Before watching K2: Siren Of The Himalayas, I thought that a mountain’s height was central to its climbing challenge. Therefore, according to my zero climbing experience and expertise, it would stand to reason that Mount Everest - the Earth's highest mountain above sea level - was the toughest expedition to undertake.
Dave Ohlson’s documentary soon put me right. Barely four minutes into K2: Siren Of The Himalayas, we learn that Everest and K2 are not even the same sport. K2 may be slightly smaller (8,611m as opposed to Everest’s 8,848m) but the mountain has witnessed only a fraction of the number of successful summits (according to the film up to 2009, K2 had 302 summits compared to Everest’s 4,559 summits).
It is not hard to see why… as we journey with the climbers and the documentary’s film crew to the base of K2 (a challenge in itself), we begin to understand what a breathtakingly beautiful and yet overwhelmingly brutal mountain this is - the scale is just incredible.
Undeterred, the group - comprising elite alpinists Fabrizio Zangrilli and Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner (National Geographic’s 2012 Explorer of the Year and the first woman to summit all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen or high altitude porters), and veteran climbers Jake Meyer and Chris Szymiec - push ever onwards.
The risks inherent in their expedition are made all too clear all too soon. A tragic incident occurs - an event that gives everyone pause. However, the ascent continues - more than justifying the mythological wording of the documentary’s title. K2 has a siren-like power over these climbers.
The mountain has, of course, fascinated climbers for years. Indeed, the documentary’s summit attempt took place in 2009, the hundredth year anniversary of the Duke of the Abruzzi’s landmark 1909 K2 expedition.
As a result, Ohlson uses the Duke’s memoir - alongside incredible archive footage and still images - to place his expedition in a wider historical context. The film reveals that, on K2, not much has changed in a century.
Thanks to Ohlson’s film (shot on HD cameras and 16mm film), we get to join the climbers as they make their way up K2. It is a privilege to witness the incredibly stunning views in comfort and safety.
However, hardly a minute goes by when we are not made aware of the dangers involved. K2: Siren Of The Himalayas is both a fascinating account of how this phenomenal mountain was conquered and also why so many climbers feel compelled to climb K2.
Climbing Documentary Recommendations
K2: Siren Of The Himalayas is part of the Climbing sub-genre of Documentary 7.
If you enjoyed this movie, I would also recommend:
Do you have any climbing documentaries that you would like to recommend? If so, do let us know in the comments section below or over on Twitter. You can find me @500DaysOfFilm.