The climbing masterpiece following the groundbreaking ascent of Meru, by Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk.
Meru Peak (6,600m) is situated in the Garhwal Himalayas, in India. The name Meru is thought to have originated from the Sanskrit (the holy language of Hinduism) word for ‘spine’: मेरुदण्ड. The first ascent of the main face was made by Valeri Babanov in 2001, skirting much further round than the direct Shark’s Fin Route climbed by Anker, Chin and Ozturk.
As mentioned in the film, for Conrad Anker, the Shark’s Fin Route was a dream of his mentor, Mugs Stump, who kept a picture of the sacred face in his van.
Climbing Films - A Mixed Bag…
If you’re into climbing and films, you will be no stranger to cringeworthy moments that will have you practising dynamic cam placements, and running jumps with your ice axes drawn… And if not, you must have must have missed this glorious climbing guide, based off the climbing classic: Vertical Limit.
There are a handful of climbing films out there, some serious (The North Face, Everest), some not-so-serious (Cliff Hanger, Eiger Sanction), but Meru takes climbing films to a whole new level. The real difference is that it was filmed by the three climbers who embarked on the incredible ascent of Meru, the Himalayan Shark Fin.
Meru… A Bag of Style
For me, the difference with Meru is the sheer lack of dramatising the events - partly because the ascent is thrilling enough by itself - it needs no exaggerating. Part of the genius of the film is the balance struck between focusing on climbing, and making it accessible to those not taking an active interest in the sport. Whilst there is plenty of nitty gritty that climbers can get from the film, enjoying the detail in which gear is discussed, routes are planned, and techniques explored, there is also plenty of enjoyment for those simply wanting an exciting film.
Another aspect worth mentioning that explored in the film is documenting the perspective of those who are left behind by climbers. It is easy to forget with excitement and drama of dramatic ascents, there are often parents/children/partners left behind, desperately hoping nothing will go wrong - and sadly, as anyone in climbing will testify, things go wrong, and the consequences can be dreadful. Alex Lowe, killed in an avalanche in the Himalaya, left behind his wife and children, and the effects of this loss are discussed with Jenny (Alex’s wife) throughout the film. She went on to marry Conrad Anker, and continued to worry about another loss after Conrad kept climbing at an extreme level. Mentioned in ‘A Line in the Snow’ (Ben Tibbett’s film about skiing in Greenland), memberB states that after he had children, it was no longer just his life on the line, but his family too - making him a more cautious mountaineer.
With the extreme consequences, suddenly climbing becomes unjustifiable - and Krakauer says the trick as a climber is to show you can push right to the limit of safety, but never cross the line into unjustifiable risk. In an interview after the release, he says climbing is the opposite of bungie jumping. Whilst both are adrenaline-heavy sports, the difference is with control. Climbers like to be completely in control, mastering every move, determining their outcome, whereas bungie jumping is simply faith in equipment and an unknown plunge.