What happens when things go seriously awry during a shoot? Filmmaker Michael Brown answered our call for What’s Your On The Job Horror Story? with a tale about trudging to the top of
In 2007 I was on Everest co-directing and directing photography for “Return to Everest” (IMAX,R) in 3D. The story follows doctors studying the effect of hypoxia. In emergency medicine hypoxia is the biggest threat to a patient. Injury and blood loss can both lead to hypoxia. If the doctors can find out why some people do so much better than others at altitude and in hypoxic situations they might be able to help a lot of people. We had been on the mountain for two months and were all set to make our summit attempt. We departed Camp IV at 10 pm and started climbing. We arrived at the 8500m balcony on Mount Everest. We were on our way to the top. Kaji, the Sherpa charged with carrying the camera was nowhere to be seen. We waited and the rest of the team finally said, “we have to go or we’re getting cold.”
Their headlamps slowly faded away up the southeast ridge. We waited for another half hour but still no sign of Kaji coming from below. Eventually we made out a dim headlamp about 100m down. It was not moving–it had to be Kaji. Phurba Sherpa and I headed down since we might be able to split his load and catch up with the team. We reached the light but it wasn’t Kaji, it was another Sherpa who was so out of it he couldn’t move. I spoke with him for a long time and finally convinced him to turn around and come down with us. We started down and eventually found Kaji. He was was not feeling so well and was moving slowly. All four of us headed back to the South Col (8,000 meters). Getting the sick Sherpa down was a huge challenge. We made it down at sunrise and just in time to hear our team on the radio as they reached the summit. I slept—lied, more likely–in my tent agonizing over our failure for a few hours. I got up and went to the Sherpa’s tent. “What do you guys think, can we try again tonight?” Their answer, “No way, too tired.” I was destroyed, months of work, thousands of dollars, all gone. At about 6 o’clock that evening the rest of the team got back to camp, their celebrations muted, the second half of he team will be going tonight and they want to stay calm. Someone unziped my tent. It’s Kaji, the Sherpas are willing to go again! So we headed out again that night to more crazy stories and eventually the summit.
Return to Everest (IMAX in 3D) is slated for release in 2010.