Everest hero heads for big screen

By Steve Deane

The movie will retell Kiwi mountain climbing guide Rob Hall's heroic actions in the Mt Everest tragedy in 1996.  Photo / Getty Images
The movie will retell Kiwi mountain climbing guide Rob Hall's heroic actions in the Mt Everest tragedy in 1996. Photo / Getty Images

Almost 17 years after he died while comforting a client during a blizzard on Mt Everest, Kiwi mountain climbing guide Rob Hall will have his heroic story immortalised by Hollywood.

Academy Award-winning actor Christian Bale, whose roles include Batman and Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, will play Mr Hall.

Mr Hall died on Mt Everest in 1996 during a storm that claimed the lives of seven others, including fellow New Zealander Andrew Harris.

Mr Hall's decision to remain with ailing American climber Doug Hansen instead of descending to basecamp as the storm struck was chronicled in the book Into Thin Air, written by journalist Jon Krakauer, who was a member of the climbing party.

Guy Cotter, a close friend of Mr Hall's who took over the running of his guiding company, Adventure Consultants, after his death, said he had been consulted during the project's early stages and was hopeful it would be an accurate reflection of what took place.

"We've seen some fairly trashy renditions of what went on in '96, so it is actually good to see that there are some real professionals who want to make a real story of it rather than just doing the standard drama that appeals to everyone's preconceived notions of what mountaineers are like," Mr Cotter said.

"Most people close to mountaineering probably don't have a whole lot of faith that a good climbing movie will ever be made."

At this stage titled Everest, the film is to be based on interviews and written accounts from survivors of the disastrous May 1996 ascent attempt.

A Working Title Films and Universal Pictures project, Everest will be directed by Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormkur, whose credits include The Deep and Contraband.

Into Thin Air was made into a television movie in 1997.

The book's account of events was criticised by several people involved in the tragedy, including Russian mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev, the lead guide from a rival company.

Krakauer's account criticised Mr Boukreev's decision to return to basecamp ahead of his clients to rest. However Mr Boukreev and his supporters defended that decision, pointing out that it allowed him to return and rescue three climbers once the storm had passed.

No clients of Mr Boukreev's company, Mountain Madness, died during the climb, although the company's founder, Scott Fischer, perished in the storm.

Mr Boukreev was killed by an avalanche in 1997.

Mark Inglis, a contemporary of Mr Hall's who in 2006 became the first double amputee to scale Everest, said Bale was a good choice to play the Kiwi mountaineer.

"He's a serious guy, and that's Rob."

Having been criticised for failing to assist stricken British climber David Sharp - who later died on the mountain - during his own ascent, Mr Inglis was concerned how Mr Hall's decisions would be portrayed.

"I've been through all this s*** with my own trip up Everest," Mr Inglis said.

"It's a bloody sight more difficult that anyone ever thinks. That's the worry [with the movie]. I think it's really cool that they are doing something but I hope it is made in the right way."

Mr Inglis would not say whether he believed Mr Hall had made the right decision to stay with his client during the storm.

"That's too hard for me to answer. Every one of us that go to Everest now have learned the lesson from Rob and Andy. It's not just Rob, Andy died that day as well."

The climbing season of 1996 is the most deadly on record at Mt Everest, with 15 people dying attempting to conquer the summit.

What happened that year, and to Mr Hall's expedition in particular, had changed the way guiding companies operated on Everest, Mr Cotter said.

"We all work together a lot more closely to provide assistance and support when things are going wrong. It kind of made the industry growup."

Everest will be competing with another film of the same name being made by Sony.

Based on Jeffrey Archer's book Paths of Glory and directed by Sheldon Turner, the Sony version will tell the story of George Mallory, the British climber who died on his third attempt to become the first man to scale Mt Everest.

Mr Hall's former wife Dr Jan Arnold could not be reached for comment as she is holidaying in South America.

Last words of a man expecting to die

Rob Hall was out of oxygen and had been exposed to the elements for two days and a night during the Everest blizzard.

The wind-chill factor was 100C below zero.

He had chosen to stay with American client Doug Hansen, but Hansen succumbed.

With his strength failing, he asked the people at basecamp to put him through to his wife, Jan Arnold, who was in Christchurch, seven months pregnant.

"Hi, my sweetheart," he said to her.

Ms Arnold tried to comfort him. He said his last words to her: "I love you. Sleep well, my sweetheart. Please don't worry too much." And then he was gone.

Later, Ms Arnold remembered how she felt during the call.

"He sounded like Major Tom or something [from David Bowie's Space Oddity] like he was just floating away. Rob and I had talked about the impossibility of being rescued from the summit ridge. As he himself had put it, 'You might as well be on the moon'."

- NZ Herald

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