Almost everybody involved in the tragedy on Everest in 1996 has written a book, a magazine article, or something. How come it took you four years?
Well, you can imagine, when we got back from Everest, everybody and their cousin is going to get contacted to write something about this and pretty much all before the bodies get cold. But, the problem I had with that is: one, I had no idea how the story ended, because, for me at least, the stuff on the mountain, while it was interesting, is just sort of the beginning of what was going to happen; and, and I didn't know whether this was going to turn out, ultimately, to be a tragedy or whether it was going to turn out to be a story with a happy ending. And frankly, I just had a few things in my life that needed to be addressed. And if a story is worth telling, it's going to be worth telling four years or 10 years after the fact. If you got to do it right then, probably you can go ahead and skip it.
I really had not decided. I decided I probably would not write a book because I thought that the story of what occurred on the mountain had pretty much been gone through ad nauseum. And there had been a couple of very good books written, Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air
and David Breashears' High Exposure
, that documented the who, what, when, where, how, 'slowly I turn step by step' events up there, and thrashing through that one more time really wasn't going to serve any purpose.
But what I ultimately wound up being interested in was really the story of those individuals who wind up remaining. That's the part that rarely gets told, although it's certainly is on the minds of individuals who go up there. In essence, what is it that drives people to put themselves at high risk? What price is paid by themselves and by their family? And then when you get back and your body is destroyed and your relationships are destroyed, and you don't know that you'll ever work again, or if you'll be in custodial care for the rest of your life. How do you manage to put yourself back together? How do you get through that and ultimately get to be a functioning person again?