Thoughts On Storm Over Everest

So did anyone else catch Storm Over Everest last night? It aired for two hours in prime time, and was some of the best television I’ve seen in a quite a long time.

The show was filmmaker David Breashears‘ return to Mt. Everest to take a closer look at the events that took place on the mountain back in 1996. The story is told through limited narration by Breaashears himself, and interviews with a number of the survivors, and some dramatic recreations of the events, interspersed between amazing photos and video of Everest itself.

The survivors, who told their tales in a very compelling fashion included the likes of Michael Groom, Beck Weathers, Charlotte Fox, Sandy Hill, Makalu Gau, and many more. Listening to them talk about their various experiences was mesmerizing at times, even though I’ve heard some of them talk about it in the past.

It seems that they were more willing to open up now, since so much time has passed, and share what they were going through.

The film was very well edited and offered a flair for the dramatic, as the events unfolded on screen, with images and footage to complement the stories being told. It was all shot in high def as well, which made for a stunning visual of what life on Everest is like.

It was, for the most part, a fairly straight forward telling of the events, with the first hand accounts of the climbers, and there was really no blame being placed on anyone or attempts to make it seem like it was the fault of any particular person. More like a series of unfortunate circumstances.

Personally, I thought the show was great. It was riveting to watch, and I can’t recall ever seeing so many of the climbers in one show at the same time. It was a quick two hours of television and definitely brilliant filmmaking out of Breashears whose track record speaks for itself.

So? Who watched? Post your impressions in the comments section. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Or, if you missed it, you can catch the whole thing online, so go watch it and come back and report in! 🙂

Kraig Becker

30 thoughts on “Thoughts On Storm Over Everest”

  1. Do you know if this will be on again? I wanted to watch it but have class every Tues and Thurs night for 3 hrs.

  2. Oops, nevermind. I need to learn how to read sometimes- skipped over that last paragraph about it being online. I’ll watch later and let you know what I think!

  3. I’m sure they’ll re-air it on Frontline at some point, and probably fairly soon. I may look to see if it’s on again this weekend. Having it online is a nice option though.

  4. I managed to catch it last night (and DVR it for later)…I have mixed feelings about it. Having read pretty much every book and seen every documentary on this topic, I was left feeling a little let down. I think I just wanted more. It almost seemed too short, too general…and I felt like the ending was too abrupt. I was surprised to see Makalu Gau and Sandy Hill as interviewees, though; I thought that that was really interesting. Makalu was so animated as he told his story. I was worried at points that he’d fall off his chair!

    I guess the show was called “Storm Over Everest” and that’s really what it was about–the storm. I just wanted more. I think I’ll have to go back and watch it again!

    One thing I wondered about though was why Breashear’s chose “Frontline” as his mechanism for showing it. Why not the Discovery Channel? Not similar enough to reality tv (a la “Everest Beyond the Limit”)?

    Thanks for the review!

  5. I think you make a good point Sara. There really wasn’t any new ground broken here. It was a very straight forward approach to telling the story, and then it just kind of ends. Some follow up at the end, other than the small amount of text, would have been great.

    On the other hand, the story has been told a lot, so there wasn’t much more to tell I suppose. I actually would have liked to have seen Breashears in front of the camera telling his side more fully, as he played a pivotal roll in the rescue ops, but I suspect he was not wanting to toot his own horn.

    It was very well made, but it did tread some old territory for sure.

    And yes, I was worried about Makalu at times as well. He really did have a lot of energy and was very animated. LOL!

  6. Rather disappointing. Frontline usually does investigative journalism but there was none of that here. Letting people tell their story was okay but asking some real questions would have helped. The fake storm footage was more empty filler than a contribution. Seems like they missed a real opportunity to answer some questions that are still unexplored. But I guess we have 50 more years to rehash the events 😉

  7. I really didn’t feel like a Frontline story actually. It just seemed that they happened to be carrying Breashears film and tagged Frontline in front of it. We never even heard questions, just narrative from the climbers as they told what happened.

  8. I watched it but quickly fell asleep. The recreated scenes of the storm looked fake and were overused to the point of exhaustion. Reading the subtitles was tedious and listening to the descriptions by the survivors left me with the impression that these people were climbers and not commentators. At no time did I feel any connectedness to what these folks experienced on the side of that mountain.

