Keaton the youngest person at the time (29 yrs) to
complete either version of the Seven Summits. (Rob
Hall previously held the record.) The same year he
also became the first person to have attained both
the 'Seven Summits' and the 50 US state highpoints.
Below is his article " Everest Misguided ? ", David
took questions from You, our readers of
EverestNews.com, over several days, which are below.
Also below is a brief bio:
David D. Keaton is a
professional photographer and freelance writer. In 1995, he became the
youngest person (29) to complete either version of the ‘Seven Summits' and the
first person to finish both the ‘Seven Summits' and the ‘Fifty State
He became interested in
mountaineering which also re-sparked his interest in photography. Following a
stint in graduate school he launched wholeheartedly into the ‘Seven Summits'
and the ‘Fifty U.S State Highpoints.' At the time, only a handful of people
had tackled the continental highpoints.
David participated in five
expeditions with the well-known New Zealand climber Rob Hall including an
ascent of Everest in the spring of 1994. This commercial expedition set a
number of records including the first to place all its members on the summit
and return them safely. Norwegian team member, Erling Kagge, became the first
person on foot to attain the ‘three poles' (Everest, South and North poles),
and the German climber Helmut Seitzel became the second oldest man (56) to
summit. Additionally, Rob Hall became the first westerner to scale Everest
four times. This would be the last time he would return safely from the
Another major Everest
precedent was established during this season. An American ‘Environmental'
expedition (including Scott Fischer) in conjunction with Hall's Sherpa team
made substantial progress in clearing oxygen tanks and other refuse from the
mountain. It had been Hall's idea to pay Sherpas a bounty for each O2 bottle
that was removed from the mountain, and this approach method proved to be
successful in 1994 and in subsequent years.
More recently, David
participated in an expedition to the remote East Pamir mountains of Tajikistan
this past summer. The international team completed several climbs including
the first ascent of the "White Pyramid" (c6060m).
Everest Misguided? By David
Over the past five years,
some quasi-pundits have titled Mount Everest the "junk yard dog" of the high
mountains. They say it has been kicked, swarmed over, and too often taken for
granted. But in the spring of 1996 and 1997 the mountain snapped back with a
ferocious efficiency, and in the process, claimed the lives of some its most
unlikely victims. The resulting tragedy has stirred up a serious debate over
the role of commercial expeditions, guides, and the climbers of the highest
mountains. Should Everest, or any 8000 meter mountain be guided?" Before
wading into this debate, it is important to address the following questions.
What really are the differences between private and guided expeditions? Don't
climbing Sherpas perform many of the tasks, such as leading and fixing ropes,
not to mention shepherding sahibs, that guides do? How many of the 700 plus
Everest summiters would have reached 8000 meters without Sherpa assistance?
Many would argue that a decision to forego Sherpa support marks a greater
divide between expedition styles than a convenient tag of private or
Do private expeditions always
contain more experienced climbers than commercial expeditions? In 1993, an
international commercial Everest expedition rejected the application of one
climber due to her lack of experience. The same resolute climber later
secured a spot on a private venture in the same season. Private expeditions
do not always have tougher prerequisites than guided trips - especially if
inexperienced members can bring substantial financial support to a private
clients prior to 1996 submitted vastly uneven lists of achievements. At one
end are a number of climbers who had never ventured over 17,000 feet, and a
few who had scarcely donned crampons before. But on the other end are
climbers who have individually summited Nanga Parbat, Makalu, K2 without
oxygen, Annapurna via the South face, and Lhotse. Stacking these
accomplishments alongside the climbing resumes of many of Everest's private
expedition members and they compare favorably.
Before guiding on Adventure
Consultants' 1996 commercial expedition, Michael Groom was quoted in the April
issue of Australia's ‘Wild' magazine saying "allot of people have big ideas
for the Himalayas without having earned their stripes. Sooner or later if
this attitude continues there are going to be some fairly serious accidents."
If this is the case then who is responsible for screening commercial climbers
for a specific route, and how can it be improved? With major 7,000 meter or
8,000 meter climbs, only a few guides require a break-in climb with unfamiliar
clients on lower peaks. Should more outfits require the practice?
