Thanks to a team of American climbers and Sherpas, Everest is now preserved forever — in 360-degree virtual reality footage. Capturing Everest is a four-part documentary that tracks every footstep of climbing Mount Everest, from Base Camp to the world’s tallest peak. The footage was gathered over the course of a two-month climbing expedition — with Go-Pro cameras capturing every angle of the Himalayan mountain from the point of view of a crew of climbers who made the summit last year.
That crew included seven-time Everest summiteer and big mountain guide Garrett Madison of Madison Mountaineering, four-time Everest summiteer Brent Bishop, as well as first time climbers Lisa Thompson and Paralympic athlete Jeff Glasbrenner. Each has their own reason for taking on the challenge of not only climbing the mountain, but also capturing it. “There are so many people who I know who will never get the chance to see the beauty that I got to see climbing Mount Everest,” says Glasbrenner, the only disabled member of the crew, who made the summit with a prosthetic leg. “My daughter Grace has a rare seizure disorder, and I know that climbing Everest is something she’ll never get to do. I wanted to be a part of this project so she can put on that headset and see every step that daddy took to make it up to the summit.”
For summiteer and cancer survivor Lisa Thompson, the expedition was also personal. “Before I left for Everest, I sold my house and quit my job. I concluded cancer treatment three weeks before I left for Nepal,” says Thompson. “So Everest to me was more than a mountain, it was tangible proof to myself that I was still strong.”
For Thompson, proving her strength to herself also meant revealing her weaknesses to the cameras. “I really tried to ignore that there were cameras capturing my every move, but it was difficult,” she says. “At first I didn’t want people to see me struggle, but the point of creating a documentary is to capture the authentic experience that each person is having — especially in VR. In the end it became more important for me to show people what it is really like to push yourself in order to overcome incredible obstacles.”
The Capturing Everest crew comprehensively documented each portion of the journey, even when things went wrong. After a day climbing above Base Camp 2 to acclimatize, a Sherpa carrying a pack containing the day’s footage fell into a crevasse. In order to save his life and pull him out of the icy depths, the crew had to cut the pack off. Counting the footage as a small loss, the team spent the next day re-filming the frittered video.
“Climbing and guiding Everest is difficult enough, and then you throw in the filming aspect to it,” says Bishop, who is currently back on the mountain for another summit attempt this season. “Carrying a camera and setting up the shots adds another element to the process that increases the workload. Six nested Go-Pros are not easy to use in the altitude and the cold — synchronizing them and the battery source was difficult to say the least. The summit day was a big challenge, as the winds were blowing and it was 35 degrees below at sunrise. I really feel that we were very lucky to get the footage that we did.”
Despite the obvious challenge of climbing Everest, filming the entire process and having two first-time climbers on the team, the expedition resulted in the film that will preserve the mountain in film and memories that will last the crew forever.
“Each mountain and expedition is different and has its subtle nuances,” says Bishop. “This expedition was amazingly smooth, with a cohesive team, and everybody’s attitude was really, really good. People bonded and became friends quite early on and stayed that way for the duration. This is not always the case on big expeditions, because the stress and the effort tend to reveal people's true character. On this trip everybody's character turned out to be amazingly solid.”
And thanks to the solid effort of the crew, everyone has the opportunity to see the true character of arguably the world’s most famous, dangerous, and beautiful landmarks. “The mountain will always be unpredictable and challenging, and now it will always be as beautiful as it was when I saw it,” says Glasbrenner. “With the VR experience, all you have to do is swivel your head and you are right there on the mountain with us. You go on your own journey and that’s truly unique.”
The four-part documentary premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, and was released to the public on Time Inc.’s new LIFE VR platform. Additionally, and has been released on SI.com in 360-degree video.