Mourning for the US mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears

David Breashears (in 2011)
David Breashears (1955-2014)

He made me feel almost like I was on the summit of Mount Everest. A quarter of a century ago, I drove to a town 40 kilometers away to see David Breashears‘ documentary “Everest” in an IMAX panorama cinema. I was impressed. The movie was mainly about the tragedy on Mount Everest in spring 1996. Back then, eight mountaineers lost their lives within 24 hours due to a sudden change in weather in the summit zone.

For his IMAX film, Breashears and his Sherpa team hauled a bulky 70 mm camera up Everest, along with lots of rolls of film: 115 meters of film were needed for 90 seconds. The effort was worth it. The high-resolution images were groundbreaking at the time, and the film became a box-office success. Breashears had actually only wanted to make a documentary about the Everest expedition of US mountaineer Ed Viesturs. When the tragedy occurred, the team interrupted filming to help rescue the survivors.

Five times on the summit of Everest

Mount Everest
Mount Everest (before sunrise, seen from Gokyo Ri)

Breashears was to Everest a total of twelve times, five of which he reached the summit: in 1983, 1985, 1996, 1997 and 2004, each time ascending from the south with bottled oxygen. On his first summit success in 1983, he provided the first live television broadcast from the highest point on earth at 8,849 meters.

In a way, Breashears can also be described as the “forefather of commercial climbing on Everest”: in 1985, he led his compatriot Richard “Dick” Bass to the summit. Bass was the first person to stand on the Seven Summits, the highest mountains of all continents. Breashears has also worked on other mountain films, such as the movies “Cliffhanger” (1993, with Sylvester Stallone), “Seven Years in Tibet” (1997, with Brad Pitt) and “Everest” (2015, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Keira Knightley).

“In tune with the experience”


In 2007, he founded the organization “Glacier Works” to document how climate change is affecting glaciers worldwide. Breashears was critical of the development of commercial mountaineering on Everest.

“Looking back to 1983, it almost seems quaint,” he said in a television interview in 2008. “We had the entire south side of the mountain to ourselves, and not only did I know who my teammates were, but I also knew they had come to Everest with the careful preparation, experience and thorough training to climb it. I remember feeling much closer to the mountain then, more in tune with the experience.”

On Thursday last week, the US mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears died at the age of 68 – “of natural causes”, as his family announced, without giving further details.

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