Meru (2015) Script

[Wind Howling]

[Fabric Flapping]

[Wind Continues Howling] [Snow Patters]

[Light Snoring]

[Breathes Deeply]

[Metal Picks Hit Ice]


[Pulleys Ratcheting]

[Man] Mmm. Thank you, dear.

[Woman] 'Cause they're extra-special, filled with-

[Man #2] Brussels sprouts.

We get the surf and turf. You guys get-

We get the full-on Brussels sprout... [Man #2] Nice.


I can always... put it back out there a little bit if it's not-

[Woman] When Conrad and I first got married, he made all these promises.

"Oh, I'm never gonna go to the big mountains again."

I knew he would never quit climbing... but it wasn't long before he was dreaming of some other big expedition.

And I was just rolling my eyes, going, "Right, okay."

[Conrad] High-altitude Himalayan climbing is very risky.

It is the most dangerous professional sport.

But I think with Meru, that risk is worth it.

As an Alpinist, Meru is the culmination of all I've done... and all I've wanted to do is this peak and this climb.

[Woman] I knew he was gonna continue to climb forever... but, you know, in what aspect, I wasn't sure.

I know that stuff can happen.

You know, and that's what I always say.

"Yeah, yeah."

But stuff can happen.

[Horns Honking]

[Engine Whirring]

[Chattering In Foreign Language]


I've been super carsick for about an hour now.

How you doin', Jimmy? [Groaning]

We just airmailed a bunch of our stuff off the top of our... truck... so we're pickin' up the pieces right now.

Meru definitely had a reputation as this impossible climb.

And I also knew, just by the way that Conrad brought the trip up... it was very nonchalant, so- [Chuckles]

I think the more nonchalant Conrad is... about suggesting a trip, the more worried you oughta be. [Laughs]

Oh, yeah.

[Scattered Chatter]


[Speaking Foreign Language]

[Speaking Foreign Language] [Man Laughing]

[Man] I was blown away when Jimmy and Conrad approached me about Meru.

They didn't build it up very much.

They didn't say, "This is the mountain that everyone's tried and failed on."

In their minds, I was probably- "Oh, here's some young, fresh blood."

He's gonna be good at- to get the rope up on certain pitches.

[Bell Rings]


[Ringing Continues]

[Jimmy] Namaste.

[Jimmy Murmurs]

♪♪ [Man Vocalizing]

Woo-hoo! [Jimmy] Woo-hoo!

Look at this reveal here. Yes! Om, om. [Chuckles]


[Man] The Shark's Fin on Meru central.

This climb has seen more attempts and more failures than any route in the Himalaya.

[Chuckles] Wow.

[Man Continues] It's the headwaters of the Ganges River... one of the most sacred rivers on Earth.

The center of the universe. It's this weird nexus... that sort of is the point where heaven and Earth and hell all come together.

The thing that gives it the name the Shark's Fin is this 1,500-foot blade... of this beautiful, flawless granite... way up high, you know, 20,000 feet.

This is the test of the master climber.

You know, it's been tried by so many great climbers- I don't know, 20 times.

Some of the best climbers in the world have tried and failed on this route.

[Slide Projector Clicking]

[Krakauer Continues] Meru is not just hard.

It's hard in this really complicated way.

You can't just be a good ice climber.

You can't just be good at altitude. You can't just be a good rock climber.

You gotta be able to ice climb, mix climb.

And you gotta be able to do big-wall climbing at 20,000 feet.

It's all that stuff wrapped in one package... that's defeated so many good climbers... and will probably defeat you and maybe will defeat everybody for all time.

That, to a certain kind of mind-set... is an irresistible appeal.

[Renan] When we actually got there, and I looked up at the mountain...

I didn't know... what- what we were getting into, 'cause I'd never seen something that complex before.

[Conrad] Renan's inexperience really didn't give me any reason to pause.

I knew he was strong enough. He knew the systems.

And as a team, you're the sum total of all your experience.

[Renan] I'd been on a number of expeditions with Conrad.

But I hadn't done any serious climbs with him.

And I had never done a climb with Jimmy.

[Carabiners Clinking]

I'm so adamant about only going on expeditions... with people that I know and that I trust.

And there's one exception to that rule... and that's if somebody that I really, really trust and know well, like Conrad... says, "This guy's worth bringing up."

[Conrad] I had heard about Renan, and I'd seen him in a climbing film... where he was, uh, free soloing North Six Shooter.

