Nearly every mountaineering doc is told through interviews and re-enactments and Meru, in this fashion, is an entirely contemporary approach to this sort of storytelling. What it’s like to be 21, 000 feet in the sky – twenty one thousand – and to follow that journey on foot from the comfort of your home is now possible. Think about it: taking the steps to the top, the actual – literal – steps onto a summit ridge where no one has ever gone before. It’s harrowing and thrilling and inspiring and terrifying and beautiful… and it’s possible. This is Meru.
Meru follows three climbers – Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk – up a peak that’s never been touched. It’s a big wall climb; an extremely technical climb. It has put these climbers, Conrad especially, at the top of the list in the mountaineering community. The best in the world. It took them two tries, but they made it and documented the entire feat.
What does it take to document something like this? Think of the amount of time it takes to make a video or to take and post a photo to Instagram, and then multiply that by thousands and add the difficulty of doing this in the mountains. Think of the time it takes to tell a story. Sitting in a cold theatre watching these three climbers grow, struggle, commit, and convince themselves to return to the Shark’s Fin of Meru was incredible. To be brought along on a journey of passion and perseverance by the prolific photographer, Jimmy Chin, is at once a gift and a thrill. To my joy, it is said in the film and it must be said here that climbing a mountain like Meru is insane, but filming and photographing it along the way is almost unbelievable. It’s an extremely difficult thing to do.
I’ve been learning to balance emotions tenfold with The Peakbaggers. Filming our journey while being a part of it is a difficult task. To objectively think about a story that I am participating in, to balance my fears, concerns, astonishment, and adrenaline and to remember to capture all of it is really difficult. Jimmy is an inspiration in this right, and a true role model for what we are creating with The Peakbaggers. Telling a story like this is an obvious risk but, as a storyteller, it’s one I, and I’m sure Jimmy, never once questioned and never will question. It’s a story that must be told.
Risk is an element of Meru that is repeatedly explored; the weight of the word is never enough to describe the internal burden of this word’s reality. To be the best climber is to know the risk of what you’re doing; to be the one who knows where the line is and can exhibit how strong you are by getting extremely close to it without crossing it is the greatest sense of accomplishment as a climber. This is the biggest lesson I have learned in mountaineering and one I cherish in sport and in life. We all must take risks if we want to experience life – truly experience life. But crossing the line a risk that doesn’t need to be taken.
There’s something missing in The Peakbaggers, though. Something that Meru staked high importance in. Mentorship. Each climber had a mentor; a person who taught them the ropes. Took them in. Encouraged them to push hard in the realm of accomplishment and safety. To fear less. To persevere. To overcome. To come home. While we’ve met so many incredible people – more than I can count… and we only began this journey in January – who are models of passion and perseverance but I feel a massive gap. I feel a little lost and a little scared. I feel like I would love to look up to someone who understands what we want; what we’re going for.
Mountaineering to me is so individualistic, it’s hard to fill this hole. Being in a city, too, and without a tonne of expendable income is definitely challenging. But it’s not the end. We are, in fact, just getting started. What keeps me going are the people who tell us these stories, stories like Meru. Daily inspirers like these instagrammers: Jimmy (@jimmy_chin), Renan Ozturk (@renan_ozturk), Kalen Thorien (@kalenthorien), Eric Larsen (@elexpolore), Will Gadd (@realwillgadd)… Populating life with images and people with similar goals keeps fuel on the fire and what Meru taught me is that all of this is possible. It’s harrowing and thrilling and inspiring and terrifying and beautiful… but it’s possible.