(Last Updated On: April 17, 2010)
Movie of the Month: The Man Who Skied Down Everest
Director: Budge Crawley
Where can I find it? Netflix, Amazon.com
Yuichiro Miura, from Japan, was a notable alpine racer of the time. This film highlights his 1970 attempt to ski Mt. Everest. The movie opens with a quote stating, “Throughout time, mas has aspired to great heights in search of peace of mind and a quiet heart. This is the story of such a man.”
Their expedition begins in the lowlands of Kathmandu in Nepal where they hired 800 porters to carry all of their gear up to the highlands. Over many days they travel 185 miles with 27 tons of equipment. The bare-footed porters carry their heavy packs with straps on their heads, typical of the region. The film shows several shots of the literal train of porters hiking through the forest to the mountains. Eventually the group reaches the land of the Sherpas. There, they send their lowland porters home and exchange them for 400 Sherpas. The group continues up the valley toward Everest. It takes them 40 days to travel the next three miles.
Along the way, Miura visits Sir Edmund Hillary, who had established a hospital in the area for the local Sherpa people. New Zealander Hillary along with his Sherpa partner Tenzing Norgay, were the first to climb Everest (and return), in 1953. Muira was often questioned as to why he wanted to ski Everest. But Hillary understands, saying, “When we stop looking for challenges, human beings will be in a very bad way.”
When the group reached the Khumbu icefall, they set up a camp where they remain for several days. The Khumbu icefall is known for being one of the most treacherous areas on Everest. It changes day by day and immense parts of the icefall can collapse at once. This is exactly what happened when a group of Sherpas were carrying their loads through the icefall, claiming the lives of six men.
Nevertheless, the expedition continues. Everyday, more and more clouds appeared in the sky- reminding the group that the monsoon was coming. The men felt pressed for time.
In the meantime, Yuichiro Miura prepares his skis. The film shows Miura mounting the bindings on his brand new skis and sharpening them incessantly, as though it were a methodical obsession. Miura’s goal was never to ski from the summit of Everest. He wanted to ski it from the top of the Lhotse Face at 26,000 feet (7928 m) with the aid of a parachute. With the thinner air, he was uncertain what size parachute to use. So, he tested some of the chutes on the lower slopes of Everest. The film shows some of this test footage.
The film depicts Yuichiro Miura as a very introspective man, constantly contemplating the happenings around him. He questioned the death of the six Sherpas and wondered why a Japanese man wasn’t among them. And the film dialogues how he develops a connection with the high peaks that surround him. Miura is quoted saying things like, “The challenge of the peaks is the challenge of life itself- To always struggle higher.” Later he’s quoted again saying, “We have wandered from the paths of the wind and become children of fear.”
As the group ascends higher and higher on Everest, the group continues to get smaller. During their ascent the film focuses on the Bergshrund, a huge crevasse that divides the Lhotse Face from the Khumbu glacier. The scene leaves the viewer with a foreboding feeling.
Eventually, Miura and his supporters reach the top of the Lhotse face, where he plans to begin his ski. At first, it seemed as though the weather would not cooperate. But, Miura performs some ceremonial rituals that show he has come to understand the spirit of the mountains. Within moments, the wind calms. And his ski can begin.
Equipped with an oxygen mask, Miura bolts straight down the icy Lhotse face, barely making any turns at first. His chute releases without any problems. But Miura continues down the face with an unimaginable speed, despite having a chute to slow him down. Skiing on skinny skis and in leather boots, Miura holds his pose with his brute strength. But, eventually, the mountain gets him. He slips on some ice and begins sliding faster and faster at uncontrollable speeds down the icy face. He loses both skis and his parachute folds over, no longer slowing his speed. He tumbles over a small rockband, unharmed. And then moments later, he finds a patch of snow and the strength to come to an abrupt stop- 250 feet above the Burgshrund.
In the end, Miura skied 6,600 feet (2000 m) in 2 minutes and 20 seconds and then fell another 1320 feet down the Lhotse Face. Miura is left with nothing but questions. He wonders why he is alive, when others are not. And he questions whether the mission was actually a success when he ended up falling a large way down the mountain. Nevertheless, Miura is happy to be alive.
Whether Miura’s ski can actually be considered a success or not will be questioned for quite some time. Miura’s plan of not beginning his ski from the summit and skiing with the aid of a parachute leaves many of todays ski mountaineers scorning his actions. Nevertheless, the film has it’s place in mountaineering history. Shot in 35mm Panavision, this film was ahead of it’s time in cinematography, bringing the unseen Everest to the common audience of the era. It is no surprise that this film won the the Academy Award for best documentary in 1976.
This YouTube video shows Miura’s ski down Everest continued by his slide-for-life. The excerpt comes up short, ending just moments before Miura actually comes to a stop.