Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On the Big Hill, by Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson writes about his experience filming the 1988 pre-monsoon British Services Everest Expedition in On The Big Hill: A Non-Climber's Everest. The first television series covering a real Everest climb was actually twenty years older than Discovery Channel's Everest: Beyond the Limit. With a crew of four and two porters, Anderson (with no previous mountaineering experience) sets out to make a television series covering the military's attempt on the West Ridge. His book covers his personal experiences as well as transcripts from taped interviews of climbers during the expedition. He and his crew have a tough time keeping up with the physical demands of filming at high altitude, though they do manage to film as high as the West Shoulder and convince some of the military climbers to carry video cameras even higher. Anderson frequently interviews Dougie Keelan, the expedition leader, and they discuss the messy interaction of a film crew versus a military mountaineering expedition in addition to Keelen often eloquently speaking on Himalayan mountaineering, leading an expedition, and other related topics. The film crew finds itself emotionally involved in the success of the expedition, not merely for their own success.

The climb is a joint services climb, with many of the climbers having been on previous Everest expeditions, including under Brummie Stokes in 1984 (see Stokes' Soldiers and Sherpas) and the Joint Nepalese-British Services expedition of 1976 (see Faux and Fleming's Soldiers on Everest). They work efficiently, taking advantage of some early good weather, setting themselves up for their first summit bid before May. Ultimately, weather and snow conditions deal them a dirty hand, and they have a difficult time in the Diagonal Ditch and the Hornbein Couloir. They climb at the same time as the tri-national Nepal-China-Japan Friendship expedition, which has a considerably larger budget and a considerably larger film crew, and which beams live satellite footage from the summit on a national holiday. Also on the mountain, but unmentioned, is the intrepid Kangshung Face crew led by Robert Mads Anderson, as well as an Australian team climbing from Nepal.

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