A few days ago I recorded the CBC's Passionate Eye episode about climbing the 21,000 foot Mount Meru, located at the headwaters of the Ganges River in Northern India. It was one hair raising adventure that had me on the edge of my seat the entire two hours.
If you are not a climber yourself or associated with people who are, perhaps the dangers inherent in such a feat as attempting such a climb as Meru's Shark Fin will not give you nightmares even in the midst of watching this documentary, but for me, all I could do was sit there and imagine my husband and his friends, or other more world class climbers than they that I have met, suffering through this experience.
The three climbers involved in the 2008 unsuccessful attempt and the 2011 successful summit were Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk. They are three very experienced, successful climbers, Ozturk having the least high mountaineering experience at the time, but still very good.
The mountain is a bear because it involves every sort of climbing you can think of: ice falls, sheer granite faces with few cracks stable enough to anchor pitons without risking shifting the weight of the giant boulders sufficiently to start a rock slide, high hiking, you name it, it exists and must be conquored somewhere on that mountain.
The first attempt was plagued by storms that left the three men hanging off the side of Meru in their port-a-ledge, essentially a tent suspended against the rock face by ropes and pitons with nothing at all to protect it from the howling winds and pounding snowstorms, in this case for 4 days running. During that 2008 attempt the men spent nearly 2 weeks trying to summit and rationing their 7 days worth of food to the point where they were sharing cheese rind and a couple of slices of salami once a day. They came to within less than 200 meters of the summit when weather, exhaustion and lack of food turned them back.
In the three year interim before their second attempt, disaster struck both Ozturk and Chin. Ozturk was filming some extreme mountain snowboarders when he accidentally skiied off a cliff and shattered his skull. He nearly died, narrowly avoided paralysis and basically assumed his days of doing sports, particularly mountain sports, were over. However, 5 months later, after extreme physiotherapy and gut level determination, he made the decision to return to Maru if the other two felt he could handle it. Chin was caught in an avalanche and by the grace of God managed to survive physically uninjured, but mentally so tortured it took him a long time away from the mountains to recover his resolve to return to the sport of climbing.
The three of them made their second, successful summit attempt in 2011. A very few days out from the final push for the summit, Ozturk appeared to suffer a stroke, one of the many dire possibilities from his skull injury that he knew could happen. He not only survived the high altitude induced stroke, but summited with the other two men only a few days later.
I haven't been that emotionally invested in a mountain documentary before. It was fascinating, frightening, eerie....I so enjoyed the adrenalin rush that accompanied watching it. The scenery alone was worth the watch.
Even if you are not a climber, nor particularly interested in extreme mountain sports, it is worth viewing. It gives a good insight into people who are so invested in the sport as to give up the rest of their lives to practise it, who are so desperate for meaning in life that they are willing to risk their lives to conquor large piles of rock! Make what you will of their lifestyle and their hopes and dreams, but they are a fascinating crew whatever your take on what they do with their lives.