Are you looking for what will inspire your next trip mountaineering? Here is a curated list of mountain climbing documentaries.
The glorious heights of mountains can be intimidating, the climb exhausting, terrifying, and deadly. Yet, every year, mountaineers well aware of the extreme risks in ascending this gift of nature, with a reputation for being brutal to climbers who dare come unprepared, in mind and gears, flock to its doorstep.
Why this may seem out of place for regular individuals without the fiery desire to scale heights, the reasons why mountaineer yearn for the monstrous terrains of gigantic cliffs is well explained by the words of French writer René Daumal.
René Daumal, who wrote the 20th-century climbing classic novel Mount Analogue, clearly summed up why climbers go for heights even in extreme circumstances when he said,
“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen.”René Daumal
No wonder even the threat of pestilence as deadly as the Coronavirus pandemic has not dosed out the climbing fires of avid mountaineers.
Mountain Climbing Documentaries
With several of these mountaineering expeditions undertaken, documentaries serve as a means of reliving the experience. Reviewed in this article are the top 10 mountain climbing documentaries.
10. The Wildest Dream
An emotional tale that brings to the fore the risks of mountaineering, this 2010 documentary centers on George Mallory’s ill-fated 1924 Mountain Everest ascent.
The documentary fuses two stories, which give insight into the unfortunate death of George Mallory and his partner climber Andrew Irvine on Mountain Everest.
Decades after Everest swallows the two courageous climbers’ corpse, American mountaineer Conrad Anker discovers Mallory’s body and attempts to ascend Everest while successfully investigating his death.
The 94 minutes long documentary, which also focuses on Mallory’s biography, strives for accuracy by incorporating archival pictures and videos from the 1920s and letters sent by Mallory to his wife.
For mountaineering enthusiasts, this documentary is a must-watch. Imagine Pele, giving first-hand details about his illustrious career, or Michael Jordan thrilling you, with never before heard accounts of his glamorous basketball career.
Epic, right? This documentary is the real mountaineering equivalent to Pele’s and Jordan’s biographies. At the center of his captivating documentary released in 2012, is no other than Italian mountain climber Reinhold Messner, the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest on his own.
This informative documentary gives viewers insight into Messner’s life, right from when he was just a boy climbing in the Dolomites to the first climber ever to reach the summit of all fourteen mountains 8000 feet above sea level.
The enigma behind the lust for heights by mountaineer is given a clear revelation in this 2017 documentary.
Directed by Jennifer Peedom, the brain behind the 2015 documentary Sherpa, the 74 minutes long documentary accounts for a detailed relationship between mountaineers and heights.
The combined efforts of Peedom, who was motivated by the acclaim received from directing Sherpa, Turkish mountaineer Renan Ozturk, the experienced hands behind the footage, and the narrations by Hollywood actor Willem Dafoe, gives the story a high pass in all frontiers.
7. Everest Documentary
An reenactment of the 1996 ascent of Mountain Everest, which saw about 12 climbers lose their lives.
The documentary captures the activities of two groups of mountaineers, Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness, each on different expeditions, but with one goal, reach the summit of the highest mountain on the planet.
Each group encounters challenges as they ascend, but things took a deadly turn when storms caught up with these climbers at high altitudes. In 2015, the documentary was a commercial success as it grossed over $200 million globally.
(Bonus) Free Solo
The inclusion of this widely acclaimed documentary may seem confusing to you. Still, yes, Alex Honnold’s free solo ascent of the El Capitan surely counts as one of the top mountaineering records.
Honnold’s accomplishment echoed broadly in the mountaineering that Yosemite became one of the spots frequented by mountaineers.
An excellent warm-up ground for battling nature’s intimidating heights, Yosemite 3000 feet El Capitan rock, may be nothing compared to the eight-thousanders. Still, after watching this documentary, you definitely would not underrate its terrains.
The documentary, which won an Academy Award and a BAFTA award, focuses on the life of Alex Honnold, a bigshot in rock climbing.
6. Beyond the Edge
With many happenings in the mountaineering world in the 20th century, documentaries such as this 2013 docudrama are among the closest shots at understanding what climbers indeed faced when faced with gigantic mountains’ rigors, Everest.
The 93 minutes long documentary clearly shows viewers the various challenges encountered by the ninth British expedition before they completed the first ascent of Mount Everest.
An inspiring documentary, this documentary includes original photos and videos from the actual ascent.
5. The Summit
When the average mind comes across mountaineering, the mind instinctively brings out the dangers, making the thrills seem invisible.
This documentary, released in 2012, supports the arguments made in favor of the dangers of mountaineering.
Rather than discourage mountaineers, the documentary centers on the unfortunate 2008 disaster on Mountain K2, which trails Everest in height.
The tragedy in this movie resulted in 11 climbers’ death and was depicted by dramatic recreations and documentary footage.
The documentary was shortlisted for the Grand Jury Prize – Documentary and claimed the 2013 Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Documentary award.
4. North Face Documentary
Inspired by actual events, this 2008 documentary brings to the fore the blissful thrills of racing to the summit and the sad reality of mountaineering dangers.
It depicts climbers’ efforts to conquer the North Face of Eigar, one of the toughest heights in the Swiss Alps.
The 1936 attempt by climbers to ascend the challenging terrain led to the death of five climbers, but the climbers’ sacrifices to get a shot at climbing the height shows the extent avid climbers would go to satisfy their taste for heights.
Sherpa is yet another mountaineering movie that centers on the risks of mountaineering. This documentary, released in 2015, is the dramatization of the 2014 Ice Avalanche in Mount Everest, which led to 16 locals’ death.
While the apparent theme of the 90 minutes long documentary is on the unfortunate disaster, the documentary shows the relationship between mountain Everest and the local Sherpas, as well as the culture of Everest neighbors.
Himalayas peak, Meru, comes to the limelight in this 2015 documentary, which details the exploits of Turkish climber Renan Ozturk, and his American counterparts Jimmy Chin and Conrad Anker, as they make the first ascent of Meru.
The climbers, who have previously unsuccessfully attempted to ascend the mountain, give it another shot through the 4000 foot Shark’s Fin section.
Unlike most documentaries, most of the plots are footage from the unsuccessful 2008 and successful 2011 ascent of the mountain.
The documentary was received was acclaimed as it won the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. U.S. Audience Documentary Award.
1. Touching the Void
For viewers unfamiliar with Simon Yates and Joe Simpson ascent and descent of Peru’s Siula Grande, this documentary can be suspenseful; for viewers familiar with the tales, it can be eye-opening.
Unlike most mountaineering disasters, these two avid mountaineers encountered troubles while descending after successfully reaching the Siula Grande’s summit. Both climbers who got separated and narrowly escaped death emerged from their terrifying ordeal without disaster.
The 103 minutes long documentary, which is based on the Joe Simpson book entitled “Touching the Void,” was well received by the media. British Newspaper The Guardian hailed it as “the most successful documentary in British cinema historyà.”
If you love mountaineering, you can watch any of these intriguing mountain climbing documentaries on your devices. See more Mountaineering For Beginners: The Ultimate Guide, and 14 Essential Mountain Climbing Equipment List/ Gears.
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