Clearly, it takes an unusual level of aspiration to simply decide to attempt Everest. And to pull it off -- to reach the summit and return safely to base camp -- demands extraordinary commitment and perseverance. Only one climber in seven who attempt it reaches the top. Of every fourteen who do reach the summit, one dies trying.
Even veteran climbers face the challenges of hypoxia (lack of oxygen), loss of strength, altitude sickness, intestinal sickness, weight loss, homesickness, brutal weather conditions (including extreme heat in the Western Cwm at 20,000 feet), recalcitrant porters, strained international group dynamics (11 teams crowded onto the mountain in 1996), and "objective dangers" such as being crushed by apartment house sized blocks of ice that litter the Khumbu Icefall, a glacier in motion.
Planning an Everest assault begins with the pieces of a strategic puzzle, the pyramid of support whose foundation must be balanced on the edge of an ominous glacier at 18,000 feet. Food, cooking fuel, supplemental oxygen, rope, hardware, tents -- all must be dispatched in stages to the four high camps on the mountain. In addition, in 1996 the IMAX Filming team brought along one of the world's heaviest cameras, plus hundreds of pounds of film (8 pounds of IMAX film lasts 90 seconds). At altitudes where team members cut their toothbrushes in half to save weight, it takes extraordinary effort to get a "non-essential" 42-pound large format camera to the summit.
Selection of the IMAX team was critical. Leader David Breashears was obliged to tell Sumiyo Tsuzuki -- who was ailing but game for the attempt -- to remain on the South Col. Any climber in trouble puts all nearby climbers at risk, as was dramatically learned when a freak storm caught other expeditions summit climbers out after dark, high on the mountain. Twelve climbers were lost, in a sequence of events that has been analyzed and revisited ever since.
In Everest: To the Top of the World, Broughton Coburn uses expedition slides to illustrate the organization and dynamics of the IMAX team's attempt on Everest, and to explore the natural and human events that led to the tragic loss of climbers. The IMAX team responded to the tragedy skillfully and compassionately, and two weeks later reached the top with the oversized camera. There has seldom been such a team effort: to film from the summit necessitated that 11 people reach the top along with the camera, with 40 others delivering supplies and providing critical backup.
Indeed, climbing Everest safely requires leadership, planning, confidence, commitment, apprenticeship, experience, judgment, strength, persistence, patience, professionalism, teamwork and humility -- all in a measured balance. For each of these attributes, Coburn presents examples of how they were used to further the IMAX team's effort, and how they affected the outcome.
Coburn also touches on additional topics such the role of the Sherpas, the media, competitiveness, guiding of clients, poor planning and judgment, and the varied responses to bad luck.
For schools, colleges and universities especially, please see the Himalayan-theme Programs for an outline of related Himalayan topics suitable for a custom presentation.