If you are feeling the need for some serious adventure, the documentaries on this list will definitely deliver, as they transport you to the Himalayas and share stories of triumph, tragedy, and incredible journeys.
1. Ama Dablam
This 50-minute documentary was a finalist in the Blue Mountains Film Festival, and for good reason. Filmmaker and climber Richard Pattison documents his team as they take on the beautiful Ama Dablam summit.
A trek to the neighboring Everest’s base camp as a youth inspired Richard and planted a seed that he one day would summit these breathtaking mountains. He returns to make good on his plans and fights through the oxygen deprivation to achieve his goal.
2. South Face Annapurna
This documentary covers Jean Troillet and his team as they undertake a two-month expedition to climb the 3,000-meter Bonington route up the south face of Annapurna. The climbers fight poor weather, oxygen deprivation, and extremely challenging terrain as they make this attempt.
As always with big mountain climbing, the mountain and the weather decide whether or not climbers will make it to the top, which can be a bitter pill to swallow after months of planning and traveling and acclimating.
3. Climbing the Savage Mountain
K2 is an incredibly difficult mountain to summit, despite being shorter than Everest. It’s nicknamed the Savage Mountain because of the extremely high fatality-to-summit rate: 77 people have died on the mountain while about 300 people have successfully summited.
Despite these chilling facts, climbers still attempt this mountain regularly. Chris Warner and his team make an attempt to not only summit but also survive.
4. Glory or Death: Climbing Mount Everest
This HBO documentary delves into the lives of Sherpas, the indigenous people who make it possible for tourists to climb Mount Everest. Often carrying loads bigger (and sometimes heavier) than themselves, Sherpas guide the tourists up the mountain by setting all the ropes and ladders necessary, at great personal risk.
In just the past five years, 32 out of just a few hundred Sherpas have died in the course of guiding climbers, making it one of the deadliest jobs on the planet.
While this documentary takes a look at the darker side of climbing in the Himalayas, it is important to recognize the skill and absolute necessity of Sherpas as mountain guides, since it would be nearly impossible to summit Everest without their help and guidance.
5. Nirekha Peak – 2017 Climb
This documentary is mostly uncut and unedited footage of climber Jordan’s push to the summit of Nirekha Peak in the Nepalese Himalayas. It offers a unique perspective in the grind and struggle of climbing the mountain.
You can hear and see the effects of oxygen deprivation in the climber’s labored breathing and the long pauses between steps as he ascends steep faces with the assistance of ropes. This documentary isn’t narrated and is shot from a body-mounted camera so it feels like you are right there on the mountain with the climbers.
6. Sherpas | Documentary on The True Heroes of Mount Everest
This film also highlights the hard work and necessity of Sherpas, but this time in the context of them actively guiding a group of European climbers to the summit of Everest. Dawa, a Sherpa who has summited Everest 13 times, shares his stories and perspectives about making the climb. All of the Sherpas are blunt in their explanations of what it means to be guides for foreign climbers and the risk that it entails.
7. Fatal Altitude Tragedy on K2
Covering the 2008 avalanche on K2, this documentary outlines exactly what happened when 11 mountaineers lost their lives in this tragedy. What starts out as a perfect day with bluebird skies ends in disaster when the weather changes and an avalanche roars through the infamous Bottleneck section of the descent.
Many members of the team died immediately in the avalanche and others were stranded near the top of the second tallest mountain in the world. This film is a good reminder that no matter our skill level or amount of preparation, the mountain is always in control.
8. Sir Edmund Hillary – The Race for Everest
This historical documentary covers the first-ever ascent of Everest in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The film includes clips from the actual expedition as well as interviews with surviving climbers. Norgay began the expedition as the head Sherpa but was soon promoted to a full member of the climbing team because he displayed such incredible aptitude on the mountain.
This film offers an enlightening look into the past, from the gear and techniques they used to climb mountains in the 1950s to the intense desire of so many climbers to be the first to reach the summit of the tallest mountain on the planet.
9. Mera Peak Climb
Featuring a team of 13 Australians, this film documents their 2013 climb of the Mera Peak in the Nepalese Himalayas. Unfortunately for them, this region of the mountains received the heaviest snowfall in two decades just before their attempt. The team of climbers faces health concerns, intense cold, extreme wind, and deep snow, making this expedition much more gnarly than they had planned.
10. Mount Everest: Into the Death Zone
Not for the faint of heart, this documentary covers Canadian Shriya Shah-Klorfine’s climb of Mount Everest and her ultimate demise as she descended through the especially treacherous Death Zone. Shriya had never climbed a mountain before and disregarded warnings and attempts at dissuasion from her family and friends.
She made an extremely slow climb of the mountain which may have contributed to her death during the descent. This film takes a look at what may have gone wrong for her and features previously unreleased footage of the last hours of Shriya’s life. Host Bob McKeown travels to Nepal to investigate her fatal climb.
11. Surviving Everest
This 2003 National Geographic documentary is a classic, outlining the trials and rigors of climbing Mount Everest.
Featuring interviews with Jamling Tenzing Norgay (son of Tenzing Norgay, a member of the first-ascent team), Peter Hillary (son of Sir Edmund Hillary, who led the first-ascent team), and some of the Sherpas who were on the first-ascent team, this film brings the past and present together over the continuing passion of climbers to climb Mount Everest, despite the incredible difficulty and danger.
This film highlights Reinhold Messner, one of the world’s greatest mountaineers. Messner’s attitude towards climbing and mountaineering revolutionized the sports. Perhaps one of his greatest feats was climbing Mount Everest without bottled oxygen, something that was previously believed to be impossible.
Messner quests for self-knowledge while he pushes the limits of human survival and capability. Rather than viewing mountaineering as a conquest, Messner prefers to look at it as seeking the unknown and exploring both the physical world and his own sense of self.
13. Ed Viesturs: The Will to Climb
Ed Viesturs is the first American to summit all 14 of the world’s 8,000-plus-meter mountains, and this National Geographic documentary tells his story. He did all of these climbs without using supplemental oxygen, and he had already survived a terrifying avalanche. However, he came back stronger and more determined than ever.
Viesturs cites Maurice Herzog’s story of climbing Annapurna (in which he lost his gloves, resulting in the subsequent amputation of all 10 fingers and all 10 toes) as inspiration for wanting to climb Himalayan peaks. It takes a certain kind of person to be inspired by a story like that!
This documentary is a combination of both Himalayan mountaineering and freeriding (skiing on insanely large/steep/dangerous mountains).
Filmed by members of the expedition team from around the world, this documentary will have you on the edge of your seat as the woefully-inexperienced-at-mountaineering crew makes their way deep into the heart of the Karakoram Range to begin their freeriding adventure. Their journey takes them on a 150-kilometer loop over the course of five weeks and is an incredible adventure!
($2.99 on YouTube or free with Amazon Prime Video subscription)
In this incredible documentary, Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, and Renan Ozturk take on the incredibly difficult and insane task of climbing the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru in the Indian Himalayas. The team made an attempt in 2008 that ended in heartbreak.
Their planned seven-day trip had stretched to twenty days, they were feeling the effects of being exposed to sub-zero temperatures, and their food supplies were dwindling quickly. The team made it within 100 meters of the summit but were forced to turn around in order to protect their lives.
This documentary covers the team’s next attempt, in 2011. Conrad Anker rounded up Jimmy and Renan and this time, they prevailed. It’s an extraordinary documentary about an incredible team of guys who show determination, grit, and perseverance in the face of enormous hardship.
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