Sebastian Alvaro. Al Filo De Lo Imposible, Spanish TV. 107 minutes. Filmed in 2004. Released 2005. This film documents the 2004 Spanish K2 Expedition from beginning to end, following Spanish climbers Juanito Oiarzabal, Edurne Pasaban, Juan Vallejo, and Mikel Zabalza as they climb K2 on the 50th anniversary of the first K2 ascent.
The film opens in the night with a distraught Alvaro at base camp talking to a high camp, who are explaining that after reaching the summit earlier in the day, Juanito Oiarzabal is lost and hasn't reached Camp 4, and asking the Italians for help to find him. They found Juanito semi-unconscious and helped him to Camp 4. An exhausted and utterly shattered Juanito struggles to come down the fixed ropes as Alvaro implores him to keep moving. Edurne Pasaban and finally Juanito arrive at Base Camp (they were airlifted out of Base Camp by helicopter, and eventually lost toes to frostbite). Phew! What an opening!
The expedition starts with the climbers driving to Askole in jeeps, the porters carrying to Base Camp, walking up the glacier, and climbing the Abruzzi Ridge to Camp 1 and digging out space for the tents. Back at Base Camp, Juanito prepares dinner and there is singing and dancing. There is a meeting between Kari Kobler of the 2004 Italian team and the other expeditions talking about fixing ropes and using tents. We also see the Gilkey memorial with the many plaques added over the years. More climbing, up House's Chimney to Camp 2, once again digging out space for their tents, with his a dizzyingly long telephoto shot showing the precariousness of the camp. They climb higher to the Shoulder and set up Camp 3, and then descend in bad weather. Up they go again, climbing fixed ropes in bad weather to Camps 2 and 3, eventually setting up Camp 4 beneath the beautiful enormous serac. There are amazing mountain views of Broad Peak, the Gasherbrums and the Karakoram.
They set off for the K2 summit in the night in high wind and very cold weather. The fixed ropes are over, and they move slowly and carefully breaking trail on ice and then very deep snow. It is like time is standing still with only occasional movement from a climber. Edurne Pasaban, Juanito Oiarzabal (for the second time), Juan Vallejo, and Mikel Zabalza reached the summit of K2 on July 26, 2004 at 16.30 along side the first two Italians from the K2 50th anniversary team, Silvio Mondinelli and Karl Unterkircher. Base camp is jubilant when they learn that Juanito has made it. Juanito is welcomed by fellow climbers as he struggles to the summit. Juanito moves in extreme slow motion as he unfurls the TVA flag for the summit photo.
Interspersed with the 2004 expedition are footage from 1909; 1929 showing crossing rope bridges; 1954 expedition and summit footage and current interviews with Ardito Desio, Achille Compagnoni, and Walter Bonatti; brief footage and photos from 1986 and a current interview with Kurt Diemberger; and 1994 footage of the K2 North Ridge and current interviews with Juanjo San Sebastian and Ramon Portilla.
The filming is absolutely excellent, showing the beauty of K2 and surrounding mountains. We also get to see all of the K2 features like the Abruzzi Ridge, House's Chimney, the Shoulder, the enormous serac, and the summit headwall. They use close up, broad view, and extreme telephoto to give the depth and scale and steepness of the climb. The opening scene was gripping. I enjoyed seeing the old film footage and especially the interview with Diemberger. I thought the summit footage with Juanito moving in extreme slow motion to unfurl the TVA flag was very moving.