Mount Everest (29,035 feet) has for decades drawn the most stalwart adventurers, its slopes bringing fame to some and fate to others. A new two-part miniseries, Everest, set to air on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (www.cbc.ca) on August 31 and September 1, recreates one such fateful expedition. The four-hour series by Screen Door Productions (screendoor.org) tells the bittersweet tale of the 1982 Canadian expedition.
“It was historic for Canada—first Canadians to summit Everest,” says actor Eric Johnson, who portrays Laurie Skreslet, one of the ascentionists, in the series. “In a lot of ways they were underdogs…the climbing community didn’t think they were experienced enough or capable of pulling it off.” Of the 16 climbers on the 1982 expedition, only Skreslet and Pat Morrow summitted; Skreslet was the first Canadian to reach the top. Four other expedition members—three Sherpas and a cameraman—were killed. Sherpas Pasang Sona, Ang Chuldim, and Dawa Dorje died in an avalanche on the Khumba Icefall; professional cameraman Blair Griffiths died in an icefall.
This expedition was also the first time live video was broadcast from Everest to North America. Now, 26 years later, the story is again being told on television—though Johnson says it’s important to remember the series is not a documentary. “[The story] is not without its drama…it’s got everything you need to make a good miniseries,” says Johnson. “But that’s not to say certain parts have not been dramatized—I hope the climbing community understands that.”
Johnson says safety was a main concern while filming in the Canadian Rockies, and the mostly new-to-climbing actors went through a week of climbing bootcamp before the filming started. “You don’t want a bunch of amateurs traipsing around on dangerous terrain,” Johnson says. During filming, he says, the actors would practice certain climbing techniques so their on-screen characters would look as authentic as possible. Johnson says one of the actors, a Sherpa, had even summitted Everest in 2002.
The miniseries premieres on CBC on August 31 and September 1. “If anything, I hope [audiences] get a glimpse into the tragic world that Everest really is,” says Johnson. “As much as it’s becoming a tourist destination now, it’s not the safest place in the world.”