Casual bookstore browsers are most likely going to see High Exposure: An Enduring Passion for Unforgiving Places and assume that it is just another story of the tragedy that took place on Mt. Everest in 1996. This tragedy, as chronicled in Jon Krakauer's book Into Thin Air and a number of others, does figure prominently. But High Exposure is more than a retelling of that story. David Breashears's new book is a loving look at the urge that some people feel to take on challenges which others view as bordering on insanity. It does take a certain amount of abandon to tackle mountains such as Everest, but, as Breashears details, this does not have to be a reckless endeavor. High Exposure is more than just a story of Everest, it is the story of a climber and adventurer and his growth as a person. Breashears's story of his journey from a childhood filled with dreams of climbing Everest to actually doing so is engrossing. He slowly draws us into his world, engaging us with his exploits and not glossing over his mistakes. His writing is fluid enough for a novice to understand, but not so detailed that those with more experience will find it tiresome. High Exposure is an honest and compelling story of a man who learns more about himself with each challenge he faces. And he faces many, both physical and emotional, and not all out in the wild. We are with him as he slowly transforms from a climbing bum to a respected film maker and mountaineer.
The retelling of the 1996 Everest disaster, while not the focal point of the book, is indeed quite compelling and interesting, particularly if you have read any of the other first-hand accounts. However, it is almost a subplot and takes a back seat to the goal of Breashears's trip to film Everest for an IMAX movie. He succeeded in doing so, creating the highest grossing IMAX film in history. The story of how this was done, from both a technical and emotional viewpoint, is fascinating. The ability of his expedition to carry on in the face of so much death is quite moving. But, as Breashears himself said, I wanted to prove that Everest was in its grandeur an affirmation of life, and not a sentence to death. He succeeds in doing so, and in the process may move others to push themselves to their limits if not on Everest then perhaps in their daily lives.
Wes Breazeale is a writer living in Portland, Oregon, under the watchful gaze of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens.
The 1996 tragedy on Everest has been perhaps the most documented mountaineering tragedy of the modern era. It seems that everyone involved has written a book from Anatoli Bokreev's The Climb to Broughton Coburn's beautiful Everest: Mountain Without Mercy. Taken individually these books may appear to represent opportunism by the authors, but taken as a body of work they form a fascinating picture of what it was like to be on the mountain. In Matt Dickinson's new book, The Other Side of Everest: Climbing the North Face Through the Killer Storm (Times Books, $23, 0812931599), he provides an interesting perspective from the North Face of Everest. Despite being on the other side of the mountain, the deaths on the South Face had a profound affect on the expeditions on the North Face. As Dickinson struggles to film a documentary, he is faced with the difficult question of whether or not to continue the ascent. The Other Side of Everest provides an additional angle through which to view the events during that fateful season.