The National Geographic film The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest opens nationwide Friday, and it drew enthusiastic reviews from a preview audience that packed Salt Lake City’s Clark Planetarium IMAX Theater Monday night on the eve of the summer Outdoor Retailer trade show.
The thought-provoking documentary follows climber Conrad Anker’s quest to recreate the 1924 Mount Everest summit attempt by English mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine and whether or not the two climbers had the skills and equipment to free climb the intimidating Second Step at 28,300 feet. The film also examines the dueling forces that exerted competing forces on Mallory’s psyche: His unquenchable drive to be the first to summit Everest, and his deep love for his wife, Ruth.
Anker, who appeared at a presentation at REI’s Salt Lake City store earlier in the evening, signed posters for attendees long after the final credits finished rolling Monday. He even signed a pair of wood-shafted ice axes brought to the presentation by Rob Rowley of North Salt Lake City. “I collect them,” says Rowley, who has the signature of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person who in 1953 officially summited Everest, on one of his axes. “This is the second time I’ve had Conrad sign an axe,” he said. “That’s an impressive movie he made.”
Anker found Mallory’s frozen body high on Everest’s slopes on a 1999 expedition. Anker referred to the film as “closing the circle of the George Mallory phase of my life.”
When Brigham Young University grad Megan Rogers asked Anker why climbers are so strongly drawn to the mountains despite high risks, Anker recommended that Roger experience the rush of less-harrowing mountaineering in her own backyard: Try climbing 9,026 Mt. Olympus, a 6.4-mile round trip hike that involves a 4,200-elevation gain. “Right there, you’ll feel something special,” Anker said. “Do it.”
So will she give climbing a try? “He gave me a challenge,” Rogers, 21, said with a smile. “I don’t know; I’m probably too much of a wimp. But the film inspired me. Even though climbing has a risk that you could lose everything, do you pursue it or you could just play it safe?
“A few years ago I got talked into climbing up Angels Landing in Zion National Park (a harrowing trail to some hikers) on a 105-degree day, and I got a migraine and I ended up puking. But once you get to the top and you have this 1,500-foot drop in front of you, you realize, wow, there is something fulfilling about this.
“It’s nothing compared to Everest,” she said, “but for a moment you think, ‘I’m at the top of the world.’ I can understand how the drive could become addictive, the high that you get. There’s something self-satisfying about knowing that you conquered something that hurts and presents challenges – something not everyone can do.
Rogers was intrigued by the film’s exploration of elite climbing’s emotional dichotomy, which Anker himself faced by taking on the film’s challenge. “I was interested in the dilemma of the selfish desire to want to conquer a mountain versus leaving behind your wife and children. Even with her approval, did he experience anxiety during the climb?”
Did the film give her a deeper grasp of what drives climbers? “I’m not a climber, so I can’t compare – I’ve never done it,” she says. “My friends and I were discussing it. To attempt Everest, a person would have to have a thing in your brain that gives you a drive that overrides everything else. How else do you get through that pain and exhaustion a climber experiences? I think some people just have it, some don’t.”
“It’s a paradox,” she said. “We have such marvels around us, but each of us only has this one life. You lose it, and there goes your family and everything you love. But you have this one life, and you want to live it to the fullest and experience great adventures. It’s an interesting dilemma.”
Her impression of the film? “I loved it,” she said. “It was definitely cool. It made me realize people who climb are a little insane, but in a remarkable way. Maybe climber’s are half-crazy, but that’s what gives them the ability to accomplish such a feat.”
Check out a video of Conrad Anker’s chat with REI customers and sales staff in Southern California.
Conrad Anker signs a poster for 18-year-old Deren of Long Island, NY, at the Monday night screening of The Wildest Dream in Salt Lake City.
Rob Rowley of North Salt Lake City, Utah, gets Conrad Anker to sign a pair of vintage, wood-shafted ice axes, one of them dating back to the 1940s.