Movie Review: The Summit
On August 1st, 2008 25 climbers made the journey to the top of K2, the second highest peak in the world also known as the Savage Mountain. Between the fourth camp and the summit is an area known as the “death zone” where the high altitude mixed with an unpredictable ice shelf called the Serac makes the possibility of death almost a certainty. Statistically, one in four climbers that make the ascent perishes. The odds were not in this expedition’s favor; 11 of the 25 died. The weather was perfect, the climbers were experienced. What happened at the top of that 28-thousand foot peak?
The Summit, a documentary directed by Nick Ryan, attempts to shed light on the dark tale. With the cameras rolling at the beginning of the final ascent, the film portrays the climb to be under excellent conditions: no wind, no snow, hardly any clouds. After the first events of misfortune occur the story jumps back to three months before, when the expedition first began.
From there on the scenes no longer make sense as too many sides of the same story are presented parallel to that of the first climber, Walter Bonatti, who also experienced tragedy and disgrace at the expense of the hike. Despite his story and admiration for the mountain being similar to the 2008 climbers’, Bonatti’s addition into the film adds just another name and voice to an already crowded documentary.
The Summit tries to explain why these extreme hikers have chosen a hobby that could result in serious injury or even death. Opening with a birds-eye view of the awe-inspiring Karakoram Mountain Range, the cinematography of the film is shockingly beautiful; the audience actually feels as though they are at the summit of K2. It is impossible to witness such a landscape and the joy the hikers feel at conquering the climb and not yearn to experience it as they did.
However, at such high altitude with several climbers going hours without proper provisions, medical aid, or peace of mind, mental stability is called into question. Stories changed several times, particularly that of Marco Confortola, one of the climbers forced to spend a night on the summit, losing all of his toes to frostbite. Then there is Wilco van Rooijen who spent 60 hours in the death zone, resulting in temporary sun blindness and frostbitten toes. Pemba Gyalje, a Sherpa with considerable experience, and Cecilie Skog, a Norwegian climber, were among the few to reach the summit and return to camp three, Cecilie making it not long after nightfall and the death of her partner and husband.
Questions of what happened to cause so many fatalities were posed to these people, with the most emphasis placed on what happened to Gerard (Ger) McDonnell, an Irishman, who spent a treacherous night on the peak and later went missing while attempting to save a group of stranded Korean climbers. His brother and wife are narrators throughout the documentary, but eventually seem cruel as they forcefully (and on camera) examine each survivor’s story about what happened to Ger, causing visible distress.
At this point the audience cares about the survivors being mentally abused. The Summit does a decent job of getting viewers to care about the hikers. With stories about past successes and strong relationships formed at the foot of other mountains. As they relay their accounts of the events, the memory still brings several to tears and stops others from their narration.
All the interviewing and interrogating shown within the documentary revealed a series of events that included people falling sick, tents flying away and supplies not being packed that led to 11 peoples’ death. Of course, from the first few scenes it is obvious that people are not doing what they were told as they impatiently tried to pass each other and ended up leaving fellow climbers behind. Suddenly the mystery of the mountain seems strikingly obvious.
The Summit attempts to look into the mind of both the hiker and the family member; one caught up in the adrenaline and the other supportive but terrified. Needless to say, this is an ambitious and incredibly confusing place to see. The Summit definitely set its sights too far up the mountain with its inability to cohesively string all the hiker’s stories together.