  9. Hmm… perhaps I was the only one who was riveted by what the climbers had to say.

    I do agree that that storm scenes looked a bit fake and put on. Not so much the scenes with the tents, but the ones with the climbers struggling to push on.

  10. No, I was also riveted by the interviews with the climbers, particularly with Neil Beidelman and Mike Groom. I really appreciated their take on things. Oh, and Guy Cotter, too. I thought Breshears did a good job of getting the lesser-known players of 1996 on screen–Jon Taske, Lou Kasischke, even Sandy Hill.

    The re-created scenes were a bit fake, but I guess what can you do? They were re-created scenes.

    I still feel like something was lacking, but I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe I had high expectations that weren’t met. Adventure Junkie, you raise a good point. I would’ve liked more commentary from David himself, or Ed or others on the IMAX team.

    I’m still going to re-watch it, though. The same way I can read “Into Thin Air” over and over and over…

  11. Though interesting for the new perspective and interviews of some I hadn’t heard before, it’s major flaw though, was the complete lack of mention of Jon Krakauer.

    Sure, his story has been told, but to not mention him at all, as though he were never there? This movie seemed like it had a chip on it’s shoulder. The continuation a spat.

    Frontline would have been better to explore this subject on their own and cover all the pertinent issues, i.e. guiding on Everst, comparing story versions, etc.

    It had it’s interesting moments, but it failed over all for me.

  12. Sara: Yes, I would have loved to have seen Ed there to tell the IMAX team story. Someone that could have given a bit of a different perspective even if David didn’t want to himself. I kept hoping Ed would show up, but I knew he wasn’t in the film.

    Jim: You’re right, it was odd that Krakauer wasn’t included, as not only did he obviously write the famous book on the subject, but he also was there on the mountain that year as well. His perspective would have been appreciated too, but as you say, old spats die hard.

  13. I never cease to appreciate hearing the story of such an epic situation from the persons who themselves were there…
    That was enough for me. I was very much into their personal accounts…

  14. Yep! Agreed DSD. Even though the story has been told many times before, I still found it compelling to hear it from the survivors themselves.

    And since I don’t mind subtitles at all, I was quite charmed with how animated Makalu was once I got use to seeing him flail about on screen.

  15. I did nod off a bit in the 2nd hour, too, but I’d had an evening of toddler wrangling and rarely stay up past 10 pm these days! My wife — who knew little about the ’96 disaster — reluctantly agreed to watch with me and quickly became absorbed in the story: so it worked well as a dramatic intro to the events.

    I especially enjoyed Charlotte Fox’s interview snippets; I don’t remember her character and even sense of humor coming through as strongly in any of the books, but it’s been a while since I’ve read them.

    I was curious, though, why Stuart Hutchison wasn’t interviewed or whether he declined to talk on record; he also decided to turn back, and was closely involved in the rescue attempts and the decision to leave Beck behind.

    Check out this interview.

    4 out of 5 stars. And definitely better than the made-for-TV version of *Into Thin Air*!

  16. I really enjoyed the presentation but like many others felt a lot was left out and key players not mentioned. I did find Beck’s discussion of his depression being alleviated by extreme physical activity quite fascinating. Is this the first time he discussed this? In most of the books on the subject this is not addressed.

  17. David: Ugh! That made for TV “Into Thin Air” was awful. Lets never speak of it again! 😉 Glad your wife enjoyed it, and interesting that it caught her attention.

    Anon: I was thinking the same thing when Beck mentioned his depression. I don’t recall that being mentioned before, and I thought it was very cool that he found a way to pull himself out of that depression through his climbing. It was insights like those that made the show shine.

    I do wish it wouldn’t have ended so abruptly. I would have liked some “After The Climb” discussion on this one.

  18. One last thought: I still think that the “Making Of” documentary on the Everest IMAX DVD is probably one of the best films about this situation. I think that’s still my favorite.

    I have not seen the made-for-tv “Into Thin Air,” although I think it’s on my Netflix list…dare I even watch it?

