Climber-activist David Breashears, 68

He used repeat photography to document the impact of climate change on the Himalaya

David Breashears at the Climate+Change exhibition in 2014 in Kathmandu, explaining his photographs to Nepali students. Photo: Climate+Change

Five-time Everest summiter and climate activist David Breashears died on 14 March at his home in Massachusetts in the United States, aged 68.

Breashears shot the IMAX film Everest about the 1996 tragedy when eight climbers were killed, and also co-produced the movie Everest in 2015 starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin about the 1996 deaths. While shooting another documentary in 2015, he had to be rescued by helicopter from Camp I when an avalanche triggered by the earthquake killed 19 people at Base Camp.

Breashears specialised in repeat photography of old images of the Alps and the Himalaya to visually document the impact of climate breakdown, and through his group GlacierWorks took part in the multimedia Climate+Change exhibition in Kathmandu in 2014.

The exhibition had Breashear’s before and after photography of Himalayan glaciers, comparing pictures taken in 1921 by George Mallory of the Rongbuk Glacier on the north side of Mt Everest to show how much it had shrunk by 2009.

david bearshears

Breashears was worried what the Himalaya would look like in 100 years, and told Nepali Times in an interview ten years ago: ‘Those of us who have climbed Everest for the past 33 years have seen the changes taking place under our own feet. Now our crampons scrape and scratch across hundreds of feet of exposed rock and the snow arête that Hillary climbed no longer exists. The route is entirely on rock.’ 

Himalayan glaciers are retreating and shrinking much faster than what was forecast ten years ago, and just as Breashears predicted garbage and bodies of dead climbers are being exposed by thawing ice high on the mountains. In the spring climbing season, a river now runs through Everest Base Camp.

Reviewing the Climate+Change exhibition at the Nepal Art Council in 2014, Nepali Times wrote: ‘It was the top floor, with GlacierWorks’ sweeping Himalayan vistas … which really brought home the reality of climate change in Nepal – a veritable Damocles’ Sword if there was one.’

In a brief statement to Outside Magazine, Breashear’s family said: ‘It is with tremendous sadness that we share the news of David Breashears’ untimely passing. David was a beloved brother, uncle, father, friend, and colleague and a caring, impassioned advocate of adventure, exploration, and the health of our planet.’

The statement added: ‘What fulfilled him the most – where he’d want his legacy to lie – is his non-profit organization, GlacierWorks, which he founded in 2007 to highlight the Himalayan glaciers through art, science, and adventure. He used his climbing and photography experience to create unique records revealing the dramatic effects of climate change on the mountain range.’

Breashears once said in a Reddit interview: "Nepal is my favourite place on earth."

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