Map of Nepal and Tibet showing Mt. EverestCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                    Map of Tibet and Nepal showing Mt. Everest - Wikimedia

Objective:  The Summit

A climbing expedition to the summit of Mount Everest occurred in 1996 for the purpose of placing geological instruments on the mountain for a scientist, Roger Bilham, whose specialty was the research of data concerning earthquakes.  One of his scientists, Ed Viesturs, who had climbed Mount Everest three times previously, acted as the Summit Team Leader from the USA.  This time, though, Viesturs  brought along his new bride, Paula, to use Mount Everest as their honeymoon destination.  She quipped that she never expected to have thirty people along on her honeymoon.  Paula functioned as the Base Camp Manager while the team continued on up to the summit.

Actor Liam Neeson is the narrator of this 44-minute Imax Documentary which photographed the ascent and the successful completion of the expedition at the top of Mount Everest.


SherpaCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                               Sherpa on Mount Everest - Wikimedia


Sherpa Jamling Tenzing Norgay from Nepal was part of the Summit Team.  Jamling is the son of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay who accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand when they were part of the first team to reach the summit of Mount Everest successfully in 1953.  Although Jamling’s father has since passed away, it had always been his dream to duplicate his father’s feat.

The word “Sherpa” applies to a group of Nepalese Buddhists who are genetically disposed to endure high altitudes from living in the Himalayas for centuries.  Because this tribe of people are only given a first name, it is customary for others to regard “Sherpa” as their last name.  They are skilled as mountain-climbing guides, and also are used to carry the equipment needed by the climbers.


Mt. EverestCredit: Wikimedka

                                                                Mount Everest - Wikimedia

 Difficulties of the Climb

Mount Everest is a desolate, deathly place where 150 climbers have died in their attempts.  About one-third of these were killed by avalanches.  Climbing accidents and lack of oxygen are also killers.  For fifty years prior to Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent, no team had succeeded in reaching the summit.

The mountain is 29,058 feet above sea level and lies on the border between Nepal and Tibet in China.  The team used 60 Yaks to carry their baggage to Base Camp which is at the 5000 foot level.  Simple campsites at Base Camp allow climbers to take a break during their ascent or descent of the mountain.  Several times a day at Base Camp, you can hear the roar of avalanches far away.  At different stages on the trail, monuments can be seen, called Chortens, which are meant to memorialize those people who died on Everest.  There is a Buddhist monastery on the mountain at the 13,000 feet level, which accommodates the Sherpas who practice the Buddhist form of worship.

One of the women on the expedition is an attractive lady called Araceli Segarra who is there to become the first Spanish woman to reach the peak of Everest.  She is skilled as a rock climber and practices her craft in Mexico.  She never experienced any trouble on the climb, nor was she a liability in any way.

Climbers are compelled to spend a few weeks acclimatizing while on the trail, enabling their bodies to increase the number of red blood cells which thereby increases the oxygen in the blood, thus compensating for the lower levels of oxygen in the air.  Sherpas, who are indigenous to the region, have more oxygen in their blood, making them the ideal guides on the ascent.


Mt. Everest Base CampCredit: Wikimedia

                                                  Base Camp with Campsites - Wikimedia

Into Thin Air

At the time of Ed Viesters’ climb, twelve other teams were on the mountain.  One of these was headed by a New Zealander named Rob Hall.  Rob’s team had three more days left before they reached the summit when a fierce storm came without warning.  Over two dozen climbers were caught high on the mountain, too high to get back.  Only a few were able to fight their way back.  The stranded climbers ran out of bottled oxygen at 100 degrees below zero.  Rob Hall, a friend of Ed Viesters, was one of the stranded.  His wife, back home in New Zealand, was seven months pregnant.  Through Ed’s help, he was able to talk to her on the phone, but he could not move from where he was.  Rob went to sleep in those sub-zero temperatures but did not survive the night.  An account of Hall’s expedition is given in the best-selling book by Joh Krakauer, entitled “Into Thin Air.”

Helicopter Rescue

Another member of Rob’s team, Beck Weathers, had a similar experience of being caught in the storm for 22 hours.  His colleagues thought he had died, but he staggered back into their High Camp.  He was blind and weak, and eventually he lost both of his frostbitten hands.  A Nepalese helicopter pilot attempted the impossible and was able to reach the team at their camp.  Usually, with such thin air, the helicopter blades cannot function.  This time, they worked and Beck Weathers was able to get medical attention back in Dallas, Texas, and to make a full recovery.

This storm was called the worst disaster in the mountain’s history.  Eight people lost their lives.


Sherpas on the TrailCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                            Sherpas on the Trail - Wikimedia

The Final Ascent

Ed’s Team wanted to continue on up.  Jamling got word from the Buddhist monastery that they could start their ascent.  The scenes at this point were agoraphobic.  The climbers had to use ladders over large crevasses laid down between two sections of ice, walking horizontally on the rungs.  I do not think I could have done that.  Also, there are three danger zones in this portion of the ascent on the Southeastern Ridge:  the Khumbu Icefall, the Lhotse Face, and the Southeast Ridge which is near the summit.   The climb to Lhotse Face, which was 4000 feet high, took an exhausting two-day climb.  Watching the climbers maneuver these difficult spots was fascinating to watch.  Paula was down at Base Camp and asked to have the team send videos so that she could be sure that Ed was safe.

The final 3000 feet is known as the death zone.  It takes twelve hours to get from High Camp to the summit.  It is best to start around midnight to get there about noon the next day.  At this point, the temperature is 30 below zero.  At 26,000 feet, there is nothing to breathe.  You cannot get enough air.  In each breath, there is only one-third of the oxygen you would normally breathe in at sea level.

Viesturs found Rob Hall frozen in the snow.  He sat down next to him and cried.  At a place called Hillary Step, which is supposedly the hardest part of the climb, Viesturs decided to make it without bottled oxygen, as some other climbers have attempted.  He knew that when he got past that, he was going to make it.  He radioed Paula and told her he was at the summit.


Reaching the Summit of Mt. EverestCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                            Reaching the Summit of Mt. Everest - Wikimedia

Success At Last

Sherpa Jamling left pictures of his family and holy cards at the top.  He had been dreaming of this since he was a boy.  He noted that climbing to the top had changed his life.  His moments on the Summit were sacred for him.  He just wanted to live up to his father’s legend.

They hiked speedily down to Base Camp which was a two-day descent.  In the face of extraordinary hardship, the team had acted with courage and grace.  The data that would be collected and preserved would give the world significant information about earthquakes.  And the IMAX Camera was with them when they reached the top of the world.