MntnReview: 'Meru'

Meru_PosterwebThere isn’t a “wrong” time to watch Meru. But, the best time may be after a trip that didn’t quite go as planned.

Maybe you were a half-mile shy of the summit when a massive storm rolled in and turned you around, and torrential rains made the descent a little spicier than you’re used to. Maybe your day at the crag got cut short after a whipper left you too shaken to get a good grip on even the juggiest holds. Or, maybe you had to call it quits and head into the lodge while your friends kept skiing because you tried to make a jump and ended up snapping one of your skis (but thankfully not your leg) in two.

These kinds of days are best for a film like Meru. You and I both know that, even though your luck didn’t hold this time, it’s not going to stop you from trying again another day. And, that’s exactly the point Meru so beautifully proves.

This mesmerizing 2015 documentary, recently released for streaming on Netflix, tells the story of one of the toughest first ascents in climbing history. In 2008, Conrad Anker and Jimmy Chin—two of the world’s most notable expedition climbers—attempted to summit the Shark’s Fin route of the Himalayas’ Meru Peak with up-and-comer Renan Ozturk. However, the trio ended up stranded in their portaledge for four days. Snow pummeled down on them, and their rations became low.

When the weather finally broke, they set out, determined to summit before depleting their remaining food supply. Yet, they bailed 100 meters from the top, because each of the men were totally spent. It’s funny how that happens when you try to make seven days’ worth of food last for more than two weeks. And, completing the route would have also required bivvying at 20,000 feet—a risk they were unwilling to take.

When the weather finally broke, they set out, determined to summit before depleting their remaining food supply.

Three years and several less-ambitious-but-still-badass trips later, the team agreed to try summiting Meru again. However, on a video shoot in the Tetons with snowboard legend Jeremy Jones five months out from the trip, Ozturk suffered near-fatal injuries in a skiing accident, while Chin watched helplessly. Four days later, once Ozturk was stable in the hospital, Chin returned to finish the project, only to get swept away in a 2,000-foot avalanche. Miraculously unscathed (physically, at least), Chin took some time off from adventuring before ultimately concluding that “the idea of not skiing and not climbing and not being in the mountains was too much to imagine.”

Somehow, despite two-thirds of the team coming face-to-face with mortality mere months earlier, Anker, Chin, and Ozturk managed to return to Meru in September of 2011. While team members had not fully recovered and may have suffered a stroke halfway through the expedition, they successfully summited the Shark’s Fin this time around.

“It’s hard in this really complicated way. [It’s] defeated so many good climbers.”

During the 90-minute film, Jon Krakauer describes Meru as, “Not just hard. It’s hard in this really complicated way. [It’s] defeated so many good climbers. It will probably defeat you and me. It will defeat everybody for all time. That, to a certain kind of mindset, is an irresistible appeal.”

Meru is an extreme example, of course, and is out of the question for most of us. But, those of us who routinely heed the mountains’ siren song indeed possess Krakauer’s mindset, even if it is on a smaller scale. Whether you’re a weekend warrior tackling a 4,000-footer or a team of professionals scaling a previously unsummitable 21,000-foot peak, adversity is part of the game. And, it just so happens that it’s the part that appeals to us most. Specifically for us, there’s nothing more satisfying than defeating the obstacles that try so hard to defeat us first.