The Summit


The Summit
Runtime 99 minutes.
OK for children.

“The Summit.”

“The Summit.”

In 1996 11 people died in an attempt to scale Mount Everest. In 1997 Jon Krakauer wrote his best-selling book, Into Thin Air, chronicling that cataclysmic event. In it, he wrote that Rob Hall, an experienced Mount Everest guide, stayed with one of his clients who was stranded and died as a result. He telephoned his wife from the mountain the evening he died, at a time when he could have saved himself, to say goodbye. Hall was regaled by Krakauer and almost everyone else as a “hero.” I disagreed then, and I disagree now. He had a primary obligation to his wife and child to return home safely and take care of them for the rest of his life. Because he chose to stay with a client and die, his wife and child were deprived of a husband and father forever. I thought his decision to stay with the client cowardly rather than heroic. The heroic move would have been to abandon the client to satisfy his first obligation to his family and save himself. In fact, when a climber falls or wanders off of the trail, the unwritten code of the sport is to leave them for dead. Survival depends on self-preservation at all costs.

This opinion is validated by one of the characters in this movie, who says, “if someone is dying and another must put his life at risk to save that person on the mountain, he should not do so. He should leave the dying person and save himself.”

This film is mostly a re-creation of what is advertised as, “the deadliest day on the world’s most dangerous mountain, K2,” the second highest peak in the world, located in a remote region between Pakistan and China in 2008. It lends support to the idea that mountain climbers are stark raving mad. Not only are they freezing all the time, but when they climb above 8,000m (26,240 feet) they enter a death zone because of the lack of oxygen. In fact, of every four climbers who try to scale the mountain, one dies.

Producer director Nick Ryan’s re-creation is incredibly realistic. Although some archival film from 2008 was used, most of the film was shot in the Jungfrau region in Switzerland beneath the north face of the Eiger. The surrounding Alpine mountains were replaced with the correct Himalaya landscape of K2 in post-production.

Although the actual event took place above 8,000m, this was filmed at 3,700m (12,140 feet). But that doesn’t mean that the film does not show actual footage of the real climb. Ger McDonnell, the first Irishman to scale K2 and one of the 11 people who died, wanted to make a film about one of the climbers, Pemba the Sherpa, so he filmed the trek in, as well as many of the crucial base camp meetings shown in the film. A couple of other climbers also brought cameras, filming many hours at base camp and interviewing various team leaders as well as filming a huge amount of material on the mountain. Ger had his camera with him the morning of the Summit push and filmed the line of climbers ascending slowly towards the bottleneck as the sun rose. All of these are in the film.

Ger had a magnetic, infectious personality and it’s heartbreaking when he dies. He violated the rule of saving himself rather than trying to save others, leaving his family and girlfriend devastated. There is also a husband-wife team that is separated by death. Because this is a true story, and because of so many deaths, the film is a long way from being an upper.

The way Ryan intercuts the recreation with the actual film of the climb is seamless and makes this a must-see film for anyone interested in mountain climbing. For the record, I have a bias because I am a fan of mountain-climbing movies. This is one of the best.

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