A spine-chilling documentary of three climbers, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk, premiered in New York last week. It shows how they maintained a fine balance between insanity and persistence as they filmed their climb of the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru. It is grim trying to understand the drive it took to attempt the climb twice, especially after the first climb resulted in a nearly fatal disaster.
During a climb on Mount Everest in 1999, Conrad discovered the body of a legendary English Mountaineer, George Mallory, which made him famous worldwide. Conrad was profoundly inspired by Mallory’s theory of climbing a mountain “because it’s there”. The idea of tackling Meru, “The Impossible,” never stopped haunting him after conquering Mount Everest.
“There’s an intrinsic reward that we get from doing it, the challenge of it. The camaraderie and the teamwork that climbing has, that is between two people, is a pretty unique and special thing” Conrad said during an interview with Matthew Lickona.
Mount Meru reaches more than 21,000 feet above the sacred Ganges River in Northern India, and is filled with obstacles that are both nightmares and alluring calls to some of the world’s best climbers. In fact, the Shark’s Fin is more of a flat wall than a mountain. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, director of the documentary, describes Meru as “anti-Everest”, because there are no Sherpas who can offer help during climbing.
Jon Krakauer, the bestselling author of Into Thin Air, said in the film, “You can’t just be a good ice climber. You can’t just be good at altitude. You can’t just be a good rock climber. It’s defeated so many good climbers and maybe will defeat everybody for all time. Meru isn’t Everest. On Everest you can hire Sherpas to take most of the risks. This is a whole different kind of climbing.”
The Sark’s Fin route is composed of glacier, snow and rock, which requires a high level of competency in various types of climbing. More importantly, there is no room for setting up a tent. Climbers have to sleep in portaledges that hang on the straight wall of Mount Meru.
In October 2008, the three friends started the adventure, but were force to retreat after a snowstorm cost them several days and reduced their supplies to nearly nil. During the worst parts of the ascent, they could only travel few hundred meters in one day. However, they had made it just a hundred meters below the peak of the summit. They returned to their family and swore never to attempt the expedition again.
But dissatisfied with the first failed attempt, the team decided a second attempt was necessary, even after promises Conrad made to his family and a severe injury Renan suffered in an avalanche. To them, Meru was a dream for which they were willing to risk their lives. There is nothing more rewarding and worthy than the moment when they reached Meru Peak after 11 days of struggle.
The journey was filled with “friendship, sacrifice, hope, and obsession”, said Jimmy, who is also the co-director of this documentary.
He added, “I’ve spent much of my life in the mountains as both a climber and as a professional photographer. I always wanted to make a film that gave an audience the visceral experience of going on a difficult alpine big wall climb. I hoped to give people a glimpse of the stakes, the risks and sacrifices involved.”
Meanwhile, Jimmy is also looking after Himalayan residents and their culture. As a board member of Machik, he engages in developing opportunities for education, capacity building, and innovation in Tibet. So far, the organization has initiated six programs to support community-based education for young Tibetans. “It’s quite rare for foreign athletes, who use the Himalayas as tools to mark their triumphs, to actually invest in the local people. Jimmy Chin is one of those rare ones”, said Tsechu Dolma, a former writer at GlacierHub.