Most would agree that
prospective clients must take the primary responsibility of assessing their
abilities or finding someone objective that can. As veteran guide Eric
Simonson recently noted, "If you haven't thought seriously that you could die
up there then you should consider a different sport." In the rarest
atmospheres, commercial and non- commercial climbers must be comfortable with
the fact that they are accountable for their performance.
What is the role of an 8000
meter guide, and is it any different for lower peaks? Very few guides, if
any, would admit that a traditional guiding relationship exists at the highest
altitudes. When a client runs into trouble at extreme altitude, the outcome
is invariable uncertain. Alex Lowe, who has guided Everest three times, says
"I feel that the role of a guide at 8000 meters ought to be identical to that
of a guide at 10,000 feet but in actual fact very little guiding occurs above
A guide may establish a safer
environment for his team members by providing solid logistics, organization,
and good judgment, but on the highest peaks his role is generally that of a
coach rather than a guide supervising every step. Anatoli Boukreev, near the
center of last year's disaster, candidly defined his role with a group of
Indonesian climbers on Everest in the spring of 1997. "I offer my expertise
and experience for hire in order to help a group of people reach the summit.
But am I responsible for whether they live or die? I am not."
To reasonably attempt an 8000
meter peak, a commercial client must not only count on maintaining the
endurance to climb to the top and descend under typical conditions, but also
hold something extra in reserve. It is difficult to quantify the necessary
output for 8000 meter climbs, but if a client believes that a guide can serve
as a substitute for that reserve then the margins become thin indeed.
One pertinent example comes
from a 1993 commercial Everest expedition which placed one of the oldest men
on the summit. On the descent, this record breaking climber ran out of
supplemental oxygen near the South Summit and promptly collapse unconscious.
He was reportedly saved only through the efforts of climbers from a separate
expedition who plied him with a steady flow from their own oxygen supply. Such
examples have prompted additional discussion over the use of supplemental
One Everest survivor, who has
ironically criticized one guide for not utilizing oxygen, has recently
suggested the banning of its use as a way to limit the traffic on the
mountain. But if safety is the issue then such a recommendation is surely
misplaced. If the statistics are to be trusted, mountaineers that forego the
use of supplemental oxygen on their summit day sustain a much higher chance of
not returning. Without oxygen, the average roundtrip summit climb (outside a
handful of elite climbers) has been shown to be significantly longer, and
exposure to hypoxia greater. Further, how could such an edict be enforced?
The idea of an oxygen police patrolling the high peaks is particularly
Are commercial expeditions
inherently more perilous than private ones? Whether on a commercial or private
expedition, there will always be a measure of uncontrollable risk which is a
constant in 8000 meter climbing. In a June 1996 issue of a U.S. outdoor
magazine, and one month after the storm took the life of it's director, an
advertisement states ... Climb safely & do it right the first time with
Adventure Consultants." Despite the company's impressive track record prior
to the spring of 1996, it should have been very clear that climbing Mt.
Everest, is in fact, unavoidably dangerous.
Commercial trips, in general,
are not the problem. In fact, there is a very legitimate role for
commercially organized expeditions which are not so entangled in the weighty
expectations of a "guided" climb. In the end, if Everest and the other
8000ers were limited solely to climbers on highly restricted private teams,
would it not eliminate many of the sport's most enduring appeals? The freedom
to choose your objectives, your partners, and the type of expedition you want
to participate in.
This article originally
appeared in the July 1997 issue of Rock & Ice magazine. This articles also
appears on the web site risk at http://www.risk.ru/himal/david.html .
1. Groom's quote can be found on page 57 of Wild magazine's April-June 1996
This article originally appeared in the July 1997 issue of Rock & Ice magazine
Keaton Q&A !
Q.) First thanks for giving
us the opportunity to ask you some questions, Why is it a majority of guiding
companies don't require prospective clients to pass a test of fitness in order
to be selected for a High Altitude Climb?
A.) Glad to help out. Many
companies do require previous 8000 meter experience or at least a previous
climb with that organizer to participate on the higher 8000 meter peaks
excepting Cho Oyu. Others do not. Why? Some of it is numbers and a few
organizers use the mountains rather than pure experience as a natural filter
expecting ‘weaker' members to fall out lower on the mountain. The recent
formation of IGO 8000 is
an important step for all concerned parties. Member companies have
inaugurated a ‘Recommended
Code of Conduct for High Altitude Commercial Expeditions' which also has been
approved by the UIAA.
