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 Matt Dickinson Q&A 

Matt Dickinson author of the Other Side of Everest: Climbing the North Face Through the Killer Storm.

Matt reached the Summit of Everest from the North Side in 1996. This is his Q&A, with Questions from You, our readers of EverestNews.com.

Q.) Matt, Were you doing a film about 1996? Has it been released or is it on video? If so, where can we buy it? Any details would be appreciated. thank you

A.) My 1996 Everest film was shown on Channel 4 under the strand "Encounters" and has been repeated several times. Channel 4 are not, despite my frequent requests, planning to issue the film as a sell through video so it is just a question of keeping an eye on the schedules I'm afraid. In the USA it was shown on National Geographic Explorer- again several times- but, again, it has not as yet been released on video.

Q.) How would you rate Brian Blessed's chances of making the summit from the South side of the mountain in the spring of next year given your  experience with him in `96? Merv Kearsey Evesham UK

A.) Hi Merv, Brian? What a great guy! But I wouldn't put money on him reaching the top next year! If Brian had had a crack at Everest in his thirties I truly believe he would have made it. He is surprisingly resilient, exceptionally strong- and actually a much more accomplished high altitude performer than many people believe. But I fear there is a problem now he is 60. Further, Brian fades quickly- he can be pulling like an ox one minute and slump like a sack of potatoes the next. In short, I fear that even if Brian did reach the top he would not make it back down again. Having said all that, I'm delighted he wants to try again and he has a true love of Everest which means that it is a real thrill for him to be there. I wish Brian all gods speed for whatever he does- there should be more people like him around- sometimes dreamers are good people to know.

All the best. Matt

Q.) Mr. Dickinson:  I just read your book and found it very fascinating. I was very interested in your theory of the dehumanizing nature of the summit push--that your own desire to summit eclipses all other things.  Can you talk a bit more about this--why does this happen? Thanks for a great book.  You made me think a lot.

A.) Thanks for your question. Yes, I still believe that Everest exerts a de-humanizing effect and I think, with the benefit of time, I might be a little closer to understanding why. I think that the higher you go, the more you begin to be convinced that you are truly on your own. This creates an isolated, insular effect- a bit like a pair of blinkers- which leaves just you and the mountain. In the absence of any one else to establish a dialogue with (conversation being virtually impossible with an oxygen mask on) you actually begin to relate to the mountain in a very intimate way--you're actually building a relationship with this inanimate pile of rocks! This tends to strip down your personality so that you become pre-occupied (completely) with the sole business of survival. This pre-occupation obscures all other thoughts until it seems there is not much room left for anything else! That's when your normal behavior starts to break down- and your actions become alien to yourself. Does that make sense? I hope you get the drift. Matt

Q.) Can you describe the amount of fixed ropes above Camp 6 ?

The amount of fixed ropes above camp six varies from year to year but there is a substantial quantity of old rope cluttering up the normal route. We found good, fresh fixed ropes ( I remember clearly that many of them were red) stretching up for most of the yellow band section but (and this was a nightmare) one or two particularly steep sections had been left with their frayed old remnants of unknown vintage. It was not unusual during our night ascent to actually clip onto two ropes- so little did we trust them!

On the first step there is usually fresh rope fixed each year by the first team up- and also on the second step which has to be abseiled down ( I for one would not like to try and down climb that perilous ladder) These are fixed by snow stakes and other attachments depending on the year. On the ridge itself there is again lots of old tatty rope- much of it frozen into the ice, but once you're onto the summit ridge there is none- despite the danger of being blown off.

In short, we were lucky in 1996- numerous pitches were protected by good rope. But just as many were climbed using pathetic old stuff you wouldn't tie a dog to- let alone risk your life on. Trouble is- you haven't got much choice. As ever, the real nub of the problem on the North side is the dire lack of good placements. It really is an indication of how rotten that side of the mountain is that there are so few good places to anchor a rope.

Q.) Can you describe the steps on the North Side to us ?

A.) The two steps of the North side are very different in nature. The first step is a series of bulging steps- each more difficult than the last- awkward scrambling- and demanding a keen sense of balance in a very precarious position. The second step is a different thing entirely- almost vertical, pockmarked with little in the way of decent holds- a real nightmare to get up at that altitude. There is a photograph of the second step in my book which shown quite well the nature of the challenge. I still get nightmares about my ascent of the second step and that loose, wobbly ladder. That's a dangerous place.

Q.) In your book you make it sound as if no one can be bought down from high up on Everest. But you must know, what 4 or 5 climbers have been bought down. Including the Ukrainian climber this last week as reported on EverestNews.com. Can you explain.

A.) When I wrote about climbers being retrieved from high on Everest I was referring particularly to the North side - and to climbers who are unable to stand or walk. I know people have been escorted down even from camp five- but as far as I know, no comatose or unconscious climber has ever been rescued from above camp six on Everest's north side and I still believe that to be impossible. I'm sure one day I'll be proved wrong!

Q.) What are you feeling about the picture of Mallory dead ?  

A.) You know, seeing those photographs of George Mallory gives me very mixed emotions. On the one hand I feel people should be able to see the last resting place of someone who is for many people a hero but the pictures were so forlorn and sad that I found myself more than a little disturbed by them. Their publication is inevitable...but I'm not sure their release has been handled in a very tactful way.

Q.) What are you doing now ?

A.) I made a series for Discovery Channel recently called "Great Escapes" and have been busy promoting the US edition of Death Zone- which goes by the title "The Other Side of Everest" over here. I have also been writing an Everest novel.

Q.) Who do you consider the best H.A. climber today ?

A.) The best high altitude climbers of today? I think that would be a toss up between Ed Viesturs and (because he's one of the few I've ever seen in action)- Alan Hinkes. Both are very safe climbers- both respect the mountains, take their time, and both understand that the most important thing is to get back alive!

Q.) Matt, Did you heard about the South side activities on the radio ? 

A.) We heard most of our news on the world service of the BBC. That was more reliable than walkie talkie transmissions which are notoriously difficult between north and south.

All the best, Matt Dickinson author of the Other Side of Everest : Climbing the North Face Through the Killer Storm.

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