"Meru," a new film on the quest to scale an "unclimbable" mountain in India

For decades, the Shark's Fin on Mount Meru in Northern India was thought by most elite climbers to to unclimbable.

The 21,000-foot high mountain makes Everest seem easy. On this mountain of ice and nearly featureless rock there are no Sherpas to carry everything and assume most of the risk. On Meru, climbers have to carry everything themselves: food, gear, sleeping bags, video equipment, first aid supplies, and something called a portaledge, which is like a platform with a tent on it. A great portion of the climb is overhanging cliff, so climbing teams must attach the portaledge with ropes anchored to the mountain to camp for the night.


This documentary, called Meru, is about a team's two attempts to ascend the Shark's Fin. Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk tried once in 2008 but a storm stranded them in their portaledge for 3 days, diminishing their food and fuel supply and forcing them to turn back with the summit just a tantalizing 100 meters overhead. In between the first and second attempts, Ozturk broke his neck and permanently lost half the blood supply to his brain in a skiing accident, and Chin nearly died in an avalanche, but the two team members were determined to heal themselves and try again.

In 2011, the trio flew to India and make their second attempt on Meru. The temperature sometimes dropped to 20 degrees below zero, the portaledge support broke in the middle of the night, and Ozturk had a seizure (which was probably a stroke). All the while, they had to haul 200 pounds of stuff up the side of the Shark's Fin, risking death if they made the smallest judgment in error. The part of the documentatry that surprised me the most was the good humor, politeness, and lack of egotism the climbers exhibited during the most stressful and fatiguing incidents on their long, trouble-ridden ascent. When I finished watching, I was humbled and inspired. Their determination and grit put my measly problems and worries into perspective, and I left the theater feeling elated.