So I was like, "Okay. Gotta meet Renan."

[Krakauer] I saw this clip of Renan free soloing Lighting Bolt Cracks.

You see him do that stuff, and it looks out there.

He looks like something's lit a fire under him.

[Jimmy] I heard about this kid who's a super-talented climber.

And he was living on the road... like most climbing bums... especially climbers that are coming into the scene.

Except for he didn't even have a car.

He was literally just dropped off in the desert.

[Pencil Scratching]

When I first met Renan, he was mostly creating art in sketchbooks.

Smaller-scale stuff.

And then he started taking big canvases out on expeditions.

'Cause he was- At this point, he was starting to go on more expeditions.

Every opportunity was appreciated, and he was basically going nonstop.


5:30 in the evening. Time to start the route.

It's... crisp and cold.

We're waiting for the sun to move away.

So it'll set up and will freeze.


Uh, this is the best moment-

That... moment where everything comes down, and you're really starting.

Of course, I said that when we left Gangotri and when we left Bozeman.

But... now we're gonna camp on the mountain tonight.

[Krakauer] Conrad first tried Meru in 2003... and got his ass kicked.

It was super-technical climbing. This isn't Everest.

This is a whole different kind of climbing.

'Cause on Everest, you can hire Sherpas to carry all your stuff... to fix the ropes for you, to take most of the risks.

Jimmy and Conrad have climbed Everest four or five times.

Jimmy's even skied off the top.

But Meru is the anti-Everest.

No one's gonna carry your stuff.

If you need it, you need to carry it on your back.

And for Meru, you need a lot of tools to do the job.

Because the climbing covers the whole spectrum.

This upper 1,500 feet, the Shark's Fin, is smooth.

It's clean. It's nearly featureless.

But below that is 4,000 feet of really gnarly climbing- this fluted snow.

Dangerous, exposed.

So, time after time, guys would do that first 4,000 feet, light and fast... thinkin' they're really studs.

And then they get to the Fin, and it's a big wall.

And you gotta use big wall techniques on the upper part of Meru.

And you gotta go slow for that kind of climbing.

Maybe you'll only do 200 feet in a day.

Maybe it's gonna take you six or seven days to do that top 1,500 feet.

And if it's gonna take you that long, if you're going slow, you need a portaledge.

You need food and water and fuel.

Pretty soon, that's, like, 200 pounds of stuff.

You need a big wall rack, 50 pounds of iron.

So you gotta get that 200 pounds of crap up the first 4,000 feet.

And none of the previous climbers- and Conrad, his first time- they couldn't believe that.

They're not gonna climb that way. [Groans]

Humpin' loads. Feel the altitude a bit.

[Krakauer] But Conrad after that first time said, "Huh."

Here's the deal. I see this, this epiphany.

You gotta do this big wall style and get your stuff up there.

[Footsteps In Snow]

[Metal Clinking] [Murmurs]

[Jimmy] Man, how's it going? It's goin'-

Nighttime ops. Out climbing. Luckily, the screws are solid.

Now, why do we do this stuff?

The view. The view.

I think it's 2:00 in the morning. We went for the ghetto bivy... on the shoulder instead of setting up the ledge.

It's a lot easier. We got some Korean-

[Jimmy] Tell us the reason why- the real reason why we didn't set up anything.

[Both Chuckle] 'Cause we're worked a little bit maybe.

Could be worse. The sky could be, like, unloading on us right now.

Look what's happening over here.

That's Conrad lying in the snow.

And here's my really pathetic bivy.

[Shivering] Oh, grim.

You know it's grim when you're- Yeah.

When you bivy directly on the snow. [Jimmy] Yeah.

And it's snowing out a little bit too.

[Jimmy Chuckles]

♪♪ [Vocalizing]

[Breathes Heavily]

[Sighs] Very first light.

Goin' since... 2:00-ish.


[Wind Whooshing]

Pretty much made a bunch of mistakes already today.

Takin' me to school...

Yet again.

But, we're makin' good progress... haulin' 200-pound loads... up a 3,000-foot snow filter... at 16,000 feet.


See that system comin' in here pretty soon.

[Jimmy] Conrad and I have been through some tough expeditions together... all around the world.

We were on K7 in Pakistan.

We skied Denali, and we've been on Everest together.

[Shutter Clicks]

Conrad's reputation among climbers is flawless.

