Everest uncorked at Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival 

Even though extreme skier and adventure film-maker Peter Peru has seen enough mountains to last a lifetime, he still goes weak at the knees when industry experts get together. The mountain enthusiast attended the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival this week to meet up with old friends, hear from the gurus, see their slide shows and get a fresh slant on climbing, skiing and mountaineering. For those who missed out, here’s his report on one of the biggest events on the agenda, the Everest Uncorked Speaker Series.

How appropriately named the two evenings titled "Everest Uncorked" were. The best of the best discussed their dedication to climbing the great mountain and their different attempts to scale the "Czomolugma, High Goddess of The Himalayas." These guys definitely deserve a toast to their efforts.

Conrad Anker spoke about his incredible discovery of George Mallory’s body on Everest. His remains have been lying there since 1921, and Anker gave a step-by-step account of the find, as well as his own psychological struggle on whether to release the photos to the hungry media.

Anker revealed it was Australia’s tabloid newspapers that had somehow so crassly exposed the first photographs of Mallory’s remains. Since the earth’s timeline allows Australia to be the first continent to rise, the photographs of Mallory’s body had appeared on tabloids there first.

Australia also happened to be the country where the great grandson of Mallory lived. I can’t imagine his disgust at seeing the remains of his cherished ancestor splattered across the tabloids so suddenly and without warning.

Conrad carefully and personally delivered his own apprehensions with media protocol in general and had some very interesting insights on the subject at hand.

Peter Hillary, son of Sir Edmund, gave a less serious account of his adventuring forays. Hillary entertained the crowd with his tales of wild adventuring, keeping up his father’s great name and reputation in the world of mountaineering and outdoor adventure. Hillary junior has been on Everest’s summit twice and has skied a new route to the South Pole with a rather comical supplement of kites and wind power helping their arduous task. He also spoke of cordial airplane trips to the North Pole and jet boat adventures on the Upper Ganges River.

On Saturday evening we listened to Jim Whittaker who led America’s first successful expedition to Everest. His team took the regular South Col route as well as the Everest East Ridge and Hornbein Couloir attempt, thus placing two victorious American climbing parties on top. Whittaker went on to describe the 1978 successful climbs up K2 via the Polish knife Ridge route. This ridge was so narrow that "one could take a crap on one side into China, while having a piss into Pakistan on the other."

On a more timely note, under the current threat of war, Whittaker’s Climb for Peace at the end of the Cold War crisis in 1990 saw him enlist the U.S.S.R., China and the U.S.A. They successfully sent five climbers each to the summit of Everest, proving that humanity can still co-operate.

Whittaker, now towering tall at 74, and not looking much over 50, still climbs and runs a climbing program on Mt Rainier, a peak he has scaled more than 80 times.

Next up was a film and commentary on Poland’s first ascent of Everest in the winter of 1981. The gritty black and white, degenerated quality of the tape added to the feeling to the harsh conditions the expedition endured. The temperatures on Everest during that time of year, plummet to well below —40C and the winds at times exceeded 100 miles per hour. Lessen Cichy, one of the summiteers, narrated.

Peter Habeler spoke of his ordeal climbing Everest in 1978 without extra oxygen. He speculated on whether the decision to go without oxygen had since done some damage to his brain.

Sharon Woods gave an interesting and unique perspective on climbing from a female point of view. She ascended Everest in 1986, making her North America’s first woman on Everest. She gave a very emotional account of the highs and lows of the sport, especially in relation to losing loved ones. She has given up the high risk sport to concentrate on bringing up her two sons in peace.

The Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival concludes this weekend.

On a personal note, I must extend a special thanks to Whistler-Blackcomb, Stuart Rempel and his staff for extending us the hospitality to take some of the distinguished VIMFF guests skiing this week with complimentary lift tickets.

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