The Summit Review
by Laurie Coker
As a bit of a daredevil myself, I do understand the desires of some people to dare the seemingly impossible, to bungee jump from bridges, to swim oceans, hike across continents and to climb the world’s highest mountains. K-2, located in a remote region between Pakistan and China, has challenged climbers for decades and claimed many lives; one in four who attempt to reach the summit die. Written by Mark Monroe, The Summit tells the tale of the twenty-two climbers who dared to face her and how she claimed the lives of eleven on one fateful climb in 2008.
Documentarian Nick Ryan, using impressive video footage, interviews, photos, and re-enactments, takes audiences on a visually stunning and shocking trek up (and down – the most perilous part) “Savage Mountain.” His imagery and personal film style cause chills, but his storytelling answers few questions about what happened on K-2 in August of 2008. Various teams from several countries, including Italy, Norway, Korea, the U.S., Ireland, and others converged on high camp to scale the frigid terrain up, 26,000 feet to the summit. Several make it, but eleven lives are lost on the trek down. Human error, altitude, razor sharp ice falls, time lost ascending, avalanches, and impending darkness all play a part in this story of overwhelming loss, but because of an incoherent storyline – the infusion of too many elements with no true answers – The Summit fails to satisfy the questions put forth by Ryan and Monroe.
Coldness engulfed me as I watched, fearing and hoping and wondering, and Ryan drew me in, setting me on the mountain, sending chills through me as I witnessed things unfold, but the constant switching from interviewee to clip to re-enactments and back and forth frustrated me. There are obviously no real answers as to what happened that day – only speculation, finger-pointing, and varying points of view. As a result, Ryan has nowhere to go with his final act, except more conjecture.
Ryan’s film looks amazing, thanks in part to the spectacular cinematography of Robbie Ryan and Stephen O’Reilly, but his agenda (and personal theory) pulls spotlight from the story itself and focuses more on Irish climber Ger McDonnell, whose girlfriend, brother, and brother-in-law sought to find the truth from climber and Sherpa Pemba. This is where the documentary teeters on the edge of bias and pulls away from the mystery.
Watching the beauty, the accomplishments, and the horror unfold mesmerizes, even as the lack of clear answers and Ryan’s delivery frustrates. Only the mountain herself knows what happened to the eleven souls who perished in her clutches. I would have much preferred a more straight-forward documentary, but Ryan still captured my emotions to some degree. I’ll give it a C+, although the gorgeousness and intimidation of the mountain deserves more.