Can Elia Saikaly climb Everest and film a million-dollar TV show at the same time?

by planetMitch1 Comment

Up front warning… this is going to be at least a 2 part blog post – something I usually don't do – but I've got to give you an introduction to the next blog post and quite frankly, I've just been writing so much to set the mood, I've decided the only way to do it right is to break this down into two posts – the first will be completely introduction to Elia Saikaly and Everest while the second post will be the story of Elia climbing Mt Everest while filming a million-dollar TV series with Canon HDSLRs! It is a gripping story that you'll want to read! And yes, there's discussion of Canon EOS 5D Mark IIIs and other gear too ha!

Until last fall, I'd never met anyone who had climbed Everest – and while I haven't met Elia Saikaly face to face, I feel I can say that I at least know someone who has done it. Last fall I also remember someone tweeting me that they'd climbed Everest – but alas, I didn't write it down so I don't remember who that is. And technically, I have also corresponded with a third person since Elia started his last journey to Everest, but that was because this guy, Alan Arnette runs the most amazing website (2013 coverage) documenting Everest and the people who climb it every year.

Maybe I'm just fascinated by Nepal – many years ago, a very good friend of mine died in a plane crash in Nepal while working for the Peace Corps… and maybe someday, I'll go there! But I don't think you'll catch me climbing Everest!

If you want to go back and start at the beginning, here are the previous posts on Elia here on planet5D:


Why am I fascinated by Everest?

When Elia announced he was going to climb Everest again (he has attempted it twice and succeeded once (well, make that three attempts if you include the latest one – I'll let you read tomorrow's post to find out if he and the others made it)) I found myself drawn deeply into learning about what an effort is required and just how dangerous it is to attempt. I'd always known Everest was a difficult mountain to scale, but until I started learning more, I really didn't understand just how difficult and potentially life threatening it was – and is even today. This year for example, while the success rate was very high (there were quite a few ‘good' weather days in this short climbing season), over 600 people made it this year, there were still 9 people who lost their lives in either attempting to climb or supporting the people who were climbing. Many other years, there were many less people who made it and the ratio of those succeeding and those dying was much higher!

When you start learning about Everest, you learn that one of the most interesting (or should I say morbid?) aspects is that the vast majority of people who have trouble or die actually have that happen on the way down! Getting to the top is a great feat, but getting down alive is more important and is as equally difficult (if not even more so) than reaching the summit.

My family has gotten a bit tired of me chatting about Everest in the last two months – I've shared a lot about what I've learned while watching Elia attempt to – so now you get to learn a little HA!

  • It is very expensive to climb Everest – many people save for many years or find sponsors. Costs vary depending on the guide company you hire (assuming you do – and you do want one) but you'll pay anywhere from $40k – $100k to attempt the climb – the permit from Nepal is about $25k all by itself
  • There's a lot of litter on the mountain – including human waste, tents, oxygen tanks, and quite a few bodies of those who don't make it
  • You do a lot of ‘acclimatization' to make it to the top, meaning you climb to camp 1, then back to base camp, then to camp 2 and back down, and then to camp 3 and then back down — all to get your body used to the extremely high altitude and lack of oxygen
  • In the “death zone” above 8000m (about 26,000ft), there's about 33% of the oxygen in the air as sea level – and your brain gets so little oxygen, concentration is very difficult – and so is sleeping for many
  • There's no ‘air rescue' above camp 2 – meaning if you have medical trouble, the only help is if you can get help climbing down, or you die.
  • Over 3200 people have made it to the summit and lived to tell the story – and over 200 haven't made it back (complete list)
  • Many of the Sherpas who help climbers have multiple summits of their own (and they're usually the first to climb every season as they have teams that set the ropes that others use for safety)

So you can see I've been learning a lot about Everest this year, and many of you have seen some of my tweets about it and probably wondered why I was even talking about it… but now you know. You can easily get wrapped up in the uniqueness of the mountain and the allure of climbing it — but you won't catch me doing it… after everything I've read, I think I'll leave it up to the more adventurous!

Lastly, I write this because Elia and many others have inspired me – just as many of you write to me and tell me how much planet5D has helped you along your journey… and I want to acknowledge not only the people who inspire me, but to acknowledge how much each and every one of you who reads planet5D means to me and my family!

