A crew of New Englanders led by Paul Giorgio went to Everest in the spring of 2016 to gather footage for a traveling museum exhibit about the world’s tallest mountain. Along with accomplished filmmakers Scott Barber and Thom Pollard, Mount Washington Valley wildman Parker Haynes was there to assist in any way he could. Haynes agreed to keep us updated on how the exhibition was going, and gave us a firsthand look into life on Everest. Here is his last post summing up the trip, an article that was published in the Fall 2016 print edition of Wild Northeast.
Story and photos by Parker Haynes
Thom Pollard and Lhakpa Sherpa stood upon the peak of a mountain at 2:40 a.m. on May 22, 2016. They had reached the highest point on Earth, the summit of all conquered fears. Pollard was at 29,035 feet looking below, where once he walked as just a man with a dream. Paul Giorgio, the expedition lead, producer and four-time Everest summitter, was on his way to the bottom from camp 4. Oxygen tanks and ropes had been stolen and he didn’t need to risk his life again for a fifth summit. Scott Barber, director of the expedition film, and I were in Kathmandu. Both of us were stomach sick from the hotel buffet food. This is just the end of the story though. Let me go back to the start, where it all began with a word: Everest.
Scott Barber approached me in the early winter of 2015. He asked me to assist him in making a film about Mount Everest and the Khumbu valley. He wasn’t sure at first if it was actually going to happen or if it was a total fabrication. It all seemed like a fantasy, but soon the unimaginable was real.
Scott was hired by Paul Giorgio, an investor from Boston, to direct and create a film. Giorgio had been to Everest many times in his career. He had fallen in love with the mountain and the area surrounding it. Giorgio’s plan was to create a film with several vignettes for a traveling museum about the mountain. The film would generate revenue and support the building of schools in the Khumbu Valley for the Sherpa people. The Sherpa people are losing their culture and language to the modern world. Sharing Everest would be the title, but giving back would be the theme.
The traveling museum exhibit would bring Everest to people who know nothing of its true challenges, the cultures surrounding it, its rich history or its position in the global context. What is Everest like? Who are the Sherpa? Who was the first person to summit? How does basecamp feel? What is it like to climb the mountain? Those are just some of the questions the exhibit would answer. The films would play a crucial role as the visual representation of the mountain, going beyond the basic images and objects in a typical exhibit.
The film task was bestowed upon Scott, and Scott had to hire help. His first hire was Thom Pollard, a high-altitude cinematographer from Jackson, New Hampshire. This would be Pollard’s third time going to Mount Everest. Next he hired me, maybe for my creative eye for film, or maybe to be a jester so he wasn’t alone at basecamp. He won’t tell me, which is probably for the best. Scott, Paul, Thom and I were the “Sharing Everest” expedition crew of 2016.
We were also on another task. We were carrying a research flag of the Explorers Club, which is over 60 years old. Its members are the most accomplished adventurers and explorers from all over the world. Thom and Paul are both members. The flag was to be carried up Everest as part of a search for artifacts, but that is all the information I can share for now. This part of the expedition would be the most central part of the film series and would be entered into film festivals. Since this film would get the most exposure, it would build support for the traveling exhibit. It seemed so simple, but everything can’t be perfect.
During our time in Nepal I sent back regular blog posts to Wild Northeast so everyone could get
a glimpse of my travels and know I was alive. I will pick up my story now where those blog posts left off.
Paul and Thom were heading up the mountain again for the second time. Scott and I waited safely at basecamp, as Thom, Paul and
the Sherpa team got caught in a horrible storm heading to Camp Four. They were so severely beaten by this storm they had to retreat all the way back to Basecamp. When they arrived, it looked like the storm had aged them 10 years: they were thin, with burned, chapped lips and a look in their eyes beyond explanation. They had lost to Everest. The film’s ending was still to be determined.
A couple days passed, and a decision had to be made. It was May 13th and Scott and I were running out of time on the mountain. We had to begin our journey back home soon. Work and life were calling us. We decided to break the expedition up, leave for home on the 15th of May and hike the three long days back to Lukla to catch that damn scary flight to Kathmandu.
May 15th was a sad day. The last few days were spent enjoying the time we had with our new friends, the Sherpa and climbers we shared basecamp with. I often found myself on the outhouse, door wide open, so I could look at the beauty of the icefall and the enormous mountains protruding around it. We discussed what we still needed for the production, which Thom now had to finish shooting. We said our goodbyes to the crew, the Sherpa mountain guides, cooks, and friends. Still to this day I can see the tears of some as we walked down the rocky path back to our forgotten lives and a time before Everest that seemed to only exist in fragmented dreams. We were a family at basecamp, and that was the most powerful learning experience: the power of friendship. No one is a stranger after you say hello, although I’m still pretty strange after that.
Scott and I were back in a hotel in Kathmandu eating lots of food to regain the weight we lost from high altitude. Meanwhile Paul and the crew headed back up to the highest camp on Everest, hopeful for the chance of going to the summit. Paul and Thom had reached Camp Four at the top
of the South Col. The next day, May 21st, a team of six brave, determined men walked out of their tents: Thom, Paul, Lhakpa, Densa, Temba, and Rinzi Sherpa, to conduct research along the route.
Meanwhile Scott and I reached an all time low, taking shifts to use the restroom, sick from food. Jurassic Park played loud in the background, the volume probably matching the wind blowing into Paul and Thom’s face as they set out on the snowy ice desert.
Paul and Thom hiked at 27,000 feet as if they were snails crawling on the ocean floor. They were conducting research along the route, but they were caught in an unexpected storm that blurred their vision. One mistake up at this level is certain death. Paul made the call to abandon the research mission and return to Camp Four to recuperate. It was just too dangerous to continue. As the team returned to their camp to prepare for a summit push, they noticed some of their gear was missing. During the night or while they were on their research mission, oxygen tanks and key ropes were stolen from our expedition group, something that has become all too common on Mount Everest since its commercialization in the early 90’s. Paul and some of the Sherpa had to retreat down the mountain due to the missing supplies.
Not all was lost though. Thom Pollard and Lhakpa, who two months ago didn’t even know each other, had become brothers bonded by hardships on the mountain. Together they drudged into the abyss of the last push to summit mighty Everest. For 17 years, Thom had been longing to scratch this unbearable itch that had begun when he was close to the summit in 1999, but failed to reach it. Finally the deadly itch was gone as he stood on the top of the world. Thom had made it, and had conquered Mount Everest. Thom confided in me after the trip that his sons encouraged him the whole time, and also would call him a wimp if he didn’t summit.
By this time Scott and I were on the flight back home, cuddled up in the same row, missing the adventure, wondering what was going on. We made it home safely to be welcomed by a group of friends. A couple weeks later Thom and Paul also made it home and so ended the expedition of 2016. After a week, I was already back into my bad habits and working. I will never forget
the journey, and I will miss my new friends that I met over there. Now we must wait for Paul to complete his goal and launch another attempt next year. After that, Scott will create a masterpiece, and I will be singing an epic theme song in my best high-pitch Adele voice to go along with it. Look for me in the credits.
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