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The Grand Suggests: "The Summit"

Freddy Krueger has nightmares about K2

"The Summit" is a documentary with the pulse of a horror film.

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Can a climber do any better than reaching the summit of Mount Everest? There is literally no higher achievement than successfully scaling the "Roof of the World."  It's not a feat to be taken lightly. Many die in the attempt, only to remain on the mountain as warnings to others. Still, for all of its bravado, Everest is a wimp. It's killed more than 200 people, but when compared to the thousands of climbers that scaled some portion of it, (including 1,400 people that successfully reached the summit), and lived to tell the tale, these deaths account for just over 1 percent of the mountain's challengers. It makes sense: the highest point on earth has nothing to prove.

But Everest has a little brother with a mean Napoleon complex: K2. Standing at a paltry 2.49 vertical miles compared to Everest's 5.49, K2 compensates for its height disadvantage by actively trying to slaughter anyone who sets foot on it. The only reason K2 isn't skulking around a summer camp chopping up teenagers is because there isn't a goalie mask big enough to fit it. Freddy Krueger has nightmares about K2. 

At least 80 people met their end while trying to climb "Savage Mountain," (presumably "Maniac Murder Mountain" was already taken). True, its death toll is less than half that of Everest, but that death toll accounts for 20 percent of the mountain's would-be conquerors. You read that right: One out of every five climbers on K2 isn't coming home. The redshirts on Star Trek had better odds.

The Summit is the latest from director Nick Ryan. This bone-chilling documentary attempts to piece together the events surrounding the worst tragedy in K2's infamous legacy; the series of accidents collectively known as the "2008 K2 Disaster". Using a near-seamless mix of found footage, dramatic reenactments and survivor interviews, Ryan recreates what, even for K2, should have been a routine climb. It was early August, there was hardly a cloud in the sky, and climbing conditions were as ideal as could be expected. Yet, out of 25 climbers, 11 of them went to their doom. Through a combination of the mountain's hazards, alleged climber negligence and just the fickle hand of fate, 11 people cemented their place in K2 history in the most horrible way possible.

It would be easy to watch The Summit and criticize, even mock, anyone who would even entertain climbing such a notoriously deadly mountain. (Some might think I come close to doing so in this very article. I promise my attempt at humor is purely out of a desire to offset a very dark film.)  After all, they knew the risks, they chose to ignore them and the consequence of that choice was death. It would be easy to say that, but inaccurate. These were highly trained people fully aware that a K2 climb could be a one-way trip. They climbed the mountain anyway. The chance for immortality was worth the risk of death. You don't mock that courage, you laud it.

THE SUMMIT, opens Friday, Nov. 1, The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $4.50-$9, 253.593.4474

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