"Everest: Beyond the limit" airs Tuesday
02:56 am EST Nov 13, 2006
It was the most shameful act in the history of mountaineering: 40 climbers, including a large number of guides and clients from a team offering climbs for profit, stepped over a dying independent mountaineer en route to summit. On their way down from the top, they stopped and video filmed a chat with the fading climber, for an upcoming documentary.
We didn't want to do this story. It's about a part of Everest that makes us sick, and we simply don't want to deal with it anymore. But at Discovery's third email urging us to announce their film, we had had it. So here goes.
Propaganda movie where law should have been present
Tuesday, the Discovery channel will air "Everest: Beyond the limit" but don't expect David Sharp to bear witness of what Everest mountaineering has become; Discovery "honored his family's request not to show the footage," according to AP. In fact, Discovery has no intent to show the clip to anyone: ExplorersWeb has demanded for the clip to be shown for evaluation to independent high altitude doctors - the film crews reply; a referral to Russell Brice's press release.
Had the incident taken place in the west; law enforcement would already be scrutinizing the video and questioning witnesses. On Everest instead, a propaganda movie has been made about Himex and Russell Brice, beginning its six-week run at 9 p.m. Tuesday on the Discovery Channel.
Will we learn what happened to David at least? Probably not. At the expedition's start, Brice lays down the law, "It's not their [Sherpas] job to die alongside you because of your ambitions," he tells his clients. "If I see that that's going to happen, I'm going to call the Sherpas away. I will deal with that in court later - and you will die."
Himex clients have sometimes come down from Everest offering statements such as "I wouldn't go back for a million dollars." It's easy to understand why. Russell Brice is a bully, and a dictator.
Himex guides and clients initially said that Russell had ordered them to continue past David Sharp. One month later, Brice made a press release denying knowledge and the guides backed off from their statements, "I was sure that I heard radio traffic at the time," Mark Inglis told AP. "I also thought I had called myself and received a reply, but like all things in that early part of the day my focus was on my hands and the challenges to come...that combined with the difficulties with the oxygen mask meant that I may be mistaken," Inglis wrote, saying his "recollection is unclear."
In the film clips provided by the Discovery website, the guides are seen acting for the camera, praising their leader much as Hollywood actors acclaim bully producers in fear of not making it into the next movie.
There are many question marks surrounding Russell Brice: The biggest commercial leader on the North side, Russell has been accused of cutting ropes, sabotaging free weather forecasts, and to be a major client of fellow commercial expedition leader Henry Todd's sketchy supplementary oxygen. Todd's life support system is manufactured in secrecy, without a company address, technical specs or official supervision of any kind.
Henry Todd, who has been banned from Everest and Denali, also served a hefty sentence in UK for being a ring leader in the largest drug busts in UK history. A close friend of Brice, Todd is married to Russell's former base camp manager.
Bad supplementary oxygen is a top reason for frostbite at altitude. The author of this article spent a good number of days and nights in Everest deathzone over 4 years, and not once lost a shred of skin to frostbite. Although highly preventable with well functioning supplementary oxygen, plenty of fluid, blood thinning drugs (such as aspirin), food supplements (garlic) and heating pads - frostbites on Everest have risen sharply in later years. This is remarkable, especially in a warm season such as spring 2006.
Rumor also has it Brice left New Zeeland years ago after having a bad guiding accident with a client; that he couldn't hack the heat from it in NZ so he left and ended up in Chamonix. It's hard to separate the tales from reality however. Everything surrounding Henry's and Russell's outfits is shrouded in secrecy cosa nostra style. In an attempt to control everything and everyone - including media - the leaders reward loyalty and intimidate opposition. In the book "Operation Julie" it is described how Todd already back in his drug manufacturing days compartmentalized and manipulated his large organization, to prevent information from spreading.
Ruthless behavior almost exclusive to Everest
The Discovery series, originally named "Everest, no experience needed," was intended to showcase Brice's commercial outfit's superiority over independent climbing. Unguided Everest climbers are routinely called amateurs yet David Sharp - on Everest for his third time - was more experienced than most of the Himex clients - a former Hells Angel seriously injured in an accident; a schoolteacher suffering from Asthma; a 62-year-old who just had a kidney removed and the series' star of course - double amputee Mark Inglis.
The reality is that the frequent ruthless behavior displayed on Everest, including robberies of unguided climbers' high camps, is not a result of independent climbing but commerce, and it is almost exclusive to Everest - especially the north side.
In other parts of Himalaya where commerce is not yet wide spread, indifferent attitude to fellow climbers is still rare. In Pakistan, where independent climbers flocked as usual this past summer - casualties were straightforward mountaineering deaths:
The Pakistan 8000+ mountains kept 7 climbers this season - on K2, an avalanche swept away four Russian climbers. On Nanga, a solo climber was caught in a storm on descent - rescue reached him too late. Another climber became lost between camp 2 and 3. On Broad Peak finally, a young climber died of exposure on descent from the summit, his team mate was helped down by other climbers.
In none of these cases were people left to die by fellow climbers; instead a number of climbers were aided to safety - often by complete strangers. The accidents were reported without delay and without bizarre contradictions.
It's a far cry from Russell's "I'll tell the Sherpas' to leave and deal with it in court and you'll die."
