide a different kind of expertise, which is in load-carrying and preparing the base camp. And so, the guides do not rely on sherpas for climbing expertise. They rely on them to -- for load carrying and to fix ropes occasionally.

MOSS-COANE: Well, they have a very interesting relationship with the mountain, and on this expedition, other expeditions, they pray to the mountain. They believe the gods will either protect them or not protect them depending on their prayer and their beliefs. Did you, I don't know, buy into that at all? Does that -- was that something...

BREASHEARS: Of course, oh...

MOSS-COANE: ... that you felt as well?

BREASHEARS: Yeah, ever since my first trip to the region in 1979, when we visited the Tangboche (ph) Monastery which lies near the foot of Everest, and you get blessed by the high lama there, the Rimpoche (ph) in this very elaborate ceremony. And then you get a little red silk string to tie around your neck as a form of protection and good luck.

And the reverence and respect they have for those peaks, and the humility they feel in the presence of these peaks and the mountain gods -- it's -- it affects everyone there and we do take part, very faithfully and solemnly, in the ceremony at the Tangboche Monastery during the approach march. And at the last ceremony, which is the Pooja (ph) ceremony, at base camp. Before anyone is allowed to set foot on the mountain, we have this ceremony.

MOSS-COANE: Let's get back to this trip -- again, this very well-documented fateful trip in the spring of 1996. You were accompanying this expedition up Mount Everest. When did you begin to see that this particular climb was headed for trouble?

BREASHEARS: Well, the first thing that happened that was -- will cause a sense of foreboding in our group was the day that all those climbers -- Rob Hall's group, Scott Fisher's group, the Taiwanese and some others -- were headed from camp three to the south coal. A young Taiwanese climber slipped at camp three and fell 80 feet.

MOSS-COANE: And died.

BREASHEARS: And -- no...


BREASHEARS: ... he was severely -- he was hurt, and they put him back in the tent and his leader elected to go on without him. My sherpas descending from the high camp found him now incapacitated. They started to help him down. They got him 1,000 feet and then he did die. We refused to believe he was dead. The Taiwanese were very inexperienced and incapable of helping him.

So we went out -- Ed Viesters, Robert Schauer (ph), and myself -- hoping to find the man unconscious, and instead we found this Taiwanese climber dead on the ropes. And we brought him down. And that's a very disturbing thing to have to do.

We didn't know him. We didn't know his name. He had died basically alone, because he didn't know the sherpas who were surrounding him. They were the sherpas from my team, not from his team. He shared no language with them.

And we felt very, very bad about that, and bringing him down was tough. We had to lower him down some ice cliffs and I guided his body down.

But at the same time, all these people -- 38 or 40 people -- were headed for the high camp, and that was when I just had a bad feeling that things were a little bit out of control on this mountain.

MOSS-COANE: Describe for us the bad weather that came in, and of course, this was after some of the people made it to the top of Mount Everest and began their climb down, and this storm came up. Describe for us what a storm like that sounds like; what it feels like.

BREASHEARS: Well, I can because I have been in storms like that, although I wasn't in that storm. But I'll set the stage for you. They have now been going 60, 65 hours with three or four hours of sleep. They've been on the go that day 18 hours by nightfall with nothing to drink, nothing to eat. They've run out of oxygen, so they're hypoxic, and they're heading down, and they're more hypoxic than normal. And a storm strikes at the same time that darkness overcomes them.

So you have a very, very, very bad situation. First of all, the onset of darkness is always demoralizing and disorienting, even to a very experienced climber.

MOSS-COANE: You literally don't know where you are on the mountain?

BREASHEARS: No, you can, but who wants to be out on a great peak at 27-, 28,000 feet without light? And maybe you have your headlamp -- you can see six feet. So on top of that, the wind starts to howl and it's a fierce roar up there when that wind blows, 'cause it's not an ordinary wind. It's a jet stream wind. And it starts to blow snow horizontally -- snow that's blowing so thickly that your headlamp can't penetrate more than 15 or 20 feet of it.

So, it's dark. If your headlamp is still working, you have this limited visibility; no landmarks. You have to take off your goggles -- they're dark goggles to keep out the sun. You can't wear them at night unless they're clear. You can't walk into the wind 'cause it stings and pelts you -- the surface of your eyeball. And it's just a terrible situation to be in, outlayed on a peak in a very, very high wind in snow. It's chaotic.

MOSS-COANE: Well do -- under those circumstances, and it sounds like you've been in situations like this -- you hunker down? Or you just very carefully tread your way down the mountain?