Q.) Shouldn't guiding
companies be looking for people who are the most qualified in order to select
them to go on a specific climb?
A.) The pool of potential
‘clients' with the desire, the drive, the dollars, and the ability to climb an
8000er is relatively small. Most companies would prefer to have the most
"qualified" participants in terms of experience, skill and strength. Because
of their experience, professionalism and approach, Adventure Consultants had
attracted a number of very qualified climbers to its Everest programs. Ned
Gillette and Veikka Gustafsson are just two.
Q.) How reliant were you on
supplemental oxygen on your seven summits? did you use Oxygen on Aconcagua?
at what elevation does one start to use supplemental oxygen or does this
depend on the person and their previous climbing history?
A.) On my "Seven Summits"
tour I used supplemental oxygen on Everest only - Camp III and above. One of
Rob's Everest benchmarks was that team members had to prove they could reach
Camp III (24,000) and sleep there without Os. If you passed this mark then
you might be allowed to climb higher. In 1994, our team used 1.5 liters of Os
per minute or less on summit day. From what I have gathered this is
competitive to other expeditions with some climbers using 3 liters per minute
or more. We were fortunate to have a good team and everyone summited. We
left around 12:30 from the south col and most summited around 8:30 a.m. I
went without Os for about an hour on top.
The use of supplemental
oxygen only received wide attention in the last few years. Personally, I
have never heard of anyone using supplemental oxygen on any of the Seven
Summits except Everest. If someone required oxygen on Aconcagua or the other
"Summits" they might seriously consider whether this is the best sport for
them. On Everest in 1994, I witnessed one climber using oxygen from Camp II
(around 21,000) and I thought this was a very risky undertaking. There are
plenty of lower peaks that don't require oxygen and still offer a fine
Q.) Of the 50 highest,
knowing that Denali was probably the hardest of them all, which were the
harder ones to do that you can remember? Thanks again for your time !
A.) Denali is certainly the
most difficult of the 50 State highpoints, but each one can provide unique
challenges. This is not the 14 8000 meter peaks, and that's ok. There's a
pig trough on the apex of Iowa and pure asphalt atop Delaware, but there are a
bunch of real gems as well. Katahdin (ME, northern terminus of the AT) solo in
winter conditions was very memorable as was Gannett (WY) and Granite (MT).
Some consider Granite to be the most technical. Granite sticks out because
my climbing partner and I had to hitchike back to Bozeman in the back of a
truck with a dog named Larry. In general, Denali and Rainier stand out in
terms of pure mountaineering endeavour.
Q.) Why do some guides charge
14,000 and others charge 7000 or less for Cho Oyo ?
A.) Don't know specifically
why the difference in fees for Cho Oyu. Two major costs associated with a
traditional siege expedition are oxygen and Sherpa support. Compare. As
well, many operators demand premium fees based on the experience of their
western guides and their success record (safety and summits).
Q.) When did you first meet
Rob Hall? Do you recall your first impression of him?
A.) I first met Rob Hall in
Biak Indonesia on the way to Carstensz Pyramid in 1993. He was a formidable
figure, smart, capable, affable. This was a difficult time for Rob as his
friend and business partner Gary Ball had died a few weeks earlier on
Dhaulagiri. There was some question whether the trip would even go, but as
the trip progressed and we neared the mountains his more typical good spirits
prevailed. For a more complete picture of Rob I can highly recommend Colin
Monteath's book "Hall & Ball - Kiwi Mountaineers" Amazon.... For an
account of Rob's second Carstensz expedition (1994) check out 'Zen
Explorations in Remotest New Guinea' by Neville Schulman. Erling Kagge
offers a narrative of the 1994 Everest climb in his book ‘Pole to Pole and
Q.) On Everest, from your
experience in '94 and what you've read about '96, do you feel that some
clients were over-dependent on Hall? Or, to put the question another way: Do
you feel there was a lack of balance between Hall's strong leadership and
A.) I think this question
leads to the very heart of whether an 8000 meter mountain should be guided.
