There are rockfalls and avalanches as the sun melts ice and snow at the summit. "I don't wear a safety helmet because it is one more cumbersome misery to add to all the rest," MacInnes said. "I'm a fatalist. You hear those rocks coming down like shellfire, and you can't even see them because they are so fast. You just hear the whine, and they rocket through tents and gear."
MacInnes is not a romantic, and like all mountaineers he finds it difficult to provide a rationale, if there is one, for what he does. "I can't properly say why I want to do this," he said. "It's not all stiff-upper-lip for Queen and country, you know. Sure, there are big financial rewards—selling the film we take, hundreds of thousands of postcards, lecture tours. But I love mountains, and to me this Everest face represents one of the greatest physical challenges any man can confront. Last time up, we lay huddled in our two-man tents at night playing Beethoven and Brahms and Joan Baez on cassettes, and we didn't think about death. We just contemplated what we had to do next day. We are essentially realists.
"Other attempts have failed because of bad planning and childish dissension. This time we will have a compact team whose members know each other well and get along. We need each other and we rely on our individual efficiency and nerve. We are trying together to do something that has never been achieved before. That's really what it is all about for me."
Of course, if and when MacInnes and his fellow climbers do drag themselves to 29,028 feet they, and any others who come after, will not really accept the southwest face as the last word. In their kind of game there is always another ultimate.