I went to see the film Death on the Mountain: Women on K2 for my outdoor clinic. I thought it was well done and fascinating. It was a documentary following the many different stories all of the women connected to climbing K2.
First there was Araceli Segarra, a Spanish model/TV show host/Imax film star/mountain climber who makes an attempt at reaching the summit of K2 in 2002, but had to turn back because of vicious weather. Then there are interviews and photographs recording the journeys and deaths of the 5 women who made it to the top.
The very first woman to ever make it up the “Savage Mountain”, was Wanda Rutkiewicz from Poland. She made the most distinct impression on me out of the five. Considered to be the greatest female climber in history, with eight 8,ooo meter summits under her belt, she made it all the way up K2 on crutches, because she had a fractured leg. She made up the summit and back down, missing the bad weather that enveloped the second woman to the top who was coming down behind her. She went on to climb many other mountains after K2, until she was finally killed in 1992 when she made a bivouac near the top of Kanchenjunga, the third highest point in the world, and was enveloped in snow. She remains the most famous of the five today.
Liliane Barrard was the second woman to summit K2, on the same day that Wanda did (missing the title of first by half an hour), and she was the first to die there. She and her husband Maurice made it up without oxygen together, and died together as well when on their way back to base camp they were caught in a storm and never seen again. All anyone knows about her death is that her body was found three kilometers below her husbands sometime later.
Briton Julie Tullis was the third. She was already an award winning filmmaker, a teacher, a karate black belt, and a mother, when she set out to conquer the mountain in 1986. She managed to reach the top, but died of exposure on her way back to base camp. Chantal Mauduit became the fourth woman and first French female to reach the top of K2. She had already climbed many mountains in the Himalayas, and had an abiding interest in the Nepalese culture. She completed her expedition to the summit in 1992, but on her way down became snow-blind and would not have made it back to base camp alive had it not been for some other climbers on the mountain who helped her down.
Alison Hargreaves was, like Julie, from the UK. She was the last woman to climb K2. She held the record of being the first woman ever to climb Everest solo and without oxygen, an impressive feat. She was also a novelist and a loving mother of two the year she climbed K2, in 1995. She, like Julie, reached the top and was killed on the way down, though instead of dying from exposure was blown off the side of the mountain with five others in a freak storm.
All these women showed tremendous strength of body and character, and I think that the film I watched really showed that. I did think however that the makers of the film spent way too much time trying to figure out why more women haven’t reached the summit. Half of it became a sort of oral/athletic boys against girls competition. I thought this (and some sexist comments by a few of the male interviewees) pretty much took away from the film’s main gems, the stories of the six women. I think that it doesn’t matter whether girls are not as physically well built or as experienced as some men. I believe that talent is not sex discriminatory, and that whoever has it, has it. The film did say this, but with so many other opinions being conveyed it was pretty much lost in the confusion.
In conclusion, I would definitely advise everyone to see this film. It is a fascinating look into the ever-changing frontier of a once male-dominated activity/lifestyle. It brings up the issues of sexism, women’s roles, the strength of both genders, and the amazing will to survive along with the ever present shadow throughout the film: the brutality of K2. The Savage Mountain. The toughest sports arena on Earth.