BREASHEARS: Well, depends on how well you know the terrain. OK, the reason I know these conditions is 'cause here in the Northeast we have Mount Washington -- fiercest winds in North America, day in and day out, in the winter. And there are times when you have -- yes, you do have to hunker down because you can't -- there's no landmark that you can see or recognize.

When you get down to a certain level approaching the high camp, it becomes fairly flat and featureless. There's no gullies. There's no rocks. You're on ice and you don't know if you're facing north or south or east or west. And those climbers, not knowing where they were, wandered off hundreds of yards in the wrong direction.

And other experienced climbers in the same conditions made it down that night, even later in the night. So, I guess with the right level of experience, you could find your way back to camp. But you know, it's just such a terrible situation to be in. I just feel for those people every time I think about it, being lost on this broad, flat area -- you know, as large as 10 football fields -- and not knowing in the middle of it which way to turn.

MOSS-COANE: Climber and filmmaker David Breashears will be back with us in the second half of the show.

I'm Marty Moss-Coane and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane in for Terry Gross.

Let's continue our conversation with mountain climber and filmmaker David Breashears about Mount Everest. His IMAX film about a 1996 expedition to Everest's summit will be out next spring. National Geographic has just published a book about that climb called Everest: Mountain Without Mercy.

Breashears was on the mountain when a violent storm erupted unexpectedly, stranding climbers who were working their way back to camp.

Where were you in relation, then, to the climbers that were coming down the mountain? Where were you set up?

BREASHEARS: We were at camp two. We'd been higher, but we didn't like a lot of things and we went down to wait. We had a strong team, an experienced team. We could climb up two or three times on a summit attempt, and still have the energy and resources to try again.

Once they came down and we knew what had happened, of course we abandoned, without a moment's thought, all of our filmmaking efforts. We never turned the camera on once during the tragedy. And we went back up to camp three and helped survivors coming down. And then two members, Ed Viesters and Robert Schauer went up to 25,000 feet and met Beck Weathers (ph), who was being helped down by Todd Burlson (ph) and Pete Athens (ph).

MOSS-COANE: Yeah, and Beck Weathers is the physician from Texas who was...


MOSS-COANE: ... rescued and managed to survive through, I guess -- what? -- most of the night, although barely survived. Terrible frostbite -- lost his nose; lost a hand; lost some fingers -- because of how he had to literally try to survive that night.


MOSS-COANE: One of the other leaders, Rob Hall, was stuck up on the mountain, actually died on the mountain, but he was in radio contact. Did you actually talk with him?

BREASHEARS: Yes. We -- when we woke up that morning at camp two, knowing when we went to bed the night before that Rob was struggling with Doug Hansen at 28,700 feet. When we woke up the next morning, we found out the terrible scenario, which was Doug had died, Andy was missing, and Rob was still stuck at 28,700 feet in a fierce wind.

And we did talk to him. Mostly it was Ed Viesters, who knew him much better than I did. And he tried and tried and tried to coerce him, exhort him to get up and start moving. But then we had to start moving back up the mountain ourselves to help people who were coming down well below Rob.

MOSS-COANE: And what did his voice...

BREASHEARS: And then we lost -- well, you know, it was really -- oh, those were really sad moments.


BREASHEARS: Rob's voice was very weak. He was trying to be brave. It was the kind of man he was. He wasn't complaining. But it was very hard to listen to him because everything that had happened -- you know, the effort of climbing Everest; the effort of trying to save Doug; the effort of having spent that terrible night there exposed -- was apparent in his voice. And I never really told anyone then, but when I heard his voice and I just didn't think he had a chance unless the sherpas reached him. It just...

MOSS-COANE: It sounded like a dying man's voice? He was dying.

BREASHEARS: It just sounded -- not dying. It just sounded like he was -- he had no energy, you know; that he -- I sensed that he didn't have the energy to save himself and that's why later in the day when we heard, as we made our way back up to camp three, through a radio link -- we no longer had direct contact -- when we heard that the sherpas going to rescue Rob had turned around, we knew that was it, you know. We knew he would never survive another night.

MOSS-COANE: Well, this tragedy continued, and once you gathered up the survivors, then it was a matter of making it down to the lower elevations to a camp. And a helicopter actually had, I guess was ordered up, or asked whether they could come up to that altitude and take some of the injured people off the mountain.

We talked about how hard it is for human beings to operate at that level. What about for a helicopter and a helicopter pilot?