In a traditional guiding environment on lower mountains this sort of imbalance
is typically a given. Whether or not this is appropriate on the earth's
highest peak will continue to attract debate.
Q.) Can Everest be guided?
A.) Difficult question.
I've thought long and hard about what it means to "guide" Everest. Having
participated in numerous guided and unguided climbs, I think it comes down
to a rope. Over crevassed and or steep glaciated terrain in the European Alps
would a guide rope-up to his client? Generally, yes. To even remotely
"guide" in the traditional sense I think the guide and the client must be
attached by a rope. On summit day, this is an all day scenario from camp to
camp. This has been done before but it is not the typical arrangement. Skip
Horner has guided in this fashion as have others.
Q.) How should Everest be
A.) I'm not totally convinced
that Everest can be guided in the traditional sense. On the highest peaks
there are too many variables that can never be fully controlled.
Q.) What do you think Rob
Hall would say about Into This Air ?
A.) I can't say.
Q.) What do you think Scott
Fischer would say about Into this Air ?
A.) As much as I might
imagine what they might say it's really not my place.
Q.) Do you agree with Ed
Douglas that Boukreev has not due credit for his physical achievements that
A.) I agreed with much of
what Ed discussed, in particular, the argument about different cultural
psyches. Anatoli Boukreev was set to join a very elite group of Himalayan
climbers and this rattled more than a few egos and sponsors. Some people
also manipulated a pile of secondary issues in an effort to blur many of the
important primary issues.
Boukreev was not the leader
of the expedition and was not ultimately responsible for setting the summit
day plan. But on this day he performed his job as it was previously defined.
And more. He saved lives. He was a hero.
It has been disappointing and
perplexing to witness the lengths to which some have gone to cast his efforts
in a different light. If the summit plan was poor should he be blamed? For
better or worse, he followed the plan. Much of this goes back to the entire
discussion of whether or not Everest should or can be guided. I think Anatoli
had a very clear picture of his role on the mountain. I was pleased to see him
receive the American Alpine Club's highest award for valor.
Q.) From the book ITA,
Woodall was made out to be opposed to helping Halls Team and Fischer's Team by
refusing the use of a radio in crisis situation , and was antagonistic all the
way up-- he was from The South African Team right? Or was Krakauer over
reacting to this?
A.) I read the various
accounts of the South African team but I don't have any further information.
Their actions appear indefensible.
Q.) I would like to know what
it was like upon the summit?
A.) It's a bit surreal
because of the altitude. Great views of course, but it's a struggle to
process the information. The weather was favorable and the hour was early so
people were celebrating and not too stressed. There was only one other
expedition on the route, a NOLS group, which included Scott Fischer, Lobsang
Jangbu, Rob Hess and Brent Bishop. We were psyched. You're always thinking
about getting down though.
Q.) Was there any
complications if so what were they?
A.) The terrain of the
southeast ridge can be a problem when more than a few climbers are on the
route. The Hillary Step can really jam up. I waited for nearly an hour above
the Step after one climber mistakenly rappelled off the ridge onto the
Kangshung Face. Belaying individual climbers up or down the Step can really
extend the day. A fixed line is more efficient. Most climbers should carry
a jumar and figure-eight.
Q.) What was the scariest
part of your journey up the mountain and did you ever feel like going back
down and giving up?
A.) There were several times
when doubts surfaced and I wondered if I would be able to finish the climb. I
caught some nasty bugs which most people do, but the climb itself went fairly
smooth. Had a couple of extra events - lost a crampon on the steep rock of
the Yellow Band (below the south col), and went hip deep in a crevasse a few
meters below the South Summit. That caught my attention.
Q.) Will there be a second
attempt for you? If so, when will this come?
A.) I would like to go back
some day, but there are many other interesting things to climb and see and it
may not happen. Additionally, the economics of Everest remain a big obstacle.
Q.) What were conditions like
on the mountain? Thank you and congratulations.
A.) Rob Hall mentioned that
the south col route in the spring of 94 offered the least amount of snow cover
he had seen. Most of the Lhotse face (the route form CII to C4) was hard ice
which is a bit more work compared to the snow steps which are typical in the
post-monsoon season. On the other hand, major avalanches on the face were
less of a threat. Several camps were swept away in the fall of 1993.
