10 Things You Didn't Know About... Everest
The 1996 disaster that killed eight mountaineers when a high-altitude storm left an expedition stranded in the “death zone” near the summit of the world's tallest mountain has already been immortalised in several books and a 1997 TV movie, but last year Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur brought those tragic events to the big screen for the first time in Everest.
Starring Jake Gyllenhall, Josh Brolin, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightly and Jason Clarke, Everest depicts the traumatising descent from the mountain's peak when, with almost no warning, the group of climbers were hit by one of the region's fiercest ever blizzards, wiping out the trail and leaving them stuck in extremely hostile conditions above 26,000 feet where there is very little oxygen. Although some members of the group miraculously managed to survive, eight of them were not so lucky.
Kormákur's film arrives on DVD and Blu-ray in stores on Monday (January 18th), so we thought that we'd dig up some of the lesser-known facts about the film and the expedition that inspired it...
Some of the scenes were filmed on the 007 stage at Pinewood Studios
Although several of the film's shots were filmed on Everest itself, due to the extreme conditions it wasn't possible to film every scene there, so much of the film was shot on the slopes of Italy's Dolomite mountain range, while other scenes were filmed at Rome's Cinecitta Studios, where they re-created the Everest base camp, and at London's Pinewood studios, where filmmakers recreated the mountain's summit on the famous James Bond soundstage.
The filmmakers actually bombed the Dolomites
Even though the Dolomite mountain range is considerably less treacherous than the Himalayas where Everest sits, the conditions are still very hazardous and at one point the risk of avalanches was so great that the filmmakers had to hire helicopters to drop bombs on the mountains in order to cause avalanches deliberately, thereby dislodging the loose snow and decreasing the risk of the cast and crew being buried.
Another disaster struck during filming, killing 16 people
While the film's second unit director Kent Harvey was at the Everest base camp filming establishing shots for the film, a huge icefall occurred on the mountain, killing 16 Nepalese Sherpas (inhabitants of the surrounding Khumba Valley). The climbing season was soon abandoned and the remaining outdoor shots had to be completed in the Italian mountains instead.
Josh Brolin and Jake Gyllenhall spent a little too long in an altitude simulator
In order to prepare the actors for the conditions up in the mountains, they were subjected to some pretty physical training, including sessions in an altitude simulator that recreates the low levels of Oxygen. According to Josh Brolin, he and Jake Gyllenhall spent too long in one of the sessions and they both ended up suffering from symptoms of severe depression for several days.
Hypoxia caused one of the survivors, Sandy Pittman, to experience some pretty weird hallucinations
Lack of oxygen can do very strange things to the brain and if the actors thought they were experiencing extreme symptoms, you can only imagine what was happening to the people actually caught up in the storm at high altitude. One of the survivors, Sandy Pittman (now known by her maiden name of Sandy Hill) reported experiencing some even weirder symptoms: “I felt close to dying, but then hypoxia took over my brain and I started hallucinating I was in a tea house with a warm fire in it, so I stopped being afraid. I started waving my arms and calling out to catch the eye of the waiter.”
One of those killed was nicknamed 'Green Boots' and became a trail marker
Climbing Mount Everest is obviously extremely dangerous and the number of people who have been killed attempting the feat exceeds 250, but one of the most grim facts about this is that most of the bodies are still up there, due to the extreme difficulty in getting them down again. One of these bodies belongs to one of the eight people killed during the 1996 disaster, thought to be a member of the Indo-Tibetan border police named Tsewang Paljor. His corpse remained on the mountain for almost 20 years and was given the nickname 'Green Boots' due to the colour of his footwear. His body was used as a trail marker until it mysteriously disappeared in 2014. It is thought his body was removed by a Chinese expedition.
One of the survivors wrote the story that became the basis for the film Into The Wild
One of the other survivors of the ill-fated expedition was journalist Jon Krakauer, who joined the other climbers in order to write an article about the expedition for Outside magazine. He wrote a book about the experience called Into Thin Air, but some years later he also wrote another book called Into The Wild, which became the basis for Sean Penn's 2007 film of the same name.
He also helped with the arrest and conviction of notorious Mormon 'prophet' Warren Jeffs
Krakauer was also heavily involved with the capture and conviction of Warren Jeffs, the former leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who was sentenced to life plus 20 years for routinely abusing the community's children. Krakauer also appears in a 2015 documentary on the subject, Prophet's Prey, directed by Amy Berg.
Rob Hall had reached the mountain's summit five times, more than any other non-Sherpa
One of the film's central characters, Rob Hall (played by Jason Clarke), was one of the eight who perished in the disaster and was at that time Everest's most experienced Western mountaineer, having completed the expedition to the summit five times. Only the native Sherpas had reached the top more frequently.
The rescue mission set a record for the highest helicopter landing
One of the reasons that rescue missions near the summit are so difficult is that helicopters cannot usually land on the mountainous terrain, but at least two of the survivors owe their lives to Nepalese helicopter pilot Lt. Col. Madan Khatri Chhetri, who managed to land not once but twice, rescuing two of the expedition's members and setting a record for the world's highest altitude helicopter landing in doing so.