The irony is he became world famous for finding Mallory's body... during an Everest climb... instead of for his difficult first ascents around the world.

Most of my generation of climbers grew up following his expeditions.

Back then I'd never imagined I'd actually get to climb with him.

So it's hard to believe this will be almost seven years as climbing partners.

[Chuckles] [Jimmy] It got a little snowy.

[Conrad] Yup.

But we're committed to going up. Yeah.

It's only gonna be snowy for a little bit. Then it's gonna be nice.

Right? [Chuckles]

Meanwhile we look out into inside of a Ping-Pong ball.

[Snow Landing]

[Wind Whooshing]

[Jimmy's Voice] A storm came... and we fought to build our hanging portaledge camp.

[Jimmy] Whoo! Nice work!

[Jimmy's Voice] Which is basically a hanging cot with a tent over it.

[Wind Whooshing] [Tent Flapping]

Holy Jesus. Okay, good.



[Jimmy's Voice] Then we start hearing the avalanches coming off on the side... ripping out next to you.

[Snow Rumbling]

[Chuckling, Sighs]


[Renan] Whoa.


[Zips] [Wind Whistling]

[Jimmy] Look, it's snowing outside.

[Wind Whooshing]

[Conrad] Living in a portaledge, and it's snowing.

I kind of feel like Christmas somehow. [Jimmy Chuckles]

[Conrad] This is what we want for Christmas- a snowstorm and... to sit here in the- [Jimmy] On the Shark's Fin?

[Conrad] Yeah. [Jimmy] All soaking wet. Awesome.

[Wind Blowing]

[Jimmy] And so, we're there for a day. Then we're there for two days.

Then we're there for three days.

And basically, we're stuck on the portaledge for four days.

[Renan] It was... one of the biggest storms I'd ever seen.

It was four days in the storm... and we had only seven days of food total.

So, we ended up, you know, depleting a lot of our food supply.

We had essentially lost half our food.

And 90% of the mountain was still above us.

It's Samsara- the bivy of suffering.

[Renan's Voice] I thought, "Okay, it's over.

We've had a good run at it."

Cold. Where's the sun we had the last couple days?

We're up here freezing.

[Renan's Voice] This is too much for me.

I'm in over my head. And I'm glad to have the experience... but I'm also glad that we're going down tomorrow.

[Jimmy] The storm clears finally.

And you know, in my head, I'm like, "Okay, you know... now it's time to move. Storm's over."

So when we started gearing up that day and getting ready to climb... you know, there was some confusion, I think, for Renan, that we were going- uh, you know, that we were going up as opposed to down.

[Renan, indistinct] Okay.


[Renan] They just started racking up to continue up the mountain.

I didn't know why or how- what they were thinking.

And especially Conrad.

I'd never seen him so... motivated... about a climb.

[Conrad] Climbing's a really dangerous sport.

And a good partner will push you to the summit... but at the same time, keep you aware of the risks that are involved with it.

[Renan] Belaying out of the portaledge...

[Conrad] That 100% trust in your partner is pretty special.

I think Renan was shocked... because he hadn't ever really had anything at that extent.

And Jimmy and I, we'd been through that.

We're pushing on through it, and it's that understanding of "It's not that bad."

And that's where a mentor comes in.

Climbing is this weird craft, you know, passed down from generation to generation.

The way you learn is you have a mentor.

Conrad learned at the feet of Mugs Stump.

Conrad was this young phenom, and Mugs was one of the great climbers in the world.

[Conrad] Mugs was great. He took me under his wing.

He was the sensei, and I was the grasshopper.

He pushed me.

He had taken what was unshapen and given shape to it.

Still, to this day, a very important part of my life.

[Krakauer] So Conrad, he'd found the perfect mentor.

And Mugs would take him into his van and lift the prayer flag... and there's his special goal, which is this peak called Meru.

And Conrad was like, "Ooh."

And Mugs tried it twice- I think in '86 and '88.

Failed both times, for all kinds of reasons.

But to Mugs, this didn't deter him. This was- He is the cosmic climber... and this is all part of the cosmic plan, and he was gonna go back.

And I'm sure Conrad- That made a huge impression on him.

So then, 1992, two years after I met Conrad... uh, Mugs died on Denali, guiding a bootleg client.

[Wind Blowing]

[Conrad] I was working in Salt Lake and went climbing.

And, uh, we were driving back.

And my friend Doug said, "Hey, we think Mugs has died."