  19. Thanks for the tip Sara. I don’t think I’ve seen that IMAX “Making Of” documentary. I may have to look that one up.

    As for the made for TV version of “Into Thin Air”, personally I wouldn’t bother. It was not very good, and that’s being generous. 😉

  20. Adventure Junkie,

    I love your blog. I just have to say that. 🙂

    Definitely check out the IMAX “Making of.” I got the IMAX movie through Netflix, and the “making of” documentary was a special feature. I actually found it more interesting than the IMAX movie itself. Lots of Beck in there, but also lots of Ed. 🙂

  21. Thanks Sara! Glad you enjoy this little slice of the Interwebs. 🙂 It’s much appreciated.

    I haven’t seen the IMAX film in years since I caught it in an IMAX theater way back when. It’s probably a bit dated now. The “Making of Documentary” sounds great though. I’ve always found Beck very interesting to listen to, and more Ed is usually a good thing too. As long as he doesn’t make Vertical Limit 2! 😉

  22. Ok, seriously–I watched “Vertical Limit” not too long ago. I saw it when back in the theatres, before I even got into mountaineering. I mainly watched it again for the Ed cameo, but I CRINGED the whole time. How horrible was that movie?

    Anyway, one last comment, and then I swear I’ll let it go! The Washington Post did a live chat with David Breshears and you can read it here:

    What’s this spat between him and Krakauer?

  23. I’m not aware of a spat between Breashears and Krakauer, but Krakauer did manage to piss off a number of climbers and guides with “Into Thin Air” as several came forward to say that what he wrote wasn’t altogether accurate. He was especially critical of Makalu and Anatoli Boukreev, and there were many in the climbing community that felt that Krakauer was just cashing in on the tragedy.

    Perhaps Karakauer was left off the guest list because of the disagreements he had with other guides and climbers over what really happened up there.

  24. I guess that spells out pretty clearly why Krakauer wasn’t in the show. It was a conscious choice to focus just on the climbers who were there and caught up in the storm. Good enough of a reason for me.

    And Sara, you can feel free to comment as often as you want. I appreciate good discussion around here and there is not quota on the number of times you can reply. 😉

  25. I think some of the people commenting are being a bit harsh in their review. David Breashears set out to make a film that focused on the story of the climbers who were caught in the storm and didn’t make it back to camp. Beck, Charlotte, Sandy, etc.

    Breashears sums it up pretty well with this statement:

    “Early on, I made the decision to focus almost entirely on interviewing the individuals who were caught out in the storm that night, so it wasn’t something we particularly pursued.”

    The IMAX team, including Ed, were not caught in the storm so there story wasn’t important to what Breashears was focusing on. Same goes for Krakauer, who had made it back to camp and was not stuck in the storm.

    Personally I think the movie satisfied my expectations. It had incredible HD scenery and left the story telling to the survivors that actually experienced and witnessed the climb and the storm that greeted them on the descent.

    After reading numerous books on the subject (Into Thin Air, The Climb, Left For Dead, High Exposure) it was good to hear what happened from the people that actually experienced it rather than from the point of view of a single author.

    What’s interesting is how the North side gets all but ignored when it comes to discussing the 1996 storm. Some of what happened in 1996 is discussed in Dark Summit as well as High Crimes.

    A little bit of a trivia, Tsewang Paljor (the climber known as “Green Boots”) who passed away in a cave high on the North side who will forever be tied with the David Sharp tragedy died during the 1996 storm. 10 years later Sharp stumbled upon “Green Boots” and sat down beside him and joined him.

    You can read more about Green Boots at Wikipedia:

  26. Great post Carl. You make some excellent points. I agree that it was really nice to hear the story of the 96 climb directly from those that were there. It was for purely selfish reasons I would have liked to have seen Ed in the show. 😉 But he does detail his part in the rescue in his book as well.

  27. Carl,

    You’re right–after watching the show again, and reading more on PBS’s website about the intentions behind the film, I understand better what Breashears was trying to accomplish. Thanks for the link about Green Boots, too; I just read a book where he was mentioned a lot.

  28. I thought the show was great. It didn’t bring up any new untold secrets, but that was not the point of the story. I thought it was put together very well. I like a good movie and this hit the spot. It was the same story told it a bit of a different light. It was interesting to hear the story from their perspective.

  29. sara – the reason I believe frontline aired this film is that breashears is good friends with david fanning, executive producer at frontline. I don’t believe breashears has any problems with krakauer either.

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