My head is spinning from too many superhero movies. One is too many and my nieces made me watch two last night. By made me, I mean they asked with their big blue sparkle eyes knowing I can’t say no to them. Earlier in the evening we had banana chocolate chip pancakes for dinner and sledded down the staircase on cushions. It was adult supervised. Crap, I’m the adult.
I brought Meru hoping to show the girls some of the amazing things real people are capable of doing. They took one look and said Oh, no, Hailey. If only climbers wore capes.
Who wouldn’t want to watch a Himalayan ascent from the climber’s POV? (Besides certain little Hulk-obsessed fiends.) This documentary is so stunning to watch. I hope everyone has a chance to see it. Hey New Yorkers, the library has it!
Meru is the story of three elite climbers, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk, and their attempts to be the first humans ever to scale Meru Peak, referred to as the Shark’s Fin peak. This 21,000-foot Himalayan mountain is nothing like Everest, and Jon Krakauer, climber, friend of the trio and author of Into Thin Air, tells us why. First, no sherpas will guide, set ropes, cook you food or carry your stuff. Between the three of them, they haul 200 pounds of gear (including the cameras) while climbing up ice, snow, steep granite walls that shift under pressure, and the final push of what they describe as 1,500 feet of straight, smooth overhanging rock that’s so fragile it’s earned the nickname “House of Cards”. To succeed will basically require every skill and craft a climber can possess, but even then some luck in weather and health must come in to play. To not die trying requires a solid ability to assess the risk margins involved and, if necessary, make the heartbreaking call to turn back.
I watched this with a frosty beverage in one hand and a slice of boyfriend’s homemade fancy pizza on my lap and barely had a taste of either. Letting hot pizza go cold and a chilled beverage get watered down and warm is a wrongness, but the movie was that gripping. There’s something about these men that makes you want to see them reach their dream.
The film gets right to it as the trio arrive in India and begin the journey up. The three sleep in an enclosed cot called a portaledge. They find a great spot to camp right off the side of a mountain. Do you see this tent they slept in? This image? How fantastic would it be to wake up in this?
The entire time watching this I kept thinking How did they get that shot? One of the climbers, Jimmy Chin, is a National Geographic photographer and Renan works as a camera man. The climbing footage is all theirs, no dramatizations or lame Hollywood tricks. Some of the shots are insanely gorgeous and in between we have interviews both after-the-fact and many during the ascents.
It’s hard to believe, but on their first attempt together these professional climbers bring along enough food for 7 days only. Not surprisingly they get caught in a storm and have to stretch that food to 20 days. They get so close on this try – 100 meters from the summit. But their energy is gone, they’re hungry and to proceed would cross that margin of risk.
After the first attempt, and a gratuitously lengthy shot of someone’s bad case of trench foot, they travel back to the states. They tried. It’s over. Or is it?
On a snowboarding shoot in the back country of Jackson Hole, Chin and Ozturk have near-death experiences. Ozturk’s injuries leave his body in such a bad way that nobody seems to believe he’ll ever climb again. This is a man who free climbs lightning bolt cracks suddenly facing a future without climbing. Four days later, Chin gets caught in an avalanche in the same area and because this is a film shoot it’s all caught on film. SPOILER – he miraculously survives. This is the avalanche.
After making careers defying death, we’re reminded these guys are mortals too and that makes their second attempt all the more compelling. You have to watch this documentary to see what happens. I hope you do.
The dramatic question of why climbers risk their lives, why people try to do these things that seem so far beyond the realm of having a sporting good time, these things many who’ve gone before have lost their lives doing, has many answers. Here it’s not so much articulated as shown. To ignore what beckons is just as dangerous. As Jon Krakauer says of why climbers continue through heavy loss and extreme danger “You’ll go fucking crazy if you don’t.”