Russell's climbing resume
A sneak peak at Discovery's website offers a hint of how the film is put together: "Russell Brice...has 25 years of experience on Everest," it is stated.
In fact, Russell Brice had his first commercial success on Everest north side not until 1995, when three strong climbers made the summit, not with Brice, but together with Karsang Sherpa and Lobsang Temba. Russell - touted as a stellar climber and Everest expedition leader has actually only summited the peak twice, for the first time in 1997 and again in 1998.
Russell doesn't compare to veteran expedition leaders and climbers such Polish Krzysztof Wielicki - the fifth climber to summit all 14 8000ers, including the first winter ascents of Everest, Lhotse and Kangchenjunga. Recently back from Ama Dablam summit last week and G2 a few months back, Krzysztof is now en route to lead a climb in Pakistan Himalaya - to attempt Nanga Parbat - yet unclimbed in winter.
On Everest, Russell is not even close to a number of expedition leaders: David Hahn - summiting Everest for the 8th time this fall, with clients and off season - is just one example.
In fact there are no significant 8000ers, off season climbs or alternative routes to be found in Brice's Himalayan record, and he shows nowhere on the aspiring 14, 8000ers list of summiteers. To Brice climbing is an enterprise, that's all.
Base Camp climbing
"An uncompromising leader, he oversees every aspect of his expeditions," says the Documentary pitch. How come then, that Russell wasn't with his folks on the summit push - and not even really in contact with them on ascent as he claims?
Compare to Dan Mazur who shortly after the David Sharp incident climbed with his clients towards the summit and was thus able to save a climber left for dead by another expedition. Or Jamie McGuinness who spent 2 days rescuing one of his clients down from the very top. There are many examples only this year on expedition leaders taking clients out of trouble on summit - none includes Russell Brice.
"By the opening of the 2006 climbing season, Russell had guided 137 clients to the summit without any casualties," states the Discovery website. Truth is, Russell has 2 casualties in his outfit - a record exceeded since 2000 only by Alex Abramov (3) and equaled only by Henry Todd (2) according to statistics available to ExplorersWeb.
"In my lifetime, probably 80 percent of my mates have died from climbing," says Russell. "It's a privilege to survive this long, I suppose." It's not clear what mates Russell is referring to, but it's clear that it's not difficult to survive base camps - where Russell spends most of his "guiding" time.
The true heroes behind Himex success
Himex successes are instead to be attributed elsewhere; to Russell's three lead Sherpas. After summiting with Himex first clients in 1995, and with Russell in 1997 and 1998; Karsang and Lobsang summited again in 1999, now with three clients and Himex Sirdar-to-be Phurba Tashi Sherpa.
In 2001, 15 people from Himex summited again led by Karsang, Lobsang and now also Phurba Tashi. In 2002, Phurba Tashi summited twice with two different clients. That fall, Marco Seffredi summited with Phurba Tashi, Panuru and Da Tenzing but perished on descent. 2003-2006 Himex began to bring larger groups to the peak - none of the summiteers led by Russell Brice.
Closing down Everest north side
Every journalist can get the story but few try to make the world a better place. The question is why Discovery and Tigress have done this series. Were they wined and dined or just plain duped by the man? It wouldn't be the first time such a thing happens in adventure media - and Brice would have had a very good reason for it. Dominating the north side of Everest for a number of years, Russell does everything to own this side of Everest as his private million dollar enterprise.
His large outfit is not enough - for several years, Russell has tried to persuade CTMA to leave much of the Everest north side logistics - such as rope fixing - to him; and add the cost to non-Himex climbers' permit fee. He already manages the weather forecasts - included in his clients' fees but charged at a cost to others.
In August, Russell Brice, Ang Tsering and Alex Abramov again discussed a rescue proposal with CTMA (China/Tibet Mountaineering Association) in Lhasa. Recently, CTMA made an announcement that it will raise fees and limit the number of climbers on Everest next year.
Six-part series about greed, blind ambition and money
Filmmaker Dick Colthurst says he went to Mount Everest hoping to learn why people risk their lives climbing. After 48 days on Everest, he told AP he still doesn't understand. "While I admire what they do and how they do it, and the sheer mental and physical strength that it takes to do it, I'm honestly no nearer to understanding why they do it," the executive producer for London-based Tigress Productions, told The Associated Press.
Of course he doesn't understand - the soul of high altitude climbing won't show in 48 days - even less through the eyes of Himex.
"My name is David Sharp, I am with Asian Trekking" were the last words of a dying independent climber speaking into Discovery Channel's camera. Then, the camera was shut off, and the crew was ordered by Russell Brice to descend. David died later that night, alone out in the cold, a mere one hour's climb from the warmth of high camp.
But we won't get to see that. Whatever it is we will see on Tuesday, it won't be about mountaineering - or Everest even. It will be a six-part series about greed, blind ambition and money. Such a documentary airing on a channel like Discovery is yet another nail in the coffin for Everest climbing.
In his press release, Russell mentions that Himex have had 23 commercial expeditions and 270 people on the summits of 8,000m peaks. Himex fees range between USD $8000-$40000 per climb. Russell Brice in addition provides treks, North Col climbs and logistics support for other Everest expeditions at a cost, including supplementary oxygen and weather reports. ExplorersWeb estimates the Himex coorporation sales at around USD 10 million - probably the largest in Everest history.
Further information at: http://www.mounteverest.net/news.php?news=15279