At the top of the Khumbu
Icefall a large crevasse had opened and nine ladders had to be tied together
to climb up and over it. We called it the ‘Eiffel Ladder'. Crampons and
ladders are not a heavenly match.
We also had very high winds
up on the south col after we summited. Most of us were in NF Himalayan
Hotels which are fairly large and the wind was driving the ceilings into our
faces as we lay in our bags. Ed Viesturs later mentioned that he the wind was
among the most intense he had experienced.
Q.) Do the climbers at
Everest or other high altitude mountains ever use drugs to keep them going
(ala Methadrine), or any other stimulants? Its seems it would be dangerous.
A.) Some climbers do you use
medical supplements to help counteract the effects of altitude. Diamox is
commonly prescribed and used, but it's no guarantee. There are much more
powerful drugs which should be used with extreme discretion.
Q.) Can one were contact
lenses were H.A. climbing ?
A.) Some people do use
contacts but I'm not aware of the specific limitations. After Everest 96 there
have been some questions about the Radial Keratotomy procedure and altitude.
Ned Gillette reportedly had the procedure and related no problems during his
climb. Case by case.
Q.) The 64,000 dollar
question: Do you feel ITA is accurate ?
A.) Honestly, I think the
work would have benefited from a more lengthy research period. ITA is a
dramatic read but there are problems. As an example of an author approaching
a tragedy in a different manner I'd point to Sebastian Junger's best-selling
work ‘The Perfect Storm'. Great research and integrity without losing the
Q.) What do you make of many
guides and writers these days speaking out against ITA?
A.) I think ITA certainly
helped create more controversy, and it will continue to generate a healthy
Q.) On the other hand David
Breashears and Ed Viesturs, we are told over and over says they think ITA is
accurate. However, they weren't really there, meaning even above Camp 2 that
day. How do you think. I also have not seen anything in print from Ed.
A.) There are a lot of
opinions floating around. I get suspicious when anyone dresses up opinions as
the mighty truth. There is more grey than black and white which goes back to
what Ed Douglas was talking about.
Ed Viesturs did make some
interesting comments that were buried in the online reports appearing soon
after the tragedy. Specifically, he pointed to key issues of personnel and
I wasn't there, but one
approach, if you really care, is to read all the published material and make
your own conclusions. I thought Peter Wilkinson's account in Men's Journal
was remarkable. The best written magazine piece in my opinion. He wasn't
there either, and perhaps that's an advantage.
Questions were from readers
of EverestNews.com !
Q.) Do you think Breashears
and ITA was co-promoted together?
A.) I have no idea.
Q.) On Everest, What was Hall
turn around time in 1994? Did everyone know what it was?
A.) We had a general sense of
safety but we were not under any specific turnaround time. With that said we
left at 12:30 am with the understanding that we wanted to get off the summit
as early as possible.
Q.) Why do you think Hall did
not turn around in 1996?
A.) It's not totally clear,
but I've heard a report from a Sherpa that Rob was relegated to two lousy
options late in the day. But this is unconfirmed.
Q.) David, I just don't get
it. How can people blame a guide form another team (A. Boukreev) for the
deaths of two clients and two guides from another expedition. I just don't
get it. Am I stupid or what ???
A.) I'm not sure that
Boukreev was blamed for any deaths, but you're right some criticisms appear to
Q.) How strong and good was
A.) Lopsang summited with
Scott Fischer's' team the same day as us in 1994. He was wearing traditional
Sherpa clothing on the ascent. He was a very powerful climber. He was also
a member of Rob Hall's 1995 Everest expedition. Rob Hall's climbing sirdar,
Ang Dorje does not seek much publicity but he is an outstanding altitude
climber with ascents of Makalu, Cho Oyu, Broad Peak and numerous Everest
climbs. He's a member of a small group of people who have smoked cigarettes
on the summit of Everest.
Q.) How do you pay the bills?
Do you have a Job ? How do you get all the money for these climbs?
A.) At the time I went to
Everest I was single and was coming off a very good salary with a
telecommunications company. More recently, I've been doing some telecom
consulting and also work for a NY agency as a professional photographer. I
consider myself a "seriously amateur" climber. The high mountains are a
strong pull but more often I have been choosing moderate routes with good
Q.) On an experience I had on
a roped climb on a glacier (my 1st time with crampons and on a roped team) How
close should the person directly behind the lead climber be? The lead climber
in this instance was the guide-Should there be a lot of slack (distance)
between you and the lead climber or should you try to keep pace with him/her?
