'K2: Siren of the Himalayas': Film Review

Courtesy of K2 Siren, LLC.


Beautiful mountaineering film gets big boost from historical material

Challenging terrain for a debut doc

Though it's a bit shorter than Everest, the mountain known as K2 is far more deadly: Its 25 percent death-to-summit ratio (what kind of lunatic "sport" requires the invention of such terms?) makes it one of the world's biggest challenges even for veteran climbers. So why not choose it as the setting for your first stab at filmmaking? Dave Ohlson does just that in K2: Siren of the Himalayas, an account of one modern expedition that draws fruitfully upon the lore of another. Given its level of procedural detail, the film will play best with viewers who are serious about the sport themselves; but novices who come across it on TV or video will likely be caught up as well.

Ignoring an unsuccessful attempt made in 1902, the film cites a 1909 expedition led by the Duke of the Abruzzi as the first major expedition trying to reach this peak; that effort is paired with a 2009 trip whose members include Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, National Geographic's 2012 "Explorer of the Year." Though the back-and-forth focus between these trips might initially seem a centennial contrivance, it proves to be the film's key asset: That trip was documented not only by fine photography but by doctor-explorer Filippo De Filippi's transporting written account, whose prose brings Ohlson's new footage to life. In describing the moods and behavior of this "gigantic and solitary" mountain that is "jealously protected" by other peaks, De Filippi left the kind of document that, even without photographs, might have inspired Westerners to travel to Pakistan to meet its challenge.

Ohlson's present-day heroes, while hardly as colorful on screen as De Filippi's narration, are a likeable and persistent bunch, one of whom adds up his previous attempts to reach K2's summit and realizes he's spent, cumulatively, about a year of his life on the mountain and surrounding glacier. Arriving in the shadow of a tragedy that killed 11 climbers in 2008, their own trip would begin with death: On the first day in camp, they witness a skier's fatal accident and help his partner get the body home.

What follows is an unromantic view of this group's labor, following the mechanics of their many weeks of work and (no spoilers here) acknowledging that knowing when to turn back is an essential part of mountaineering. Judging from the wealth of splendid views the camera captures, even a climber who never got past the first or second stage would have an experience justifying De Filippi's rhapsodies.

Production companies: Roped In Productions, Ursus Films, 2R Productions
Director: Dave Ohlson
Producers: Dave Ohlson, Jason Reid, Andy McDonough
Director of photography: Dave Ohlson
Editors: Jason Reid, Darren Lund
Music: Jonathan Haidle
No rating, 74 minutes