Like most mountaineering tragedies the horrible events that occurred on K2 in August of 2008 left behind far more questions than answers. The Summit, a new documentary that hit movie theaters on October 4, puts into perspective the circumstances that led to the death of 11 climbers on the second highest peak in the world.
Described by one survivor in the film as “a day in a million,” weather conditions for a bid to the summit were indeed perfect. But after a long siege of this Himalayan giant, tent-bound for days in inclement weather, the psychological pressure to reach the top when a window of opportunity finally opened may well have been the climbers’ undoing. Had they turned back when Serbian mountaineer Dren Mandic fell and perished below the bottleneck just as they entered the Death Zone at 8,000 meters, there may have been only one casualty. Overcome perhaps with summit fever, as some speculate, the combined group of several different teams continued on despite the many dangers that unfolded with each passing hour. As time ran out and they attempted a night-time descent of the mountain into darkness, one catastrophe after another struck until seven of the 18 climbers who reached the summit lay dead. And two more sent up from base camp were killed in the attempt to rescue them.
Photographed in excruciating detail through reenactments and actual footage recorded during the event, The Summit offers a graphic depiction of a life-or-death struggle to survive while exposed in one of the most hostile environments on the planet. Written by Mark Monroe and directed by Nick Ryan, the documentary attempts to accurately and objectively portray a story without speculation of root causes or assigning blame. Instead the audience is treated to an intimate view into the lives of passionate individuals in pursuit of a common goal. And in the telling of the story the character of each participant in the journey is allowed to unfold, revealing the nature of their motivation and the principles that guide their lives.
The roles of heroes and villains in this film are left to each viewer to assign for themselves. Viewers may decide upon their own reckoning whether or not the risks of high-altitude mountaineering are worth the rewards, if any. But anyone watching this film must conclude that there is a very high price to pay and in the end. Often no amount of climbing skill or preparation will matter in the Death Zone.
The Joy Trip Project is made possible with the generous support of MAKO Surgical Corp. (http://www.makosurgical.com/)
- Nat Geo Expeditions