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  Everest: Man v Mountain
Bravo TV, various directors

James Cross
posted 13 July 2007

Some kind young men in the army have made a fantastic film about climbing Everest. That’s great news for those of you who fall into the category of ‘dispassionate observer’ (couch potato) and also for those of you who sociology might call ‘amateur participant’ (nut case). Whether you have ever fancied trying your luck with the mother of all mountains or just like watching people dice with death, this is one documentary you don’t want to miss. It follows a team of around 20 army experts attempting to be the first British team to climb Everest up the west ridge.

Mountain climbing is the acme of extreme activities. It’s part marathon, part dance, part psychology degree. It’s also part death: when the army team makes it to the very highest slopes of Everest, their bodies are beginning to shut down: the lack of oxygen causes their stomachs to stop digesting, their lungs begin to fill with fluid and their brains to go into meltdown (as the bravura male voiceover announces repeatedly).

I liked the film a lot because unlike other mountaineering films – take ‘Touching the Void’, for example, mainly about one ego-maniac – this was a film filled with people. There’s not much room for oversized egos when you have to work with so many different people and co-operation is integral to success. Come to think of it, there aren’t many documentaries where you get to see such an outstanding example of teamwork. I guess clinging to a sheet of ice in the back of beyond gives you the foundations for a pretty hardcore group of mates.

But I resented the way the documentary was dressed up like an elaborate version of a playstation game. I like the pumping beats and the funky graphics and the aforementioned macho voiceover. I just don’t get what they’re doing in a documentary like this. The guys (oh, and one female) are totally soft underneath in the nicest possible way. They are all clearly at the top of this precarious profession – outrageously experienced – yet completely modest about it. The times I have been to climbing walls (indoors, far from the Himalayas) and heard people harp on about their latest exploit doesn’t bare thinking about. But this team was so on top of things that I’m sure unless you’ve been out mountaineering, you won’t realise just how amazingly professional it is.

You can tell I’m pretty much in awe of these people, can’t you? Big respect goes out most to team leader Dave Bunting. He seems pushy, determined and cold to begin with but it becomes clear this something of a façade that helps him keep his distance from the group. At the end of the film when faced with an epidemic of the infamous ‘summit fever’ (an irrational obsession with making it to the summit), he holds his own. After three years of preparation, seven weeks on the mountain preparing, and the whole team gasping for the summit, he puts his foot down. He backs out of the bid for the summit at just the right and most difficult moment on the basis of a sound judgement of extreme risk of avalanche. This must be one of the most level-headed displays of team leadership you will ever see on film.

Give it up for Dave Bunting and the British army mountaineers.

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