Cover image for High exposure : an enduring passion for Everest and unforgiving places
High exposure : an enduring passion for Everest and unforgiving places
Breashears, David.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, 1999.
Physical Description:
319 pages : illustrations, portraits (some color) ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1040 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 7.7 18.0 45544.

Reading Counts RC High School 8.1 22 Quiz: 24051 Guided reading level: NR.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TR849.B74 A3 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Being fixed/mended
TR849.B74 A3 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Author Notes

David Breashears is a world-class filmmaker, adventurer, and mountaineer whose work has taken him to remote locations throughout Tibet, China, Nepal, India, Pakistan, South America, and East Africa. He has worked on such feature films as Seven Years in Tibet and Cliffhanger, as well as the award-winning documentary Red Flag over Tibet. In 1983 he transmitted the first live pictures from the summit of Mount Everest and in 1985 became the first American to twice reach its summit. He is the recipient of four Emmy awards for achievement in cinematography. In 1996 he codirected, photographed, and coproduced the acclaimed ImAx large-format film Everest and contributed his still photos from that climb to the bestselling book Everest: Mountain Without Mercy. In 1997 he coproduced and photographed "Everest: The Death Zone" for the PBS science series NOVA, marking his fourth ascent of the world's highest mountain. When not climbing, David Breashears calls Boston his home.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Possibly the most interesting aspect of this book is how improbable it seems that Breashears (Mountain Without Mercy) ever lived to write it. An accomplished alpinist, Breashears not only recounts his numerous, dicey ascents of the planets peaks but also explores his motivation for doing so. Though he is an experienced cinematographer whose past employers range from PBS to Hollywood, Breashears is most widely known as the director of the IMAX film Everest. While filming the movie, Breashears and his crew were fortunate to avoid the unforgiving storm at the mountains summit that led to the death of eight people and was chronicled in Jon Krakauers Into Thin Air. Breashears uses that tragic season on Everest as a frame for a personal memoir. The focus is on how he stepped out of the shadow of his violent military father and discovered his passions for climbing and filmmaking. Some of his psychology is simplistic, but there is no doubt that Breashears is as serious about understanding his actions as he is about succeeding in them. And there is no shortage of action, whether he is scaling a 1000-foot vertical rock or narrowly escaping being swept off a cliff by a runaway tonnage of snow. Though at times the book is self-aggrandizing, a little ego can be tolerated in this largely engrossing work, and is, perhaps, only to be expected from someone who has four times scrabbled up the ice and rocks of Everest to reach the top of the world. 16 pages full-color photos not seen by PW. Major ad/promo; appearances on Larry King Live and Today; first serial to Mens Journal. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Second to the obsession to top Mount Everest is the fixation on reading about it, and Breashears has succumbed to both temptations. The mountain's literature inspired him in boyhood; in adulthood, he is celebrated for his filmmaking, particularly his spectacular Everest IMAX movie released in 1998. Breashears' account of its production against the grim background of the 1996 climbing catastrophe brackets this memoir of other feats of his climbing and working life. Breashears wryly relates his roughnecking period on Wyoming oil wells, which apart from its tough amusement, shows him following the Algerian credo that the trip to the top starts at the bottom. He carried that precept to mountain filmmaking, talking his way into the job of cameraman's assistant for a team filming on Yosemite's El Capitan. His developing camera's eye was grounded in rock-climbing skills honed in the hang-loose scene in 1970s Colorado, whose dedication to an ineffable, ethical purity in mountain climbing he managed to practice between film projects. A poignant instance is his and a friend's ascent up a mile-high face of Kwangde, "my finest alpine experience in the Himalayas." Then came the IMAX project, the deaths and rescue dramatized in Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air (1997), Breashears' team's resumption of their summit attempt, and the subsequent ascent past frozen-solid corpses. Whatever mystery seduces climbers to risk all on Everest continues to vicariously inveigle readers--and there will be the publisher's full-service publicity campaign to remind them of their obsession. --Gilbert Taylor

