Last night the Discovery Channel aired the sixth, and final episode of, Everest: Beyond The Limit and in many ways, it was the most powerful episode of them all.
When last weeks episode ended, Tim Medvetz and Gerard Bourrat were determined to go to the summit despite the fact that team leader Russell Brice had ordered them down. The two had moved too slowly and were using up too much oxygen, to complete their summit bid, but caught in the midst of Summit Fever, they pressed on anyway.
After some coaxing from the team however, they are finally convinced to turn around and give up their attempt to reach the top. Their trip back to Camp IV turned out to be a long, slow, and grueling process.
Meanwhile, double amputee Mark Inglis did summit, but his stumps were rubbed raw from the artificial legs that carried him to the top. He was in so much pain that he couldn’t complete the descent on his own, so the team rigged up a makeshift sled to pull him down the mountain and get him back to Advanced Base Camp.
The real drama though, came in the form of climber Max Chaya, who had summitted early in the day, discovering a dying man, laying beside the trail beneath a rock. The man was alive, but had run out of oxygen, and was severely frost bitten. Of course, that climber was David Sharp, whose eventual death sparked controversy in the climbing community and brought personal attacks against Brice himself.
The show hinted at the controversy, but skirted around the issues for the most part, and never really explained what caused the community to splinter into debate, nor did they discuss the charges leveled at Brice, who many have accused of leaving Sharp on the mountain. There were sound bites from team members who all said that it was impossible to rescue him, and the genuine emotion in their voices told you that they truly did take it to heart that a fellow climber was dying, and there was nothing they could do to help him.
But there are also many who feel that Sharp could have been rescued had someone stopped on the way to the summit to help him. It would have meant that a team would have had to give up their summit bids, and try to lower him back down, something we now know no one did. Beyond The Limit glossed over the fact that more than 40 climbers walked past Sharp without lending any type of aid as they went up the mountain, and the show never examined the ethical side of leaving someone to die.
Personally, I would have liked to have seen comments from someone who took issues with leaving the man there, and perhaps some commentary on the current climbing climate on Everest, which has become a super-highway to the top, where the summit is more valued than helping someone in need.
I will say that the video footage seemed to show that Brice didn’t know about Sharp until it was too late, and that he seemed to have the best interest of his own climbers in mind. Whether or not the footage on the show will quiet some of his detractors has yet to be seen, but judging from what whas shown, which could easily have been edited, there was little Brice could do.
The end of the show had a recap of what happened to the climbers after they had returned home. Several of them, such at Tim and Mogens, were vowing to return next year to go for the summit again. Others lost extremities to frostbite (Gerard and Mark).
It was fairly clear that no one left the mountain without some baggage. Everyone was effected by the climb, either from facing their own limits, finally making it to the top, or seeing first hand the dangers of high altitude climbing.
Overall, I’d say the series was very good. The early shows seemed rather slow and boring. But once the teams started to actually climb things picked up and became much better television to watch.
The final four episodes were excellent and the series wrapped up well, It would have been nice to have seen them take on the controversy more fully, with more than an over simplified look at the situation. There were a number of ways they could have approached it to explain both sides more fully, but as it stands, it seems as if they just wanted to acknowledge it and move on. Of course, you could easily do another whole hour long episode on this topic alone.
The best part of the show for me was getting to know the climbers. They were all unqiue and interesting men and you really wanted to see them succeed, even as you knew that not everyone could make the summit.
I also enjoyed seeing the North Side of Everest, which I didn’t know that much about before watching the show. Learning the route to the top, and seeing how it differed from the South Side, was interesting and educational, and a nice break from the typical route that has been shown in so many documentaries before this one.
In the end, I think the show did what it was intended to do, namely draw in a decent size audience, capture the imagination of the mainstream, and stir up ratings. Discovery did an admirable job with this show, and managed to film the expedition all the way to the top, which in and of itself was no small feat.
Lugging cameras up and down the mountain to capture this footage couldn’t have been easy. There were a lot of great scenes and photographs as well, which was greatly appreciated. But here’s a pro-tip for the guys over at Discovery Channel. Next time capture and broadcast all the footage in HD. It’ll make plenty of us happy. 🙂
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