THE MISSION DAVID BREASHEARS set for himself in 1996 was daunting enough: haul a 42-pound camera to the summit of Mount Everest to make the hair-raising IMAX film smash Everest. But hardship turned to horror when a storm killed eight climbers from other expeditions, a nightmare chronicled in the bestseller Into Thin Air. Filmmaker-climber Breashears, who aided in rescuing the survivors, didn't film any aspect of the tragedy, even though he passed two of the corpses en route to the peak. "I would have felt sullied," he says. "I grew up with the ethics of a mountaineer first. Anyone who heard what we heard over the radios would have agreed." The 37 members of his crew weren't sure they could go on. "I was very concerned about the safety of my team," says Breashears. "And I was feeling very mortal myself." In the end, everyone stayed to finish the project.
The sky-high critical praise for the $6 million film marks a career summit for Breashears, a 42-year-old divorce who now lives in Newton, Mass., and has been climbing and filming the Himalayas since 1979. Since then, he has become the first American to reach Earth's highest summit twice (he has now had four peak experiences there). But Everest teammate Ed Viesturs says he and Breashears have since formed Everest Anonymous: "If I have an inkling that I want to go back to Everest," Viesturs says, "I call David and he talks me out of it, and vice versa."