Library Journal Review

Times Bks. 1999. c.240p. permanent paper. photogs. maps. ISBN 0-8129-3159-9. $23. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

YA-A world-class rock climber and a professional cinematographer, Breashears is renowned for having organized and led the Imax filming expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest in May 1996. In this autobiography, he describes himself as the third son of a controlling and abusive army major who broke up his family when David was 10-years-old. He was ambivalent about schoolwork and spent all his free time rock climbing in the Rocky Mountain foothills. After completing high school, he honed his skills and tackled difficult rock faces. A British writer and rock climber hired him as a gofer on a documentary filming expedition in Yosemite. With this serendipitous introduction to filmmaking, Breashears was fascinated by the combined art and science of photography. He had already climbed Everest twice when he was hired to put together a team to film the climb of the world's highest mountain with the world's largest camera. His vivid and poignant observations on the fatal expedition in which 12 climbers died complement Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air (Villard, 1997). Teens will appreciate Breashears's honesty in his personal reflections, and will be thrilled with the exciting stories of rock climbing and danger at the roof of the world.-Penny Stevens, Centreville Regional Library, Fairfax, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Prologue As a mountain climber, I've always felt more drawn to the top than driven from the bottom. I was twelve years old when I came upon the famous picture of Tenzing Norgay standing atop Mount Everest. From that moment on, I equated climbing Everest with man's capacity for hope. Indeed, there's nothing so exhilarating, so purifying, as standing on its summit more than 29,000 feet above the sea, surveying the planet below. Before May 1996, I had climbed Everest twice, and each time I had experienced the singular sense of rebirth that the mountain has to offer. But Everest also offers the finality of death. On the morning of May 10 my Everest IMAX® Filming Expedition resolved to go up the mountain and help bring down survivors of an icy calamity that had left eight people dead. Over the next several days our expedition climbed up Everest, struggling with bitter cold and bitter truths and a deeply felt grief for our friends who would lie frozen in death forever. There's no place to bury the dead on an ice-bound mountaintop. In the week following Everest's cruelest disaster, other expeditions broke their siege and went home. Why did we stay on and ascend the mountain once more? On reflection, I think it was because I felt a strong kinship not only with the dead but with the mountain itself. I hated seeing it stand in disarray, under scrutiny from the world's media; I wanted redemption from the tragedy. I couldn't accept leaving, not after all my years on the mountain, not with reasonable weather and our enormous stock of equipment and human skill, not without trying one more time. Call it a specialist's pride: I felt it was up to us to finish -- safely -- this unholy episode. I wanted to prove that Everest was -- in its grandeur -- an affirmation of life, not a sentence of death. So, with the aid of a London-based weather service, we watched and waited for a break in the weather at the top. The jet stream, which sweeps across Everest in the spring, was howling around the summit, and no man-made instrument can accurately forecast when it will blow off the mountaintop and move north over the Tibetan plateau. For days, there was little change. I was dismayed but not astonished; I've seen the jet stream pound Everest for fifty uninterrupted days. Still, I searched reports for the tiniest shard of hope, anything to signal a positive turn. Nothing. Eventually we decided it was time to move out from our Base Camp at 17,600 feet: better to face the mountain in our boots than sit around in our tents brooding about it. On the slopes, we'd see for ourselves what the mountain held for us, and we'd let the mountain tell us when to climb -- or not to climb. So we struggled into our gear and headed up -- the entire IMAX filming