BREASHEARS: Well, OK, the helicopter pilot can use oxygen, but -- and helicopters can fly quite high. But helicopters do not like to land at such extreme heights. It's just -- they're just not designed for it or built for it, and yet this pilot -- a good friend of mine, Colonel Moden Caycee (ph) from the Nepal Army Air Force -- was going to attempt this landing.

He'd never landed that high before -- 19,800 feet. He'd landed at base camp, 2,000 feet lower. So when he started circling overhead and we were there with Beck and a now -- well, near-comatose Makalu Gao (ph), a Taiwanese climber who'd spent the night with Scott -- I was sure he wasn't going to land. He came in once or twice and it was just fantastic what that pilot did -- unbelievable. It saved a lot of effort, a lot of risk, in getting Makalu Gao down who was on a stretcher and Beck Weathers who was walking, down through the ice fall.

MOSS-COANE: There are certain ethics of mountain climbing, and one of them, of course, has to do with this sharing of oxygen from one climber to the other. When you see that someone is in trouble, there's the question about how you're going to help them and if you're going to share some of your own oxygen with them. Or, do you risk your own life to save someone else's life by that very act?

And I wonder, at some point, does it become every person for themselves on this mountain? And did your team talk about that?

BREASHEARS: Well, that's something I've written about in other journals, and it's -- it's how things can fall apart like that and become every person for themself. Of course, we saw the exact opposite of that with Rob, who in an incredibly courageous act and wonderful act, stayed with Doug and fought to save Doug's life, and in the end, although he could never have foreseen it, he lost his own life.

But that's the kind of man Rob is, and that's what we all would have expected from Rob.

Of course, there are times when people -- and you've gotta think that people are frightened up there sometimes. They're in a state -- in a condition they never, ever could have imagined they'd be in. And it could be hard to have the -- the magnanimy of spirit or whatever that Rob had to say "I'm willing to stay with you even if it means I may die."

That comes down to the decision at the crisis point, and you know, I've had to give up my oxygen for someone. I didn't feel threatened by doing that. I knew I could get down without it. It didn't cause me one moment of concern.

But to have been on that Hillary step in that storm at 6:00 p.m. with Doug Hansen and have to make a decision to fight for his life at risk to my own, you know, I can only hope I would have made the decision Rob did, to stay and do what I could. I can't say what I would do. I can only say what I would hope I would do.

MOSS-COANE: And I assume this is things that mountain climbers think about when perhaps when they get back to base camp.

BREASHEARS: Yeah, I can only say that we -- our team -- we put down our camera. We never intruded upon the agony and pain of that -- of those moments. And we volunteered our oxygen supply at no risk to ourselves, other than the risk to the success of the expedition. And I was proud that my team didn't think twice about that.

MOSS-COANE: More from filmmaker and mountain climber David Breashears after this short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

David Breashears is our guest today on FRESH AIR. He's a mountain climber and a filmmaker, and we're talking about his experiences climbing and filming from Mount Everest.

Now, what kind of deliberations did you and your crew go through once this rescue was taken care of? You still had a film to make. Did you have any second thoughts? Did you think, well, maybe based on all the terrible things that have happened, we should go back and perhaps come back to this mountain another time? Or did you just say: let's go. We're here. Let's go.

BREASHEARS: Well, no, we didn't say that at all. In fact, it was a very difficult time for me. I was the leader of the team, as well as the director of the film. And we had a very moving and traumatic memorial service at base camp, and then all the teams started to leave, so we felt quite lonely.


BREASHEARS: The wind continued to howl up there. The weather forecasts were all very bad and I knew I could not demand, nor would I, that my team go back up that mountain. But I did know I could order everyone home and say enough is enough, why take any more risks. But that wasn't anything I would do either. It had to be more democratic than that.

And so we talked about it and we all did a lot of soul-searching. There was a lot of sadness. There was fear of going back up knowing we would have to pass Rob Hall and Scott Fisher, our friends, frozen on the trail; maybe Doug Hansen; maybe Andy Harris.

But we did decide that our only obligations were to ourselves, not to the film. There was no pressure put on us from the executive producer who we had daily contact with via satellite telephone. So, we all said: "we're professionals; we've had an apprenticeship; we've earned our stripes." Ed Viesters said: "Everest is not a death sentence. We can climb it safely."

And so, as climbers with a love for that mountain and a love for high places, we went back up. And we went and we decided we're going back up, we might as well continue filming.

MOSS-COANE: And when you passed the bodies, the dead bodies, of some of the party, some of the members of this party, some of the leaders, I know some of you sat with them and, what, talked with them or just sat with them on the mountain. Did you do that?

