Get­ting to the bot­tom of a tragic moun­tain tale

San Francisco Chronicle - - NOW PLAYING - Hugh Hart is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle cor­re­spon­dent. E-mail: sadolph­son@sfchron­i­cle.com

Ger McDon­nell be­came big news in Dublin in 2008 as the first Ir­ish­man to scale the world’s sec­ond high­est moun­tain, K2. His tri­umph was short-lived. McDon­nell died dur­ing the de­scent from the re­mote Hi­malayan peak.

“The Sum­mit,” win­ner of a 2013 Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val doc­u­men­tary edit­ing award, looks be­yond the head­lines to re­con­struct what went wrong dur­ing the K2 ex­pe­di­tion. Eleven moun­tain climbers were killed in a 48-hour span.

Di­rec­tor Nick Ryan, who restaged some of the in­ci­dents in the Swiss Alps, sparked to the no­tion of mak­ing a movie af­ter learn­ing about un­der­re­ported con­tri­bu­tions by Sherpa ex­pe­di­tion guides.

“Western me­dia had re­ported the story as if the Western­ers had al­most saved them­selves,” Ryan says, “but very lit­tle has been writ­ten about what the Sher­pas had done.”

Af­ter in­ter­view­ing Dutch sur­vivor Wilco van Rooi­jen, Ryan says, “We flew in the Sherpa climber Pemba Gyalje to Ire­land and talked to him about what hap­pened. He and Wilco were climb­ing on the same team, but there were a lot of points where their sto­ries didn’t match.

“That was the flash point for me,” Ryan says. “‘OK, not ev­ery­thing tal­lies up.’ ”

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