team -- camp by camp. We climbed back to the upper camps with the threat of the wind roaring ominously above at eighty to ninety miles per hour. In mountain climbing, it's not the wind around you that frightens you, but the wind that awaits you. Much of our trepidation was, to be sure, psychological. After all, skilled Everest veterans had died up there just weeks before. At dusk on May 22, the day we reoccupied the high camp, Camp IV at 26,000 feet on the South Col, the winds died out. It was a rare and welcome moment as we pitched our tents; we could actually stand upright, and we could continue that night toward the summit minus a goodly portion of our fear. The sun descended and the tent walls darkened. Though we were utterly exhausted, none of us could rest. Throughout the evening we readied our climbing gear and the film equipment and melted ice to drink. There's no malingering at the South Col camp. It's too high, too barren, and the air is too thin. There's no earthly reason to be there except to gain Everest's summit. We'd spent two years preparing for this summit attempt, training our bodies and minds, making checklists, customizing and winterizing and lightening the massive IMAX camera and everything else within our grasp. Now the weather had given us the break we needed. At 10:35 P.M. I unzipped my tent. No matter how many times I've made this journey, it always begins in the same way. It's pitch dark outside as I unzip the door. What little heat has pooled inside spills out into the frigid night air; the sense of safety and security I feel in the tent vanishes with the warmth. On my hands and knees I crawl into one of the world's most hostile environments, into my ultimate arena -- the last 3,000 vertical feet to the summit of Everest. The stars were out that night but there was no moon. It was dark and cold, minus 30 degrees; the night was still. Looking above, I could barely see the outline of Everest, a dark, lopsided pyramid cut out from the stars. I sat on a small rock to put on my crampons (sharp metal spikes attached to my boots), which dug into the snow and ice. Bare-handed, I checked and rechecked to make sure the heel and toe clips were biting through the thin neoprene of my overboots, an extra layer of insulation over my climbing boots. I hadn't planned on using overboots up there. But after the catastrophe I felt inordinately vulnerable, not just to the cold, but to my own mortality. I've always relied on strength of mind to drive my body, and the body has always been good with plenty of horsepower. But the deaths in that disastrous climb reminded me that I was forty years old now. I had borrowed the overboots from a friend, Jon Krakauer, who had survived the May 10 storm. I walked among the nylon domes of the heavy-weather tents, hoarsely shouting that it was time to go. The tents were already alive, sides huffing out with the movements inside, zippers scraping in the silent night. Sherpas and team members gathered their gear, and I mentally ran through my own checklist one more time: two full bottles of oxygen, spare mittens, ice axe, and, most important, my compass fixed with a heading so that even in a storm I could find my way home. There was no idle chatter in the air, only tension and focus on the mission. The South Col is a broad expanse of rocks, a hard, flat, forbidding surface. I knew that the featureless terrain had been a deadly problem for the descending climbers on the night of May 10 because, without a compass to guide them, there were no directional clues in the blizzard's whiteout. Lost and desperately searching for high camp, eleven climbers had collapsed at the edge of the 8,000-foot precipice of Everest's Kangshung Face overlooking Tibet. There, a few hundred yards from safety, one woman, Yasuko Namba, had frozen to death, and a Texan named Beck Weathers had suffered mutilating frostbite. I crossed the South Col to the first icy incline, awkwardly duck-walking on crampons scraping against fist-sized rocks and bulletproof ice. Like my team, I knew I was hypoxic (starved for oxygen), severely sleep-deprived, dehydrated, and malnourished. Yet here I was, commanding my body to work as hard as it had ever worked. That makes for tough going. But after an hour of robotically placing one foot in front of the other, I finally found my rhythm. All I could hear was the raspy sound of my labored breathing as I inhaled and exhaled through my oxygen mask, my breaths keeping pace with each step. Yet this time there was no matching sense of purpose and exhilaration, only the grim knowledge of the littered battlefield we would find as we climbed higher. I'd