Immediately following this weeks episode of Beyond The Limit was the third episode of After The Climb, once again hosted by Phil Keoghan. The episode opens with Phil talking with Tim Medvetz, Mogens Jensen, Russell Brice, and Peter Hillary, son of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Everest.
Peter starts off talking about how important it is to have experience on big mountains, and knowing how to climb before you attempt something like Everest. As he says, you’re not yourself at 27,000 feet, so it’s important that you know what you’re doing.
Next, we’re shown some video footage of the episode we just watched, showing Tim climbing the mountain, reaching the summit at long last, and then descending the mountain. Tim talks about how he wasn’t going to give up no matter what, and that he knew that Russell would make him turn back if he knew that he had broke his hand, so he kept quiet about it as long as he could. They also showed an x-ray of Tim’s hand, which has been put back together using two metal plates and ten screws. Just what Tim needed, more metal in his body.
Mark Ingles re-joins the discussion again this week. He summitted last year, and become the first man to do so on two artificial legs. He talks about how he lost his legs following an accident on Mt. Cook in New Zealand back in 1982, and Phil ask him about the fact that he had to have more of his legs cut off after his climb on Everest. Mark tells him that it was “just a bit of a touch-up”, but anyone who watched last year’s version of Beyond The Limit remember how much damage he did to his legs and how painful it was for him to descend last year. Eventually the guides had to slide and carry him down the mountain.
Phil makes the comment that climbing Everest can be seen as a very selfish act, but each of the men weigh in with their thoughts on that. Peter Hillary disagrees with the assertion saying that life would be pretty boring if we all did the same thing. He says that variety is the spice of life and we all have things that inspire us. That’s not selfish, that’s what makes us who we are. I find myself agreeing with them on this point.
Next up, Eric Simonson joins the discussion. Eric is a professional mountain guide, much like Russell, and he offers some insights into how they have to manage the climb and make sure that their clients are safe while climbing. Russell talks about how important it is to keep an eye on the time and oxygen use. The climbers don’t often think about those things and that’s what gets them into trouble.
Peter Hillary then tells a chilling tale about how he was on K2 back in 1995 and didn’t feel right about the way things were going. He turned back, while his seven teammates continued up. Peter was the only one to come back alive. He said he trusted his intuition and it saved his life. He remarks that that is part of the danger, but that experienced climbers have to learn to trust that intuition and not get too caught up in reaching the summit alone.
The next person to join the crew is Dan Mazur, who is also a well known guide. Dan discusses how you have to make tough choices when you’re in the Death Zone, but those decisions are often the difference between life and death. He also shared a tale about his experience on the mountain in which he and his team were in Camp 4 and were preparing to make their summit bid. They woke up in the middle of the night, as is traditional, but saw that the weather was not great, so they stayed in their tents.
When morning arrived, the weather had improved, so they set off for the summit, but didn’t reach the top until 6 PM, long after the traditional time for having topped out and turned back. On the descent, Dan’s climbing partner ran out of oxygen, so they dug a snow cave and climbed inside and tried to stay warm. He felt his the warmth leaving his body, so he elected to get out of the snow cave and wander down the mountain.
He found a camp and asked for help, and those men found his friend, who was near death and nearly frozen to death. Dan rubbed hot tea on his face and was amazed when his friend opened his eyes and was alive.
Peter and Russell talk about the effort that must go into saving someone on Everest, and how dangerous it can be to try to bring someone down. Peter says that he feels their is a kind of a pact between the climbers, but Russell says that while you want to help, it’s just not always feasible. They’re joined by Dr. Monic Piris at that point, and she says that while rescue is possible, the chances of success are quite small, and it depends on who the rescuers are, what time of day it is, what the weather is, and more.
She also discusses the effects of “The Death Zone” on the human body. At that altitude, the impact on the body is incredible, and every moment you’re above 26,000 feet, you’re actually dying.
The next topic of discussion was responsibility and how much the mountaineers feel that for one another. Peter says that there is a sense of responsibility to help others when you can, and Russell notes that it’s not about just helping someone, but more about who can be saved. If someone is too far gone, they have to be left behind or you’ll risk the lives of others.