BREASHEARS: Well, both Ed and I did. Ed was much closer to Rob than I was. He'd done many peaks with him. It was very, very hard for Ed. He'd known Scott as long as I had -- 20 years -- spent more time with Scott than I had. He'd known Rob not nearly that long, but they were very close from being on trips together.

When we first passed Scott, it was at night with our headlamps, and mostly I was just startled when all of a sudden there was a person in blue lying on the ground in front of me. But both Ed and I were far ahead of the team when we reached Rob on the south summit. And then Ed had to leave and I had to wait 40 minutes for my team.

And I just sat there. I really didn't know what to do, 'cause there he was on his side in the snow. His hand was out and exposed and half of his body. And mostly I was just perplexed. You know, I was -- because of what I've mentioned earlier in the program, there's not a lot of room for emotions up there. You're just simply incapable of it. Your body doesn't have the energy or the space for it.

And I just said, I was thinking: "Rob, how could this have happened?" -- you know, and it was hallowed ground to me. You know, I just sat there.

MOSS-COANE: What did he look like -- I mean, frozen like that?

BREASHEARS: His face was not exposed, thankfully.


BREASHEARS: But he was on his side, and I was surprised with the order of the area. It had been drifted in, but it -- Rob had done all the right things. I-sacks (ph) were not lying horizontally in the snow where they could be drifted over. They had been stuck down vertically, like when you get off a ski lift and you want to put on your bindings, and you jab in your ski pole.

His crampons were off. He'd taken the metal spikes off his feet because they conduct cold, or heat away. So in an effort to prevent frost bite, he'd taken off his crampons. Oxygen bottles were arrayed very orderly. And but the most eerie -- it was just sad and I mean our whole day, it was a tough day. We wanted to be -- feel a joyous moment, but we'd all lost too much to feel any joy about climbing the peak that year.

MOSS-COANE: Did you photograph any of these bodies as you passed them?

BREASHEARS: Yes, some members of our team did, and I'm glad you asked that, because those were specific requests from the families, that we would bring back pictures. I think it helps them deal with it. You can see how they died; the position they were in; and it provides something very, very concrete in your mind.

But I'm also very pleased to say that we've received many, many offers from magazines with many thousands of dollars, and we have not allowed one of those pictures to be published, and of course you don't see them in our book. That's a -- there is a picture of some body in our book that was on the trail from another expedition. It's not from one of our members.

But, we did take pictures and we have not allowed them to be used by any form of media.

MOSS-COANE: Let me ask you about a ritual I read about, because 150 people have died on Mount Everest over the years, and there's a ritual, I guess, of throwing dead bodies, what, off the mountain? Or into crevices? Is that right?

BREASHEARS: Well, no. You wouldn't say that's a ritual. When a body can be brought down safely and reasonably, they are brought back down the mountain, especially if it's a sherpa, because they're Buddhists. And unless they're cremated properly, their body is in limbo and they cannot be reborn. And that's a terrible situation for the family and also for the deceased to be in.

Sometimes -- one year I found the bodies of my two friends who had died the year before, but they had been frozen and they'd fallen down in the winter. The wind blew them down and they fell 4,000 feet, and the bodies were no longer whole. They were in pieces. And so, the only thing I could do in that situation was wander around and collect the pieces and put them in a crevasse.

There are times when we've been asked to just get someone off the route up high, where you cannot bring a body down. There's just no bringing someone down above 27-, 28,000 feet. You can barely move one foot in front of the other. So instead of having someone become a spectacle, then it is not a formal burial, it's just to get them off the route, from being a spectacle.

So -- but most of the bodies up high are left there, not because there's no sensitivity about it or care for the deceased. It's just an enormous effort and sometimes dangerous effort required to bring people down.

MOSS-COANE: There's been a lot of publicity about this particular climb -- a television movie; several books; your IMAX film coming out. Do you see this as a cautionary tale? Do you hope that those foolhardy people who think that they can climb Mount Everest when they really have no business on the mountain, might turn back? Might think twice?

BREASHEARS: You know, I've thought a lot about that, and I don't think that's going to happen because Everest was starting to be this worn-out old everyman's mountain, and it was no longer something you could walk into a cocktail party and chink your glass and -- "oh, I've climbed Everest."

But now -- now it's the killer mountain again. It's the mountain without mercy.


