Film gives closure to climber's family
Irishman Ger McDonnell, died on K2, widely regarded as one of the most dangerous mountains in the world. Photograph: Patfalvey.com/PA Wire
Four and a half years after his death on K2 the family of Limerick mountaineer Ger McDonnell got some measure of closure this afternoon with the Irish premiere of The Summit.
The award-winning documentary, shown as part of the Jameson Dublin Film Festival, casts lights on the tragic events in early August 2008 when 11 climbers died after they summited the world's second highest peak. Using a combination of footage shot by climbers at the time and scenes recreated in the Swiss Alps, it shows that the 37-year-old, who the day before became the first Irish climber to conquer K2, died after rescuing a group of Korean climbers and their Sherpa. Shortly after Mr McDonnell and those he rescued were swept away by avalanches.
“The reason we as a family got involved in this was that Ger had one motto,” McDonnell's brother JJ McDonnell, told a sell-out audience after the screening at Dublin's Savoy Cinema. “He'd rather nothing was said than an untruth so we owed this to Ger, because the untruth had come out first.”
Initial muddled reports had suggested that Ger McDonnell died because he was confused and tried to climb back up the mountain despite the pleading of his teammates and other mountaineers. Mr McDonnell had spent a night on the mountain above 8,000 metres, in the so-called “death zone” with a Dutch and an Italian climber as the fixed ropes marking the way down had been swept away by an avalanche.
The documentary draws heavily on the accounts of Pemba Gyalje, a Nepalese Sherpa that climbed with the Dutch-team which Mr McDonnell was part of. Pemba's account, backed up by pictures taken with Ger McDonnell's camera which he had given to the Sherpa on the summit, show that Mr McDonnell not only went to the aid of Korean climbers who had become entangled in their ropes, but assisted them further down the mountain.
“When we found out what Ger had done on the mountain that shifted things,” said director Nick Ryan. “For me, Ger became the moral centre of the story. He did something utterly selfless.”
Despite the solemn mood around the event JJ raised a laugh and round of applause when he said his brother would appreciate the irony of the location for the premiere as Jameson was his favourite whiskey.
“He was a swell guy but unfortunately for my mother and sisters his body is out there encrusted in mother nature's arms,” said JJ McDonnell.
Last month The Summit won the best editing award at the influential Sundance Film Festival where it was also picked up for distribution to US cinemas.