Topping Out: David Bridges, 1970–1999

Dec 1, 1999
Outside Magazine
News accounts of Alex Lowe's death mentioned that a "cameraman" had also perished in the avalanche on Shishapangma, but the reports failed to do justice to a mountaineer who was about to join the top rank of climbers. As the expedition's designated high-altitude videographer, David Bridges, 29, had the most hypoxic job on the mountain. He would start his day far behind the frontline team, taping Tibetan vistas, and then dash ahead to shoot the other climbers as they passed by. He was the only member of the elite crew capable of performing this task in the thin atmosphere of an 8,000-meter peak while keeping pace with Lowe and Conrad Anker, two of the fastest climbers in the world. And thus the occasion of Bridges's demise offers an oddly fitting tribute: He died alongside Lowe because he was strong enough and skilled enough to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Bridges was 11 years younger than Lowe, but his work as an expedition cameraman was only one facet of a fast-rising career that planted him firmly in his elder's bootsteps. He grew up in Lake Arrowhead, California, learned to climb at Joshua Tree and Yosemite, and summited Mount McKinley in 1989, at the age of 19. Just four years later he led a successful American expedition up the South Spur of K2 and went on to summit a string of Himalayan giants, including Annapurna IV and Makalu. Bridges didn't just climb, however: He also soared. As a winner of the national paragliding championships in 1995 and 1996, he was one of the finest paragliding pilots in the world.

Bridges lived in Aspen, Colorado, where his training routine involved sprinting from his house to the 11,212-foot top of Aspen Mountain, a 3,300-foot climb. Extreme skier Chris Davenport recalls taking part in one of these runs when Bridges was training for Baruntse, a 7,000-meter peak in Tibet. "Dave's best time to date had been 48 minutes, so he wanted to break 47," says Davenport. "But he came in at 48 minutes again. I told him we'd try again next time, thinking tomorrow or next week. Instead, Dave went down, ate lunch, and ran up again that afternoon. He succeeded." Says Joel Koury, a climber who knew Bridges since high school, "Dave led as full a life as any 70-year-old I've ever met."

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