been involved in body recoveries on Everest before, but there had been nothing in my training to prepare me to pass through the open graveyard waiting above: This time the graveyard held friends. There are other bodies -- bodies of people I'd never met -- scattered from Advance Base Camp to points near the summit. Several hundred yards below Advance Base Camp, at 21,100 feet, a climber lay near the route, wrapped in a blue tarp. And for years, before the wind finally blew her remains over the Kangshung Face, every Everest expedition climbing on this route had passed Hannelore Schmatz, a skeletal landmark just above the South Col with her brown hair streaming in the wind. Also near the South Col camp lay a Czech and, higher up, a Bulgarian. Years earlier, on the glacier below, I'd gathered the frozen bodies of two Nepalese climbers. The North Col route, on the Tibetan side, was similarly strewn with climbers who had never come down. In 1986 I'd helped carry a Sherpa friend buried by an avalanche to Rongbuk monastery for cremation. And one of my documentaries followed the search for the most celebrated of the dead, British legend George Mallory, who vanished near the summit in 1924. Wherever they lie, the dead mutely testify to the sinister ease with which a day on Everest can come undone. Despite the snow and ice, Everest is as dry as a desert; the sun and wind quickly mummify human remains. They come to resemble nothing so much as that ancient iceman discovered years ago in an Italian mountain pass. I've dealt with them before, and hardened myself to the harsh knowledge that the line between life and death is mercilessly thin in the frigid and rarefied air of this unforgiving place. But this night was different; those waiting ahead were people I had known and respected. We knew exactly where one of the best-known Everest guides, Rob Hall, had died, due to his final radio transmissions. From other reports we had a good idea where Scott Fischer lay. Doug Hansen died near Rob and we thought we'd find him, too. But Andy Harris was still missing. Our team had had nearly two weeks since the tragedy to face our fears and sorrows and anger. Still, it's one thing to deal with your demons at the foot of the mountain, quite another to see comrades lying dead in the snow. Hours passed as I resolutely climbed higher and higher, with little sense of gaining height because of the darkness beyond the circle of light from my headlamp. I felt alone and detached, in a trancelike state, as I always have on these summit slopes. But when I looked back I could see the shafts of light from my companions' headlamps, and it was comforting to know that they were there, making their solitary journeys with me. Sporadic gusts of wind swirled loose powder snow and I would pause with my head bowed east, away from the icy spray. Prior to dawn, at 27,100 feet, below the gully that leads to the Southeast Ridge, I was startled by a blue object off to my right. I was hypoxic and briefly confused. From Anatoli Boukreev's report I'd known that Scott Fischer would be near this spot. But the intense effort of the night had smothered that thought. And now my dulled brain struggled to make sense of it: How could someone as strong and resourceful as Scott end up here? It seemed dreamlike; it couldn't be real. I didn't go near him. On this day I needed to conserve myself, and distance was a defense. By the light of my headlamp I could see that he was lying on his back across a narrow snow-covered terrace, one leg outstretched, one bent, and his arm tightly clenched across his chest. His body position was awkward, slightly contorted. I could readily imagine Scott resisting to the end, his strength and will to live slipping away, until finally he lay back and death stole over him. Anatoli, who tried to save Scott on May 11, had lashed a backpack over his friend's head. I was grateful for that. I didn't want to see the ruin of Scott's handsome, friendly face. I turned, climbing onto the Southeast Ridge at 27,600 feet. It's a vivid sight, peering over a knife-edged crest down two vertical miles of the Kangshung Face into Tibet. It seemed as though I could see halfway across the continent from this vantage point. Sun rays lit the tallest summits of the Himalayas first, one at a time, like candles glowing above ink-dark valleys. To the east, the world's third highest peak, Kanchenjunga, stood rimmed in crimson. And much closer, Makalu, the fifth highest, shimmered orange and pink. Three hard hours later we reached the South Summit and the traverse to the Hillary Step, a forty-foot cliff at 28,700 feet. The route here is wild and