At this point, Pete Athans returns, and he also chimes in with thoughts on a code of ethics amongst climbers to help one another, but also a code that you come prepared.
One of the most compelling moments of this episode was listening to Pete talk about the disaster of 1996. He said that he was in Camp 3 when word came in that 18 people were missing, so he didn’t think twice about going up to help find them and rescue those that they could.
Not everyone else came to aid in that rescue however, and while Pete wouldn’t say it, there was an implication that had others come to help, they may have been able to have saved Rob Hall and Scott Fisher, two friends of Pete who lost their lives that awful day. Again, Pete wouldn’t speculate that they could have been saved, only that he still wonders about the possibilities. Pete is a guy who is very easy to listen to. He talks like a philosopher or poet, and he offers up some really insightful comments.
Dan Mazur talks about a recent climb he was on where he and his clients were going up the mountain and came across a man who was sitting in the snow, in obvious distress, his jacket open, his gloves and hat off. Dan asked him who he was and he replied that his name was Lincoln Hall. From there, he and his team gave up their summit attempt to help Lincoln down from 28,000 feet, where he would have died had they not lent him some aid.
Hall’s rescue would go on to be one of the big stories of the Everest 2006 season, especially in the wake of the David Sharp incident. Dan said that they had to motivate Lincoln’s team to come back to help him, as they had already pronounced him dead, and even called his wife to tell her that he had died.
Veikka Gustafsson is the next person to return to the round table discussion this week, and during his segment, they talked about a subject near and dear to my heart – gear! Veikka, who summitted Everest without supplemental oxygen, talked about the gear that he took with him to the summit, which was not all that much all things considered. He mentions that if you don’t have to carry the oxygen tanks, it’s possible to move faster and go lighter.
He also says that the biggest problem with people getting into trouble is that they don’t learn from mistakes and continue to make them over and over. Peter Hillary mentions that having the right gear doesn’t ensure that you’ll be successful, and that some climbers can travel light and fast and get up and down quickly without danger, while others would get caught in a dangerous situation.
Phil asks the men what the stupidest thing they’d seen on Everest, and Mogens quickly spoke up about a Dutch Climber (Iceman Werner de Jong) who decided he was going to climb Everest in just a pair of shorts. They mention that he only made it to Camp 2, but all the men shook their heads in disbelief. Peter says that on the South Side, he’s seen people come to Base Camp carrying surfboards, mountain bikes, and other crazy stuff.
As the episode neared the end, Betsy Huelskamp returned to the show and is asked what advice she would give someone wanting to make the climb. She says that she is probably the wrong person to ask but she would tell them to think about all their choice on who they climb with, from which side, and so on.
She also says be prepared. More than she was. Don’t go in blind. Dr. Luanne Freer offers up some advice on how to prepare before heading to Everest, saying get plenty of experience on other mountains first to learn how to climb at altitude and learning about how your body reacts. She also says that you need to be honest with yourself before you go.
Finally, Phil asks Russell about the rise of adventure tourism, and the tests that he has in place before he allows his clients to go to Everest. Russell says it’s important to have those tests in place for safety reasons. Peter Hillary says that the excitement about adventure tourism is about freedom to challenge yourself and do amazing things. But he does say that you need to be responsible for yourself. In all this talk about Russell’s tests however, no one asked him why he took Betsy along, who clearly hadn’t passed any of his tests.
Once again, the show covered a lot of ground. More than i would have liked, as they seem to be going for quantity over quality. The discussion is great and they have some of the most amazing climbers in the World at their disposal. They all have some amazing stories to tell and insights into mountaineering that few others have.
But as I said last week, sometimes they’re off to a new topic far too quickly. Take the talk about gear for instance. They could have taken up a much larger portion of the show going into more detail about the various gear items that they use on the mountain.
This episode was different from the past two in that it was much more dominated by the professional mountaineers, with Tim and Mogens rarely offering up comments. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded hearing more about Tim’s summit.
In the episode of Beyond The Limit that aired just before this show, we saw two years of frustration and hard work finally pay off for Tim, as he, at long last, stood on the summit. They barely mentioned it however, and focused more on his broken hand than the summit itself. I would have liked to have heard more about his thoughts on reaching his goal. Perhaps next week we’ll get some of that.
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