Oct. 20, 1997
The Oct. 20, 1997, cover of the Europe/Asia edition of TIMECover Credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY ED VIESTURS
Oct. 20, 1997
The Oct. 20, 1997, cover of the Europe/Asia edition of TIME
Cover Credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY ED VIESTURS
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See Pictures of the Tragic Climb That Inspired the New Movie Everest

Sep 25, 2015

The new movie Everest is all Hollywood, with big movie stars meant for a big IMAX screen. But the story it tells is very real.

When images and accounts of the 1996 climb on which the movie is based were published in the book Everest: Mountain Without Mercy, TIME examined how the disaster—in which a storm resulted in eight deaths—came to pass. The story was also an opportunity to look at how a tragedy in one of the world's most remote spots ended up so well-documented (including in Jon Krakauer's 1997 book Into Thin Air). As it turned out, two IMAX filmmakers David Breashears and Ed Viesturs were there with cameras.

Everest, as TIME's Jeffrey Kluger explained, had become a popular destination despite the isolated and challenging environs:

Even under the best of conditions, scaling a mountain like Everest is an act of near madness. Standing on top of the peak is roughly equivalent to stopping a passenger jet in mid-flight and climbing out onto the wing. The altitude is the same, the 40°F- below-zero temperature is the same, and, most disturbingly, the lung-shredding, brain-addling atmosphere--barely one-third the pressure of sea-level air--is the same. In the 44 years since New Zealander Edmund Hillary and a Sherpa climber, Tenzing Norgay, first scaled the peak, more than 700 people have followed them to the top; at least 150 others have died in the attempt.

Despite this fearsome history, Everest is big business these days. Tibet and China, recognizing a moneymaking natural resource when they see one, have thrown the peak open to tourism. Expeditions charge climbers, often unskilled, up to $65,000 to be walked to the top. In the spring of 1996, 14 groups from 11 countries swarmed Everest's lower campsite, digging in 17,600 ft. above sea level in preparation for an attempt on the summit.

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Mountain Without Mercy

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