Elia explains why he was climbing Everest

From Elia's blog announcing this journey:

What on Earth am I doing in Nepal?
As the plane landed on the tarmac in Kathmandu, I couldn’t help but ask myself that very question: What on Earth am I doing in Nepal? After all, wasn’t I just here in November? And haven’t I been here 7 times already? And didn’t I summit Mt. Everest back in 2010? Yes. To all of the above. But let’s just say that destiny came knocking as it often does and I responded favourably.
In January of 2013, I was documenting the climb of my friend Sh. Mohammed Althani, (check out his site) a Qatari climber and philanthropist whose dream is to climb to the highest point on Earth. His mission is to inspire Arabs to step outside of their comfort zones and to live their dreams. He also happens to be the brand ambassador for a charity called Reach Out to Asia (www.rota.org) and is raising money to help them achieve their mission of providing education for those that need it most. A mission I widely support.

So imagine: there we were, at 6100M in Argentina, freezing, 5 men huddled into a small yellow North face tent talking about this crazy little idea. Mohammed wanted to create the first ever Arab produced reality television series on Mt. Everest. And apparently I was the man for the job. Once we all made it to the top of Mt. Aconcagua, I received this random email from Moe: “Can you write a proposal for me, I need it in 2 days”. I said sure. Of course, I happened to be in transit to Alaska at the time for another project, but who am I to say no to a Sheik! So I delivered a proposal called ‘Arabs on Top of the World’. About a week later, Moe sends me another quick email and says; “Can you edit a trailer for me? I have a meeting with Qatar television and I need it in 2 days.” I’m thinking: “Edit a trailer for a TV series in two days?” Right. So I drop everything and cut a trailer out of thin air.

A few days later (and I am in total awe of what he was able to make happen in such a short amount of time) a production company from Qatar called Media Dante and their star producer Rosie Garthwaite was called in to produce the series, shortly thereafter QTV approved the budget and the next thing you know, we’re all in transit to Kathmandu to do something that’s never been done before in the Arab world.

So what’s the show about?

A Palestinian, an Iranian, a Saudi woman and a Qatari (which the latter two are world firsts) are going to attempt the impossible: they are all climbing to the summit of Mt. Everest. And guess who is responsible for capturing 100% of journey above base camp? Yup, me! I’m the lead (and only) high altitude cinematographer. A HUGE responsibility. It’s not exactly like shooting a few episodes of Honey Boo Boo at sea level. (Not that I watch honey Boo Boo). It’s more like going to war in an incredibly inhospitable, unpredictable, uncontrollable environment with obscene amounts of camera gear, technology and objective dangers and hazards at every turn.

Update from mid-way thru the 2013 Everest adventure

Elia did post a couple of blog updates thru the 2013 attempt to climb Everest and he posted this very scary note just before the final push to the top:

“It's all over”. These are the words that reverberated through my mind for nearly three days straight while ‘resting' in Namche Bazaar. I lay in bed for three days helplessly waiting and praying for the sickness to pass.

After 6 weeks of being on Everest, most climbers take what's called an oxygen vacation. After spending weeks at high altitude, your body becomes incredibly worn down, mentally you are tired, emotionally you are a wreck and psychologically you are in dire need of a break. Or even better: an oxygen vacation. Our team decided to charter three helicopters and flew from Everest basecamp to Namche Bazaar where the air is thick and rich with oxygen. In my case, it was a complete nightmare. I dealt with cold sweats, chills, mild headaches and a feeling of being utterly alone. I told no one that I was sick so as to not alarm anyone. You see, without me: there is no television series. Without me as the lead cameraman: there is no ending to the 12-part television series. I knew this going into the climb and decided to assume the responsibility regardless of the risks.

I tossed and turned for three days. Forced myself to eat, drink and sleep as much as possible. I made regular trips to the bakery and forced as many calories into my body as possible. Hamburgers and french fries seemed to soothe my mindset so they became my staple. I continuously repeated the mantra: “This too shall pass. This too shall pass. There is a lesson to be learned here. Be patient and this too shall pass”.

I honestly believe that every challenging experience that is placed upon us is a lesson in disguise. An opportunity to learn, grow, evolve and become a better version of ourselves. After all, we're here to learn, aren't we? In my case the lesson is this: you're not superhuman Elia Saikaly. You need to slow down and take it easy on your summit push.

After three days of suffering, the sickness finally passed. A gift from above. I am eternally grateful.

Return to Everest video

Here's a video Elia posted about the flight back to base camp!

Epals video

Elia was also reporting and encouraging a large community of students (epals.com) while doing this attempt on Everest

Tomorrow – the full story

So, watch for tomorrow's post directly from Elia after his attempt to climb Everest and to film the entire adventure… plus, we'll hopefully have more from him when he returns and has time to process some footage and photos!

(cover photo credit: snap from the earlier video)


Additional Stories You Will Want To Read: