The Summit

The Summit, Pakistan, 25 November 2012

Produced and directed by Nick Ryan. Executive producers Pat Falvey and John McDonnell. 2008 K2 footage by Hoselito Bite, Gerard McDonnell, Fredrik Strang and Wilco van Rooijen. Interviews with Wilco Van Rooijen, Pemba Gyalje Sherpa, Marco Confortola, Cecilie Skog, Lars Nessa, Frekrik Strang, Eric Meyer, Alberto Zerrain, Cas van de Gevel, Hoselito Bite, Pasang Lama, Tsering Lama, Annie Starkey, Pat Falvey, Damien O'Brien, JJ McDonnell. There is also an interview with Walter Bonatti and some footage from the 1954 Italian expedition.

Story

In the early morning hours of August 1, 2008 25 climbers set out from camp 4 to reach the summit of K2. But first they have to climb the bottleneck, a rock lined corridor under a massive overhang of ice called a serac. Fredrik and Eric saw the knot of climbers at the bottom of the bottleneck seemingly not moving and decided to turn around. Combining reneactment with actual footage from camp 4, the film tells the story of Serbian Dren Mandic who unclipped from the rope and fell to his death, the attempted rescue by Fredrik and Eric, the attempt to bring Mandic's body back to Camp 4, and then porter Jehan Baig started acting really wierd and slipped and fell to his death.

Alberto fixed the way across the traverse and went on to the summit at 3:30pm followed by 17 other climbers including Pasang Lama at 5pm, Lars Nessa at 5:30pm, Lim Jae-Soo at 6pm. Celilie Skog at 6pm, Go Mi-Sum at 6:10pm, Don-Jin Hwang at 6:10pm, Kyeong-Hyo Park at 6:15pm, Chhiring Dorje at 6:15pm, Hugues D'Aubarede and Karim Meheraban at 6:40pm; Wilco van Rooijen, Cas van de Gevel, Ger McDonnell and Pemba Gyalje Sherpa at 7:20pm and finally Marco Confortola at 7:30pm. Ger: "With all extremes comes extreme beauty. And in many ways those very extremes, they are addictive." Wilco: "We were at the end of the earth; heaven almost ... Now we have to go down. Now the surviving starts."

The film moves to the world wide media frenzey on the unfolding tragedy, to Ireland and an interview with Damien O'Brien, Ger's brother in law, and then back in time to the beginning of the climb at base camp where we meet the different expeditions. The expeditions meet to plan a combined effort summit push when a good weather window is forecasted after three weeks of bad weather. When the summit plan fell apart at camp 4, Pemba Gyalje stepped in and started the climb 75 minutes behind schedule. When Wilco caught up with the first party, he noticed that the fixed ropes were set up too far down and had to get them refixed higher up.

What follows is a reenactment of the descent, with Cecilie, Lars and Rolf crossing the traverse after dark amd the first serac fall cutting the ropes and sending Rolf to his death. For the 15 climbers above, their lifeline down the mountain was gone. The exhausted descending climbers became one group, with Pemba and the Sherpas trying to lead them down on one rope. Pemba: "The Koreans completely stopped. It is completely impossible to bring them down with the same rope. Because they sit down." Pemba and two Sherpas left the group and descended to camp 4. Wilco, Ger and Marco couldn't find the fixed ropes so they stopped and waited for morning. Wilco: "We were not in a panic." Meanwhile Cas bypassed Hughes on the fixed ropes on his descent and then was using his ice axe and crampons to descend when Hughes fell to his death.

We see Pemba and the Americans in camp 4 talking about the situation in the early morning of August 2nd. Fredrick: "It was still nice and clear. We could see some of the climbers at the top of the serac." Wilco realized he was getting snowblinded so he hurried ahead to descend, passing by Koreans and Sherpa who had fallen and were tangled up in ropes. He gave one of them a pair of mitts and continued his descent. Ger and Marco also reached the Koreans and stopped to help. Marco: "It was the Korean climbing leader. But everything was smashed up with lots of blood everywhere. ... I knew this was a bad situation." Ger climbed back towards the Koreans while Marco descended. The Korean Mr Kim arranged a rescue party of two Sherpas, while the Americans started their descent.

Around noon, the two Sherpas sent by Mr Kim found a western climber still alive at the base of the bottleneck. Pemba left camp 4 and climbed up to find a collapsed Marco Confortola. He gave him oxygen and Marco started to be revive. Around 2pm, Pemba received a second radio call from the rescue team above. The Sherpas sent up by Mr Kim had reached the top of the bottleneck just beneath the serac. Pemba: "They said we see Korean Sherpa and Korean team. Now we're trying to descend together." They told Pemba there was one other climber who was with them but had fallen. Pemba knew it was Ger when they told him his down suit was red and black. Another serac fall cleared the bottleneck and Pemba was able to see "two Korean body. They are 10 metres from 2 other Sherpa's bodies." Cousins Pasang Bhote and Jumik Bhote had fallen.

Marco was rescued after 36 hours in the death zone. 18 hours later Wilco was found by Cas and Pemba. Wilco: "Everybody wants to survive." Wilco and Marco are evacuated by helicopter to be interviewed by the media frenzy. Annie and the McDonnells flew to Pakistan and filmed interviews with Wilco to try and undertand what truly happened to Ger. They then filmed an interview with Pemba who told them that the Koreans had been rescued and were descending when the serac killed them. The only possible answer was that Ger had rescued them.

The film perfectly combines live footage from the climb with reenactments and studio interviews to grip you emotionally to visualize the climb, the summit elation and the harrowing tragic descent. The filming is excellent, the narration and the pacing smooth. The film of the enormous serac from just below magnifies the Russian roulette the climbers were facing. I do not think the diversion to the 1954 Italian expedition was unnecessary in the film - in some ways it distracted from the narrative.

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