Growing up in the Rockies, David Breashears hardly felt on top of the world. "I was rarely in a class where I wasn't the skinniest kid—the one who couldn't do a pull-up," he says. But at 42 he's a mountaineering legend, having brought down from the planet's highest peak the footage for Everest
, the IMAX movie depicting a 1996 expedition to the Himalayan summit that has become a surprise hit. The 5'10" Boston resident, a veteran of four trips to the top, is "one of the strongest climbers on earth," says fellow alpinist Jeff Long, "a high-altitude machine." But one with flair—and heart. "I always found David at his sexiest when climbing. He has an elegant, effortless style," says ex-wife Veronique Choa, still a good friend. (Breashears declines to name his current girlfriend.) And, notes Long, "He's known throughout the climbing world for his ethical approach." Never was this more evident than when the blizzard that would claim eight lives struck while the Everest
team was filming: Without batting a cobalt-blue eye, Breashears committed his gear and crew to rescue efforts. Even in the most adverse conditions, says Paula Viesturs, who appears in the film, "he's flirtatious, he's loving, he gives hugs and says nice things. He really makes you feel special."