In 2008, three of the world’s best climbers — Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk — attempted to summit the Meru peak in the Himalayas. Meru is “only” 21,850 feet high, but it’s topped by a sheer rock “fin,” and reaching the top has remained elusive. It is considered an “impossible climb” because summiting requires a variety of climbing skills (on ice, rock and wall), at high altitude, and while carrying all one’s equipment. And in this case, while also filming the effort. (Chin co-directed Meru with his wife, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.)
The film follows the three as they prep and hit the mountain in 2008, and are eventually forced to turn back 100 meters from the top. As they ponder whether to try again, the climbers are sent reeling by life-changing events, and the film shifts from an adventure doc to intimate examinations of risk-taking, the camaraderie of climbing and how to balance dreams with realities. Jon Krakauer, climber and author of the disaster-on-Everest account Into Thin Air, serves as a narrator of sorts, filling in more casual viewers on technical details (ice climbing vs. wall climbing), and helping to explain what forces drive climbers to seek “impossible” challenges. A must for armchair alpinists, who can come just for the spectacular climbing footage, but nearly everyone will find this thoughtful window into pursuing extreme vocations fascinating.