“Everest” and “Into Thin Air” and armchair mountaineering

everestI am fascinated by mountain climbing, even though I have never done more than hike to the top of a mountain with a good trail. You can’t pack everything that intrigues you into one life, and this is something that didn’t make it into mine. So when I had the chance to climb a major peak in the Himalayas, in my imagination, along side my character Haley, I welcomed it and relished the research that went with it.

It’s not surprising that I’m also attracted to movies and books on the subject, and I finally got around to seeing the movie “Everest” which came out last September. I knew it was based on the 1996 climbing season when several climbers died in a sudden storm on the world largest peak.

So. Did I like the movie?

climbersNot nearly as much as I had hoped. For one thing, I saw it on our nice big television screen, but think that the beautiful cinematography would have been more impressive in a theater. More importantly, I wanted to get emotionally involved with the climbers, but too many of them were introduced too fast for me to sort them out, much less develop empathy with any of them. Combine the gear each climber wore with the quick introductions and sheer number of them, and I was challenged just figuring out who was who.

I later read that Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 3.6/5 rating and said Everest boasts all the dizzying cinematography a person could hope to get out a movie about mountain climbers, even if it’s content to tread less challenging narrative terrain.” Yeah, that too. There wasn’t so much a story (or stories) as there were a lot of snippets of many people getting ready to climb, many people climbing, and then some people dying. It had more of the feel of a documentary that was very well filmed and used good actors.

Part of the problem was that I had read Jon Krakauer ‘s book “Into Thin Air” several years ago and loved it. Krakauer tells the same tale of the same climbers in 1996, but tells it from the raw emotion of having survived that year’s climb himself. The book is hard to put down and carries an emotional punch that stuck with me for a long time. The movie simply lacks that punch.

I saw that Jon Krakauer did not have good things to say about the movie either, although his criticism centered around how the movie portrayed him, and in fact how the writers created a scene involving him that never really happened. Whatever the writers intent, I can understand how that would irk someone.

The Guardian reviewed the movie and thought that Emily Watson stole the show as the “base camp controller trying to manage the unfolding chaos” and I would have to agree. As one of the few women and one of the few characters not actually climbing, she is easily identifiable and manages to add continuity and tension to the otherwise choppy story.

My husband has no interest in mountain climbing at all. He very much prefers to chase any kind of ball around any sort of field or court. As we watched “Everest” he seemed most taken with the Texan amateur climber who is in over his head and survives, but loses a lot of his body to frostbite. As the movie ended, he looked at me oddly and told me how really glad he was that in spite of my fascination with high mountains, this wasn’t something I felt I had to go do. Yeah, I guess the movie gave me that as well.

 

 

 

That’s how far down?

SleivemoreI once found myself on top of a cliff in Country Mayo Ireland.  My husband and I, dumb tourists that we were, had driven past road closed signs and ignored warnings of seasonal winds to get to edge of the earth and stare 2000 feet down into the wild blue water of the Atlantic. A gust of wind came along that was so strong that it made us both hit the ground, grabbing on to rocks and brush and thinking the same thing. We could get blown off of this damn thing and not a soul would know what had happened to us. My husband reached for his camera. I thought, I’m going to write about this someday. In c3, I finally did.

In my first draft of c3, Haley rappels down the side of a 2000 foot cliff, but in later versions I reduced it to 1600 feet to make it more believable. I was worried that a 2000 foot cliff pushed the bounds of credibility. Later I did some research and I discovered how wrong I was.

MitrePeakNZWhere is the largest cliff? It depends.The highest cliffs on land are in Pakistan. One side of Nanga Parbat slopes slightly, but rises up an amazing 15,000 feet above its base. The highest almost true vertical cliff is the east face of Great Trango in northern Pakistan and it is close to 6000 feet straight up (or straight down).

If you’re looking for cliffs that drop into the ocean, the north face of Mitre Peak, in New Zealand drops almost 5000 feet, although it slopes outward a little. The Southern tip of Greenland has the biggest nearly vertical drop and it is almost 5000 feet too.The biggest drop straight down can be found on Baffin Island. It’s 4500 feet down (or up).

If you’re willing to look under the ocean, there is an almost 25,000 foot drop into the Kermadec Trench. If you’re willing to look off- planet, a moon of Uranus called Miranda has a twelve mile (60,000 foot) drop that no one is likely to be rappelling off of any time soon.

So sending one of my heroes over the edge of a mere 1600 foot cliff didn’t turn out to be so fantastic after all.

 

 

 

 

 

Cabo Girão is located in the southern part of the Madeira Islands. At 570 meters (1,870 ft), the cliff is often referred to as the highest sea cliff in Europe but at least three European cliffs are higher. The view down the almost sheer drop to the ocean is thrilling nonetheless. The terraced fields that can be seen beneath the cliff used to be only accessible by boat. In 2003, a cable car was installed on the slope of the cliff so farmers can reach these low-lying fields. – See more at: http://www.touropia.com/most-dramatic-sea-cliffs-in-the-world/#sthash.LZGXV5T5.dpuf
Cabo Girão is located in the southern part of the Madeira Islands. At 570 meters (1,870 ft), the cliff is often referred to as the highest sea cliff in Europe but at least three European cliffs are higher. The view down the almost sheer drop to the ocean is thrilling nonetheless. The terraced fields that can be seen beneath the cliff used to be only accessible by boat. In 2003, a cable car was installed on the slope of the cliff so farmers can reach these low-lying fields. – See more at: http://www.touropia.com/most-dramatic-sea-cliffs-in-the-world/#sthash.LZGXV5T5.dpuf

Mountains

simply spiritual 1I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to climb Mt. Everest , although when I was young I never expected that it was something a girl from Kansas like me could ever grow up to do. Over the years I’ve learned that the world’s highest peak, known as Sagarmatha to those who live near it, has been climbed by the blind, the young (13 years old) and the elderly (an 80 year old holds the current record) and it was always a goal that was attainable by me if I had wanted it badly enough.

I’ve also learned that along with the risk of losing life and limb, such an undertaking involves a huge commitment of time, money and focus that a person might want to spend elsewhere. Guided tours have now commercialized the ascent somewhat, allowing those who can and will to spend more money in exchange for less planning and expertise. I was probably in my early 30’s when I acknowledged that I didn’t want to climb this mountain badly enough to do it by any of the ways available to me.

Dalai9Why is an author compelled to tell stories? One reason is to experience alternate lives, in which different choices are made and enjoyed. Once it became apparent to me that c3 would take place in the foothills of the Himalayas, I knew that the story had to involve a girl from somewhere near Kansas, who did have the drive and expertise to be that mountain climber.

It serves the story better for my climber, Haley, to ascend Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak. I enjoyed intertwining her training and preparation with the more somber travails of her friends, and near the end of the book when Haley finally stands at the top of the world, I got to stand there with her. As I wrote the scene, I actually cried because what I saw in my head was so beautiful. (It’s okay.  I cry a fair amount when I write.)

I hope any reader who has ever wanted to climb to the top of the world like me will enjoy reading this part of the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

(Please send a Facebook like to the pages of Simply Spiritual and the Dalai Lama Daily Quotes as a thank you for these great images.)