The following films document stories of mountaineers who have attempted the death-defying feat of summiting some of the world’s most unattainable peaks. Let the individuals who follow in the footsteps of historical climbing figures or dare to go where no man has before, inspire you to find your own hiking and trekking adventures out there in the world. However, climbing mountains requires a lot of training and persistence; we don’t recommend trying this at home unless you know what you are doing and are in the hands of the professionals! Having said that, here are 10 of the best mountaineering documentaries and movies.
- Free Solo
- The Summit
- The Climb
- Beyond the Edge
- Touching the Void
- The Wildest Dream
1. Sherpa (2015)
Sherpa is a 2015 documentary by Australian filmmaker Jennifer Peedom that was shot during the 2014 Mount Everest ice avalanche. While focusing on the Sherpa Phurba Tashi, a man who has climbed Mount Everest 21 times as he leads an expedition for a New Zealand company called Himex, the film explores the sacredness of mountains within Sherpa culture. As the documentary was being shot, an ice avalanche killed 16 Sherpas and the narrative of the film switches to telling the story of the events that took place in the aftermath of the tragedy. Sherpa is essential viewing for all mountain lovers and anyone that hopes to climb Mount Everest someday. The movie is an homage to Sherpa guides, the true heroes and rockstars.
2. Mountain (2017)
Mountain is one of the most breathtaking love letters ever written to the world’s highest peaks by today’s generation of mountaineering filmmakers. Narrated by Willem Defoe, through beautiful imagery and cinematography, the documentary showcases some of the tallest mountains around the globe. Also directed by Jennifer Peedom, Mountain follows her debut movie Sherpa, and explores the relationship between humankind and earth’s soaring natural wonders.
3. Meru (2015)
Co-directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Meru chronicles the first ascent of the Shark’s Fin route on Meru in the Indian Himalayas by Chin, Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk. After failing to summit Meru in 2008, Anker, Chin, and Ozturk return to the peak in 2011 to try once again. The film documents their ascent as well as the events that occur in the years between the two attempts. Ozturk suffers an accident that almost kills him, he manages to survive and only has five months to recover before their return to Meru. Chin manages to escape a devastating avalanche with barely a scratch, and Anker must deal with the ghosts of the past as he tries to make his late mentor’s dream of climbing Meru a reality.
4. Free Solo (2018)
Free Solo is another documentary film directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. The film follows rock climber Alex Honnold on his journey to become the first person to free climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Free climbing or solo climbing is where individuals attempt to ascend without the help of any ropes, harnesses or protective equipment. Solo climbing is different to bouldering, as individuals often go much higher than usual. Free Solo documents and celebrates Honnold’s remarkable feat of making it to the top of Yosemite’s 3,000ft high El Capitan Wall without any assistance.
5. The Summit (2012)
K2 is the world’s second highest mountain, and in 2008, one of the worst mountaineering disasters in its history took place. K2 is iconic; it has one of the most terrifying death zones, but some mountaineers see reaching the top of this peak in Pakistan a bigger prize than Everest. The Summit explores the events that occurred in 2008 between Friday’s ascent and Saturday’s descent with real footage and dramatized recreations. Pemba Gyalje Sherpa, Chhiring Dorje Sherpa, Pasang Lama, and Tshring Lama, all of whom were on K2 during the tragedy, are present for the reconstructions.
6. Everest (2015)
Everest is a commercial movie based on Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book Into Thin Air, which chronicled the devastating events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. Although the movie Everest got a lot of backlash from Krakauer, it raked in millions at the box office and got a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The movie focuses on the survival attempts of two commercial expedition groups led by renowned climbers Rob Hall (famous for popularising the commercial climbing of Everest and played by Jason Clarke in the movie) and Scott Fischer (who was Hall’s rival and played by Jake Gyllenhaal). Krakauer joined Hall’s expedition as a journalist for Outside magazine. Sadly, the expeditions fall in chaos after the summit attempts are delayed due to ropes not being installed in the upper regions of the climb, and the weather turns abruptly.
This high profile tragedy raised a debate over the commercialization of climbing Mount Everest. Into Thin Air highlighted how wealthy amateurs paid thousands to join the expeditions and put themselves and the lives of other climbers and guides at risk.
7. The Climb/French: L’ascension (2017)
The Climb is a French adventure comedy film directed by Ludovic Bernard inspired by the real-life story of Nadir Dendoune. Dendoune is a French Algerian who has never set foot on a mountain but decides to set himself the goal of climbing Mount Everest. Although this is not something anyone would encourage someone to undertake without prior rigorous training, the film does highlight just how far sheer determination can take a person. In 2008, Dendoune became the first French-Algerian to climb Everest, an accomplishment made more remarkable by his total lack of mountaineering experience.
8. Beyond the Edge (2013)
While reaching the summit of the world’s highest mountain seems to happen more these days, in 1953 no one knew if it was even possible to climb Mount Everest. The film, Beyond the Edge, chronicles the monumental first ascent of Everest by Tenzing Norway and Sir Edmund Hillary through dramatized recreations as well as original footage and photographs from the ninth British expedition to Everest.
9. Touching the Void (2003)
Touching the Void is a docudrama film that tells the story of the disastrous and near-fatal climb of Siula Grande in the Cordillera Huayhuash in the Peruvian Andes by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates. The film is based on Simpson’s 1988 book by the same name.
In 1985, Simpson and Yates attempt to ascend the previously unclimbed West Face of Siula Grande in Peru. While they manage the summit, the weather turns, and Yates falls and breaks his leg during their descent. After a self-rescue, Simpson tries to lower Yates with ropes down the steep cliff. However, Simpson is unable to see where he is lowering his partner because of the storm and Yates falls over a large cliff and is left suspended mid-air. Unable to see or hear each other, Simpson thinking there is no way to save his partner, decides to cut the rope, Yates is trapped in a crevasse and has to find a way out.
Touching the Void has garnered critical acclaim, The Guardian called it was one of the most successful documentary films in British history.
10. The Wildest Dream
The Wildest Dream is a documentary film about British climber George Mallory who disappeared on Mount Everest along with his partner while trying to climb Mount Everest in 1924. The film explores two stories: one is about Conrad Anker, the climber who eventually discovered Mallory’s body on Everest in 1999, and the other story about Mallory is retold through letters between himself and his wife, Ruth Mallory. Torn between his love for his wife and an obsession with becoming the first man to climb Everest, he decides to risk everything in pursuit of summiting Everest. After Anker discovers Mallory’s body, he decides to ascend the mountain as Mallory would have in 1924 without the use of modern equipment to see if indeed Mallory would have made it to the highest point on earth.
See Also: Hiking Kilimanjaro vs. Everest
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