In 2008, 25 climbers set out to climb K2, the world's most dangerous mountain. 11 of them never came back. News reports shortly after the catastrophic climb were incomplete and often contradictory.
Nick Ryan’s 2012 documentary, The Summit, intends to set the record straight. Offering a more complete (and Ryan will argue more accurate) account of events is a core mission of the film, which relies heavily on the account and photographs collected by Sherpa guide/climber Pemba Gyalje, as well as interviews with surviving climbers.
The events are tragic, and thus watching them unfold (albeit reenacted) can be difficult. The film is suspenseful. You witness a series of fateful decisions by climbers who push on for the summit long after their calculated summit deadline has passed. The challenges of communicating between climbing teams from different cultures—French, Serbian, Korean, Norwegian and Dutch—of differing climbing abilities, and who speak different languages become clear.
Many of the climbers are successful in reaching the summit, but, as mountaineers are quick to remind you, the summit is just the halfway mark of a successful journey. And when the sun goes down 15 minutes after they begin their descent, the elation of reaching the summit quickly becomes fear that each climber may not survive the descent to high camp.
In the end, this suspsenseful film raises far more questions than it answers. Why take such a risk to reach the summit? Why do the climbers not turn around after the first fatality? How much consideration do the climbers give to their own safety? Who is to blame for the ultimate failures of the group and the deaths of 11 climbers?
While not for the faint of heart, The Summit challenges viewers to question their own motivations when it comes to high-risk sports, and to more closely examine what constitutes acceptable risk.