exposed, along a narrow corniced ridge, the last barrier to the summit. I had planned to film this dramatic traverse as a centerpiece for our film. At its start, between a wind-blown cornice and a rock wall, lay a red-clad figure. He was lying on his side, buried from the shoulders up in drifted snow. His left arm rested on his hip and his hand was bare. It was Rob Hall; no mistaking him, even from a distance. He was wearing a red Wilderness Experience jacket like one I'd owned. His red Patagonia bib overalls bore a distinctive checkerboard pattern in the weave which I had noticed two weeks earlier when I descended past him and his party of clients. He was facing east with his back to the wind. My first thought was that -- typical of Rob -- the site seemed well ordered. It was clear that he had made a determined attempt to survive. He'd removed his crampons to prevent them from conducting cold through his boots. His oxygen bottles were arranged carefully around him. Two ice axes were thrust vertically into the snow. One I knew belonged to Rob, the other -- we later learned -- to his assistant guide, Andy Harris. The last thing you want to do in a storm is lay down your ice axe. Snow will cover it, or it will slide away, or you'll simply forget where you put it. Upright and at hand like this, the axes showed that Rob and Andy -- or at least one of them -- had been thinking clearly in the early hours of their desperate bivouac. I knelt in the snow next to Rob. I couldn't see his face and so felt a little distant from him. Then I looked at his bare hand, still undamaged by the elements. What was a seasoned mountaineer like Rob doing without a glove? A glove is a climber's armor. How had Rob's vanished? I looked down at my own heavily mittened hands and pondered sadly. So much of Rob's life had mirrored my own. We were roughly the same age, with a similar level of experience, ability, ambition, and confidence. Both of us were driven to make a life in the mountains, a life on Everest. But now he lay dead. Studying his bare hand, I suddenly understood the dread Rob must have faced, the terrible knowledge that he was so cold and weak that he'd lost control of his own life. He'd been alive and uninjured, but the wind and cold of that awful night left him hypoxic, hypothermic, and frostbitten, and so he'd lain trapped in this remote outpost, utterly unable to save himself. I couldn't imagine a worse nightmare. Mingled with my sorrow, I must confess, were feelings of anger toward Rob which I had carried with me all the way from Base Camp. I knew in my bones that the mistakes of May 10 could have been avoided, that hubris had likely doomed Rob and his party. Of all the guides, Rob had been the most outspoken about his prowess, and the most proprietary about the mountain. He had sometimes acted as if he were a part-owner of Everest, an attitude I found disturbing. Everest is many things to many people, but owned is not one of them. His clients had come for a climb, not to take serious risks. Rob's expertise was supposed to be their warranty against danger and Rob had let them down. There was an ugly premonition of disaster. We'd watched fifty-five people swarm the fixed ropes to Camp III before their summit push. That was the day I'd decided to take our expedition back down the mountain and wait for the weather -- and the crowds -- to clear before attempting the summit ourselves. So I was angry at the sorrow and chaos caused by these tragic deaths. That's not how things are supposed to work for clients paying to climb this great mountain. I looked at Rob, and at the bare, open hand that would never draw on another mitten or hold an ice axe again. I held up a handful of snow and let it blow away like ashes. As I sat with Rob and thought about his valiant attempt to save a client and the questions that needed answering, I saw myself lying there: Would I have done the same? Suddenly the Sherpas appeared, coming up the ridge carrying my camera equipment. Time to move on, I silently announced to Rob. I couldn't film this spot. His death had made it hallowed ground for me; this was one piece of Everest he could, at last, call his own. I stood and put on my pack. Then we began to climb the final sweep of the mountain. Copyright © 1999 David Breashears. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Jon Krakauer
Forewordp. 13
Prologuep. 19
The Kidp. 29
Perilous Journeyp. 49
Wormp. 69
Camera Obscurap. 85
Himalayasp. 101
Everestp. 117
The Brotherhood of the Ropep. 139
Strange Windsp. 173
Cliffhangerp. 187
Maxp. 211
The Cruciblep. 227
Redemptionp. 277
Epiloguep. 299
Acknowledgmentsp. 307
Indexp. 311