Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

North Face

(Nordwand, Germany, 2008)

I enjoy standing at the foot of a mountain and looking up at it. And judging from the movies I’ve seen of such an event, I think I would greatly enjoy standing at the summit of a towering mountain like the Eiger and looking down. It’s all that stuff in between that holds no attraction for me …

SPOILER WARNING: … though this film is closely based on an historical event so it would be easy for you to discover the outcome. Most mountain climbing films I can recall concern the heroic conquest of a peak, or the almost unbelievable rigors of survival, such as Touching the Void. The point being, somebody survived. Not here. All four climbers perish, and none of it is pretty. The movie is strongest when showing the terrible things that can happen on a near-vertical mountain like the north face of the Eiger, which wasn’t climbed until 1938. Places like this can kill you even with all the high-tech equipment climbers use today; in ’36, these guys start up with what might as well be a Swiss Army knife, warm boots, and some hemp rope. Drop a glove, and you might as well kiss that hand goodbye, it’s going to freeze solid. The terrible irony is that there is a tunnel through the Eiger, and a cog railway in the tunnel. You can get to a couple of big windows and a balcony cut in the north face in warm comfort … and when potential rescuers look out, they can see men freezing to death only yards away. In a snowstorm, which can arise in minutes, they might as well be on the surface of the moon.

Since this was 1936, and these four men were Germans and Austrians, naturally there was politics involved, as in the ’36 Olympics. Aryan pride was at stake. I have no idea what the real politics of the men were, but they are shown here as mostly interested in the climb itself, each with his own insane (to me) justification for this climb. In the end, it all comes to naught, and I like that. It’s honest. If you’re thinking about climbing Everest, as that 13-year-old recently did, you should look at this first. The Eiger is only 13,000 feet. Everest is 29,000 and change. Do the math!