Red, blue, and green tents dot the Everest base camp like plastic blossoms in the snow — it’s one of many striking images in Discovery Channel’s six-part docuseries (which began airing Nov. 14 and wraps Dec. 19). Following a group of climbers during the 2006 season (one that saw 11 deaths), the show is packed with gritty personalities. New Zealander Mark Inglis is attempting a summit despite losing both legs in a Mount Cook freeze-out — he hikes with the benefit of custom-made twist-on spikes. There’s also a good-natured L.A. firefighter, a former Hell’s Angel, and a terse guide, Russell Brice, who’s the opposite of the yammering camera hogs we’re used to enduring on reality series: ”It’s a pretty stupid game to be playing,” Brice admits of the Everest dream. The climbers are admirable — respectful of the mountain and the sherpas who guide them. (Particularly likable is Terry O’Connor, the team doctor, who aids other underprepared teams while making his first summit attempt with modesty and grace.)
The show will resonate with any fan of Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction book Into Thin Air. When amateur climbers create dangerous bottlenecks in the summit’s ”death zone,” being stuck in line has never looked so frightening — and the ego that drives people to Everest was never so maddeningly displayed. But even somewhat average days here are fascinating. It’s one thing to imagine the complete bodily deprivation Everest entails, and another to see the stark, icy faces of men pushing through their sixth week of climbing.