A.) Generally people are
roped up in this manner over glaciated terrain to help arrest a crevasse
fall. Rope teams often put 50 feet of rope between climbers. It defeats the
purpose generally if there's a rope but no distance between climbers.
Q.) How much did you hydrate
during your climbs? Did you drink more fluids the higher you climbed?
A.) Hydration is critical,
and the risk of frostbite can be compounded not only by low temperatures but
also improper hydration and poor vascular circulation due to altitude.
Q.) Did you have or have you
ever had any experiences with HA sickness on your 7 summit attempts or 50
A.) I've had a couple bouts
of mild altitude sickness but fortunately no cerebral or pulmonary edema.
Even AMS (which can be a precursor to the edemas) can be debilitating. There
are documented cases of people dying from altitude sickness as low as 8000
feet in the U.S.
Q.) Are you more secure
climbing with people you know and trust or do you on occasion like to climb
with people just learning the ropes so to speak?? Thanks again for your time!!
A.) It's always more
comfortable to climb with people you know but it can be fun with new people as
well. This summer I took part in a commercial expedition to the Eastern Pamir
and it worked very well.
Q.) Ok I have to know the
Larry story !
A.) After climbing in great
weather in the Beartooth mountains of Montana the van we were riding in broke
down several hours outside of Bozeman. We hitchhiked from a gas station into
Bozeman. Larry was a hound dog in the back of the truck with us. He was
better behaved than we were.
Q.) I am not aggressively
pursuing the "US 50 highpoints" but thought it would be fun to try to make it
to the highpoints of states that I travel to for other reasons. Of course if
I end up in Alaska I will be in trouble because I am a hiker and not a
So.....I will be in
California and Washington this summer and am wondering about Mt. Whitney and
First: Is Mt. Whitney more of
a hike or a climb?
A.) There are numerous routes
on Whitney beginning with the Whitney Portal trail, the standard route. The
East Face and Buttress are the classic lines (5th class) and the Mountaineer's
route is a 3rd class scramble. Depending on winter snowfall, Whitney could
offer early spring conditions into late summer (i.e. snow). Typically, the
Portal trail is clear of snow by mid to late summer. Permits are now required
even for day use (May to October) so plan ahead (Inyo National Forest).
Q.) Secondly: I have spoken
to a guide service for Mt. Rainier and they have told me that Mt. Rainier is
an "endurance" climb and not a "technical" climb and that as long as I am in
really good physical condition I should be able to make the climb even though
I don't have any climbing experience.
I would appreciate your
thought and opinions on this. I just want to have some fun and don't want to
do anything stupid!
A.) Without substantial
mountaineering experience signing up with a guide service is probably the best
approach for a peak like Rainier. Although it is not a ‘technical' climb per
se it is a heavily glaciated peak with unpredictable weather and high
Q.) How would you recommend
training for an accent of Everest?
A.) The best preparation is
to climb and train at altitude. Some people have moved to the Sierras or the
Rockies for several months prior to the climb. More importantly, you want to
accumulate the skills and experience necessary to attempt even the "normal"
south col/north col routes. At a minimum, a summit climb of Aconcagua or
Denali should give you a feel for your body's response to altitude. A climb
of one of the easier 8000 meter peaks is ideal - Cho Oyu, GII or
Shishapangma. Understand the difficulties you will face long before you walk
into Everest base, and be ready physically and mentally to tough it out.
Thanks for the questions. Bye. David
More recently, David has been pursuing
exploratory mountaineering and photography in some of the world's lesser known
regions, making significant first ascents in Tajikistan's remote Muzkol Pamir,
Field, and the long forbidden northside of Turkey’s
He has spoken to numerous audiences on the subjects of mountain exploration,
goal-setting, and achievement. Corporate speaking engagements are of
particular interest because of his background in telecom marketing and
education (Wharton Graduate School of Business).
veteran climber, Everest Summiter, author and motivational speaker. To
book David e-mail
Featured expeditions of David's include
Greenland's Lindbergh Field