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Monday, 07 October 2013 00:00

'The Summit' doesn't quite reach the heights

'The Summit' doesn't quite reach the heights thesummitfilm.com
Written by Diane Carson
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"The Summit" chronicles a tragic loss of life on K2, the Himalayan mountain, second highest in the world at 28,251 feet. On August 1, 2008, 25 climbers left Camp Four to climb K2. Eleven would not survive the descent, always the most dangerous part of the climb.
 

In fact, one of four mountaineers who summit K2 die descending, but this 48 hours in August proved the deadliest ever on the mountain. Writer/director Nick Ryan probes the various accidents and mistakes, showing, as he said in an NPR interview, how quickly you can die and how slowly in what's called the Death Zone, the rarified air at 8,000 meters lacking sufficient oxygen to nourish the body, leaving individuals hypoxic--confused, apathetic, mentally challenged, and dehydrated. Organs expand and begin to liquefy.

But these were experienced mountaineers, though many expeditions set out on K2, including Norwegian, Dutch, Korean, Serbian and an international team. So what went so terribly wrong on this climb? Most of the survivors sat for interviews along with relatives of the victims. Reenactments illustrate the day-by-day events--setting up and moving to the highest base, Camp Four at 7900 meters, to acclimate. Footage from the actual climb is interjected, sometimes making it difficult to disentangle the two realities. Also periodically stitched into the narrative, Walter Bonatti, the first Italian to summit K2 in 1954, comments on the experience.

Then, in the last ten minutes of the hour 42-minute film, crucial disagreements and issues are raised regarding various versions of events and the question of what various climbers did or did not do. Granted, life in the Death Zone leads to disorientation, and tragedies seldom have a clean, clear explanation of what happened. But it's incumbent upon Ryan to sort through the chaos beyond providing a strong sense of immersion in the situation. Pemba Gyalje Sherpa offers the most cogent description while the kaleidoscopic, episodic "The Summit," a bracing visit to K2, fails to fully illuminate the complex story. It needed one thorough revision. Mostly in English with subtitles as needed. At a Landmark Theatre.

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