Elia Saikaly first came to Nepal in 2005 as a young aspiring filmmaker to shoot a documentary featuring Dr. Sean Egan who had aimed to become the oldest Canadian to climb to the highest point on earth. Back then, Saikaly never thought that the very trip would change his life forever.
Unfortunately, Dr. Egan died of heart failure and never made it to the summit of Everest. A “shocked and devastated” Saikaly then took it upon himself to climb Everest himself to honor the life of Egan – by carrying his ashes to the summit and completing the documentary. He had never climbed a mountain before and it took him almost five years and two failed attempts to finally make it to the top of the world.
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In the spirit of the release of the #EverestMovie I'm going to be sharing a series of personal stories and images from the mountain over the past 10 years. Destroyed and defeated by #Everest in 2007 upon accepting the very difficult reality that should we continue climbing from the South Summit, 500ft from the top, our chances of surviving the descent would be slim to none. I carried three oxygen tanks and my camera gear that night and climbed alone from Camp 4 to the balcony because my fellow Sherpa friend was sick and could not assist me. It was my first climb. I ultimately caught up with my team and we made it just beneath the South Summit. I was younger, less experienced, very determined and incredibly resilient. I had prepared for every outcome except failure. Ultimately, turning back saved our lives. It was devastating as I was there making my first film in honour of my mentor Sean and I carried his ashes with me only to return as a failure. The beauty of this 'failure' is that all of my work with FindingLife was born and it set me on the path that I truly meant to travel. Knowing when to accept defeat has kept me alive in the mountains, an invaluable lesson to learn. Moments of extreme hardship, in hindsight, always reveal themselves as valuable lessons in disguise. Navigate life with this perspective and these setbacks will everlastingly serve you well. @stellerstories #EverestMovie #Everest @everestmovie #himalayas #mteverest #nepal #resilience #nevergiveuponyourdreams #knowhentoquit #findinglife #seanegan #southsummit
Since then, Saikaly has returned to Nepal 13 times and have been part of seven Everest expeditions. He has “failed twice just 500 ft from the top, survived two avalanches and an earthquake and stood on top of the world twice, in 2010 and 2013.”
And of course, the 39-year-old mountaineer and adventure filmmaker has not just scaled the world’s tallest mountain but also has captured the beauty of it on his cameras. His Instagram handle is a proof.
In June 2013, Saikaly released a breath-taking time-lapse video of Everest, which has garnered over a million views on Vimeo since then.
And recently, he shared another time-lapse video. “I’ve kept these images hidden for almost 4 years. They were created in 2014 and 2015 – the two deadliest seasons in Everest history. Many lost their lives and I was at ground zero both years. I’m not sure I’ll ever un-see what I saw in those two seasons both during and after the avalanches. Somehow I felt keeping these images hidden showed respect for the fallen,” he wrote about the video on his blog.
“The images at camp 2 were created right after the 2014 avalanche that claimed the lives of 16 Sherpas. We were trapped above the area where 16 died at Camp 1 and 2 and had to remain in place for three days, unable to assist in the evacuations. Shooting the night skies helped with the helplessness we all felt. In 2015, much of what you see this video was captured days before we got hit by the avalanche at basecamp during the Earthquake. No one can ever be prepared for such devastation. It’s taken a long time to work through the loss and perhaps somehow, releasing these images is my way of fully letting go and remembering the beauty, the wonder and freedom that comes along with climbing the world’s tallest peak.”
Watch it here.
“It goes without saying that I’ve fallen in love with Nepal, her beautiful people and her majestic mountains. My latest short film is the culmination of over a decade of shooting in the Himalayas and on Mt. Everest”, he writes.
“I do what I do because I hope in a small way I inspire you to live your own version of your best life. Your life of adventure in whatever shape or form it takes. Life on your terms is an extraordinary life. It can be shaped and it is possible. It often takes a certain level of risk to arrive, but damn is it worth it. Shoot for the stars my friends.”
Saikaly was also part of an episode of Unclimbed: Reaching The Summit, a series by Discovery channel that was aired in 2016. Watch it here.