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Viesturs was climbing leader for the expedition, one made for Working Title Films in order to shoot footage for an upcoming feature film based on the events of the 1996 season. That year, the tragedy of May 10 took the lives of Scott Fischer, Rob Hall and six other climbers. This spring's filming high on Everest marked the first time a feature film about the world's highest peak shot footage at the actual location rather than a more easily accessed location at a lower altitude.
Viesturs said that summit day was "pretty spectacular." He added, "We left Camp Four at about 10:15 pm yesterday and climbed through the night. We reached the South Summit at sunrise and continued on to the summit where we arrived around 6:00 am or 6:30 am in the morning today. The whole reason we climbed it was not just to reach the summit but also to get some footage and some scenic shots for the film."
"We worked hard," Viesturs said, breathing heavily in the thin air, "but we were able to accomplish everything we set out to do. It was great working with this group of friends, everybody that was working on this project. David and Robert worked their asses off, imagine climbing Everest and filming while you climb. It's a daunting task, but if anybody could pull it off it's those guys. It was a difficult project, but we were successful, so we feel pretty good."
"Everybody used oxygen on this climb," Viesturs said, "because we were not just climbing, but shooting film, and when you're working and climbing both, there's no reason not to use oxygen."
Viesturs has climbed Mount Everest five previous times, including in his role as expedition leader and cast member of the IMAX film, Everest. That was another expedition made in the company of David Breashears. Ed Viesturs to date has successfully climbed all but one of the 14 highest mountains on earth. He's made two attempts to climb his final 8,000-meter peak, Annapurna, and has planned a third attempt on the elusive summit. In fact, Viesturs had kept open the possibility of making another attempt on Annapurna in just a week or two, using his hard-won acclimatization on Everest as a means to speed up his attempt on Annapurna. But in his satellite phone call to GreatOutdoors.com, Viesturs said that with more filiming to do on Everest, he no longer plans to trek quickly to Annapurna for an attempt there.
"There's more work to do on Everest this year," Viesturs said, "so Annapurna will have to wait until next year."
Viesturs said that the expedition's high altitude Sherpas are one of the factors that made success possible. "The Sherpa did a stellar job, without their help, we couldn?t have done it. The Sherpas don't get enough credit in general, and especially this year. Frankly,there are a lot of so-called unguided expedition on the mountain this year, but what's really happening is that the Sherpas are doing the guiding, without the acknowledgement."
Viesturs added that between carrying the big cameras high on the mountain, and the demands of filming, this year's climb resembled the season he and Breashears spent filming the IMAX movie, Everest, in 1998. "It was in some ways similar to the IMAX effort," Viesturs told GreatOutdoors.com, "because of the cameras and the shooting schedule. But for me it was way different because this time I was using oxygen, and in 1998 I climbed without gas."
Viesturs, the climbing leader of the expedition, said it was a pleasure climbing with such an experienced team. Breashears already has five Everest summits to his credit, Veikka Gustafsson and Robert Schauer each have three, and many of the Sherpas were making their third or fourth trip to the top.
"Well, it's true, I'm the climbing leader," Viesturs said, "but this was a situation where everyone could take of themselves. This was a powerful group, and everybody on the team is very confident and experienced, and everybody did well."
Viesturs and the other expedition members had just awoken from a night spent at the South Col, at 26,300-foot Camp IV, following the summit bid. As for now, Viesturs said, "Now, we gotta get down the mountain. We have more filming to do, so we will descend today and get back to work after a little celebrating. The weather here is great, the winds are dying down, and it looks like a good day for the descent."
But Viesturs was obviously still reverberating from the success of the difficult endeavor.
"We had a great climb," he said, breathing deeply while Gustafsson could be heard coughing loudly in the background. "It was a great group of friends that were working on this project. It feels great to have it end in such success."
The feature film in development by Working Title Films, a division of Universal Pictures, is tentatively entitled Everest, and will start principal photography in Spring 2005 under the direction of Stephen Daldry, with Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Jonathon Finn producing. David Breashears is co-producer and second unit director. The film will be released worldwide by Universal Pictures.