Thursday, April 7, 2011

High Exposure, by David Breashears

I always enjoy reading an honest autobiography like David Breashears' High Exposure. The director of the famous Everest IMAX movie, Breashears has had a long relationship with Everest, and he uses his writing as an opportunity for self-analysis. He includes a range of information on himself, from his estrangement from his father and his difficulties with his wife to his successes as a filmmaker and his climbing of Everest. Up to the publication of the book, he had been to Everest in 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1996, and 1997, climbing to the top four times. Every time he climbed on Everest, he had a video camera in his hands.

High Exposure has a number of Everest book connections. In addition to growing up around Jon Krakauer in Colorado and, of course appearing in his Into Thin Air (and the many other 1996 Everest books), Breashears becomes good friends with Dick Bass and helps him climb the last of his Seven Summits. In 1984, he climbs with Ang Dorje, who would have led Brook and Donnelly's trek to Base Camp in The Windhorse if he had not perished on his way to the summit. (Breashears later buries him as well.) In 1983, he summits along with Ang Rita, who would later be Goran Kropp's sirdar in Ultimate High for his tenth ascent. He also filmed the expedition in 1986 in which Tom Holzel and Audrey Salkeld, in their First on Everest, search for Mallory and Irvine. Also on the North Col, he films Brian Blessed, author of The Turquoise Mountain, in his attempt to connect with the spirit of Mallory. Breashears seems to be the guy who knows everybody, but managed to hide behind the camera.

He starts his career as Everest's videographer through a "lucky" chance. He accompanies the 1981 American Kangshung Face expedition as the cameraman's assistant, and he ends up being the only one of the film team willing to put his neck out to carry a camera up the dangerous Lowe Buttress. His teams wins an Emmy for their cinematography. In 1983, he was only supposed to film as far as the South Col, but no one else was willing to carry the broadcast gear for their live video from the summit. After that, he seems to be the guy who films Everest. Projects just keep coming his way, including the IMAX movie and a NOVA special. He does set up two of his own projects, a personal video diary of his own climb of the North Col route (which is stopped by deep unconsolidated snow) and a 1994 alpine attempt on the the eastern buttress of the Kangshung Face climbed by Ed Webster, Robert Anderson, Paul Teare, and Stephen Venables in 1988.

He adds a couple of details to the 1996 Everest literature. He of course tells us plenty of what was going on in his head during the ordeal, including moments of fear, sadness, anger, and self-doubt. He relates the position and posture of Rob Hall's body below the South Summit. He tells us that Ed Viesturs got quite drunk with the remains of the Adventure Consultants crew after the tragedy in an effort to cope. He also explains why he chose the climbers on his expedition, and relates why and how he told Sumiyo that she would not be able to climb to the summit. Breashears was haunted by the hands of Beck Weathers, both because his own hands are his lifeline on the mountain, and because he knows he will have to bare his hands several times on his summit climb to change the film in the IMAX camera. His 1997 NOVA crew was able to remove Bruce Herrod's body from the Hillary Step and collect his camera for his girlfriend.

I overall enjoyed this book. He writes about more than Everest, including filming trips to Ana Dablam, Nameless Tower, Lhasa, and the Andes, but there was so much Everest material, that I chose to focus my writing on it instead. I think it's time to watch some of his movies!

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