With the tragic avalanche this past April that took the lives of 16 sherpas coinciding with the crew of Everest working on location, the tallest mountain in the world continues to rumble at human folly, its might and power unconquerable by money or vainglory. And quite a few films are abounding about Mt. Everest, with the recent release of Beyond the Edge in 3D and two more in the works by Cross Creek and Sony Pictures respectively.
While Beyond the Edge is a re-enactment of Edmund Hillary and Tenzin Norgay’s successful 1953 ascent, Everest depicts the disastrous blizzard in 1996 that resulted in the deaths of 8 climbers, including famed mountaineer Rob Hall, adapted from the book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. The third film by Sony is reported to be about the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition attempted by George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, who disappeared 800 feet before the summit and whose bodies were discovered 75 years later in 1999. Whether or not Mallory and Irvine reached the top of Everest still remains a mystery to this day; if they did, they would have preceded Hillary by nearly 30 years, and without the help of a sherpa.
All accounts of climbing Everest speak of near misses and fateful split-second decisions; at 29,000 feet, the line between success and failure is a very thin one, the smallest contingency quickly proving fatal. The contrast of the three stories would show the changing times; what once was relegated to professional climbers and adventurers has now become a tourist attraction for those who can afford the 60K price tag, but for either case, the imminent dangers persist.
In the 1998 IMAX documentary also named Everest, the crew on location crossed paths with Rob Hall’s ill-fated expedition and stopped filming to help the stricken climbers with extra oxygen tanks, etc; while some footage of the climbers made its way into the film, the 2015 Everest promises to tell the full story of the 1996 disaster. The 8 deaths could be attributed to a combination of Mother Nature, human error, with a dash of hubris thrown in.
And Mother Nature seems displeased, to say the least; in the aftermath of the avalanche, the Nepalese sherpas are re-assessing their role as tour guides to one of the most dangerous attractions on Earth. Humans have tried to bring Mount Everest down to a more palatable size by de-mystifying its unfathomable heights, marketing it as a mountain almost anyone could climb with the help of its local trusty sherpas; now with 16 sherpas dead and others quitting in fear of the same fate, Everest shows it cannot be scaled so easily.
Mount Everest has been gradually desecrated by man’s desire to conquer nature then to make it accessible to the mainstream when it is clearly an untameable mountain whose majesty and beauty lies in its sheer danger. A fellow rock climber once wisely advised, “Trust the rope.” For Everest, the only thing one can trust is its danger; one can yield to this truth or die fighting it. May the upcoming films of this mighty mountain do it justice.