Getting to the bottom of a tragic mountain tale
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.’ ”