BREASHEARS: Now when -- if you go out and climb Everest, people are going to talk about it, 'cause they've read the books; they've seen the movies. So you know, for a mountain that had kind of been knocked off of its pedestal years ago in terms of it being an elite, special achievement, it's now been placed back on its pedestal. And I don't think that any of these books or any of these movies are going to do anything but heighten the aura and the prestige of climbing Everest.

MOSS-COANE: So you think there'll be more traffic, more climbers working their way up to that summit?

BREASHEARS: There were just as many this year. I was there this year...


BREASHEARS: ... a year later, and this year five people died. And you know what? They all died climbing too late into the day...

MOSS-COANE: Interesting.

BREASHEARS: ... once again. It's always happened and it's going to continue to happen and we've just -- all we've had here was a big accident that was well-publicized in 1996.

MOSS-COANE: Well David Breashears, I want to thank you very much for joining us on the show today. Thanks very much.

BREASHEARS: It's been my pleasure.

MOSS-COANE: David Breashears' IMAX film about his 1996 expedition to Everest's summit will be out next spring. National Geographic has just published a book about that climb called Everest: Mountain Without Mercy.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest: David Breashears
High: Cinematographer David Breashears. The first American to climb Mount Everest twice, he attempted last year to film from Mount Everest's summit on an IMAX camera. But Breashears had to put down his camera to help with the rescue mission of a group of climbers who were part of another expedition at the time, and who were caught on the mountain in a May blizzard. Breashears' film of his own expedition is titled "Everest," and will be released in February. He has won four Emmy Awards for his filmmaking.
Spec: Movie Industry; Travel; David Breashears; IMAX; Everest
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Everest
Date: NOVEMBER 11, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 111102NP.217
Head: George Copeland
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: Most of our critics like to write about new works, either recommending them or not. But today, classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz wants to tell us about an obscure American pianist whose works are out of print.


LLOYD SCHWARTZ, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: I'm an optimist about the arts. I want to believe that what's really good will eventually come to light. You'll see an old movie on television and say: "who is that actress? She's so real." Then you begin watching for her.

One of the most important things a critic can do is remind people of the existence of lost treasures.

At dinner recently, a friend said that he'd been meaning to ask me for years if I'd ever heard of a pianist named George Copeland. I was astonished. When was the last time I'd heard that name, except from a few fanatic record collectors?

George Copeland didn't record very much, but I've loved the few recordings I've heard. He had an extraordinary touch -- feathery, pearly, glistening, and instantly recognizable. He specialized in French Impressionism, yet there's nothing merely impressionistic about his playing. You can hear every note distinctly; nothing gets washed away in a watery blur.

He also championed 20th century Spanish composers. This music can be percussive, rhythmically charged. Yet, Copeland never pounds. He seems to caress the keys. You can hear layers in his playing -- foregrounds, middle-distances, and backgrounds. And the finger work is phenomenal.

Here's a dance by Manuel Dufaya (ph) from an old MGM LP which was probably reproduced from even older 78s on RCA Victor from the late 1930s or early '40s.


There are only glancing allusions to George Copeland in reference books. He was born in Boston in 1882. When he was seven, his mother took him to Spain. He made his recital debut in Boston in 1905. He met Debussy in 1911 and introduced many of Debussy's major piano pieces to America. He died in Princeton, New Jersey in 1971 at the age of 89.

The reason my friend asked about Copeland was that his family knew him. Copeland spent summers with them in Maine. "He was charming," my friend said, "and big in every way" -- my friend's hands reaching up and stretching out sideways.

He'd even given my friend a few piano lessons. Copeland told him never to hit the keys, but to stroke them. My friend compared Copeland's fingers on the keyboard to a delicate paint brush moving across a canvas. This description fit my mental image of Copeland's playing exactly.

Why wasn't George Copeland better known? One answer may be that he suffered from terrible stage fright. He didn't perform much and his bad nerves sometimes interfered with his playing in public. He may also have been a victim of homophobic critics.

I've looked, but can't find any of Copeland's recordings in print. Unless some record company comes to the rescue, you might never get to hear more of his playing than the excerpts you've just heard -- and that's as frustrating for me as it might be for you.

But remember his name: George Copeland. He was a wonderful musician and he shouldn't be forgotten.

MOSS-COANE: Lloyd Schwartz is the classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix. He talked about the music of a American pianist George Copeland.


Dateline: Lloyd Schwartz, Boston; Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
High: Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz reminds us of a pianist that most of us have probably never heard of: George Copeland, who died at the age of 71 in 1971. Lloyd says none of Copeland's recordings are currently in print.
Spec: Music Industry; Piano; George Copeland
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: George Copeland
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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