I remember exactly on the interstate where Doug had that conversation.

I was like, "Oh, fuck!"

Because I always thought that shit like that's gonna happen.

But it's not gonna happen to Mugs. He was the best.

[Renan] Climbing with your mentor is a dangerous thing sometimes... because you give them all of your trust.

I gave them everything, and... there was a constant battle in my mind every day.

I'd be freezing, shivering uncontrollably...

But I definitely didn't want to be the guy that said...

"Oh, I'm cold. I want to go down."

[Renan] Loose, eh?

[Renan's Voice] It must have been negative 20 when the sun went around the corner.

It's debilitating trying to climb in those kind of temperatures.

[Renan] It's all about climbing the cracks.

I don't see any here. [Chuckles]

[Renan's Voice] We'd hit these totally blank sections of rock.

And I was sure there wasn't anywhere else to go.

But then Jimmy or Conrad would launch into the void.

[Krakauer] You know, this is steep, modern A4 E-climbing.

It's using tools. You're a craftsman... tapping and pounding and tweaking.

And he's like this cabinetmaker... chiseling away at this cabinet out of walnut or something.

Except, you know, if you hit that chisel one more time and you're a cabinetmaker... maybe you split it and you ruin this cabinet- bummer.

If on an A4 pitch, you, like, split the cabinet, you die.

Yeah, I'll tent right there.

Uh, you wanna be here? Where you wanna be?

I don't care. I'm right on this edge. I'll sit here for now.

I got some hot bevies.

[Jimmy's Voice] It's hard to overstate what kind of condition we were in.

Barely. [Sighs]

We're literally down to eating a couple spoonfuls of granola in the morning... and sharing a couple slices of salami during the day... with couple pieces of cheese.

I mean, we're definitely on pretty limited rations at this point.

[Conrad] Roasty. [Renan Chuckles]

For climbers over a stove on a half-empty jug of propane... there's nothing finer than roasting the rind.

It becomes quite tasty.

[Jimmy] 'Cause basically eating everything that you have left.

Super efficient.

Next week, we'll be eating our boots. [Chuckles]

[Metal Clinking]

[Krakauer] You know, Conrad talks a lot about how to keep the risk manageable.

Talks about there's acceptable risk and unacceptable risk.

But he always keeps it on the acceptable side by leaving this margin.

Om, shanti.

[Krakauer Continues] But... you know, he had tried this climb before... failed, and even if he didn't admit it to himself... to succeed, he was gonna have to throw that conservative stuff out the window... and take mega-risk on this.

But, you know, if they want to stay alive... they cannot fuck up at all.

And he talked about, "If I die, I've really let down my family.

I cannot make any mistakes."

That's not good to be thinkin' when you're that far out there.

He is thinkin', "Man, I cannot die now... because then I've blown it for my wife and kids."

Jenni has no idea.

She has no fucking idea what he is really doin' out there.


[Jimmy Sighs]


We're all just kind of frayed.

Sixteen days up here, just givin' it everything we have.

It's been really slow.

And, uh, we're running out of fuel actually.

Um, and food. And cigarettes and papers.

But tomorrow is kind of the decider.

If we, uh... don't get up and around this big, steep headwall...

we're gonna have to pull the cord, but, uh... we got one last push tomorrow.


Jimmy's strength is that he's very rational and accepting... and real in what we can do.

When we first met, I realized right away... there was a mentorship that was going to blossom.

I also immediately sensed that he was driven and determined.

And I never really knew why. [Shutter Clicking]

[Shutter Clicks]

My parents called me Xiao-pang.

It means "Little Chub."

[Jimmy's Voice] My parents had to escape from China during the Communist Revolution.

They both went through a lot.

They came to the United States to make a new life.

And I think they had really high expectations for me.

My dad was a hard-ass.

In the wintertime, we would get cords of wood to heat the house.

And he'd put it in the back of this huge yard we had... and make me drag it back on a sled in thigh-deep snow.

He was really about being tough.

Mountain climbing, it wasn't a career to them.

My mom used to call me all the time... and lament about the fact her son was this homeless man... who wandered around and camped and didn't have a home.


But when I went through a difficult divorce... and called Jimmy, crying, upset... his first words were, "Come stay with me."

So, we just moved into his bachelor pad.

Two kids, all their markers and Legos. [Chuckles]


And he just took us right in.

[Krakauer] You know, he's another one of these extremely accomplished climbers.

You don't appreciate how good a climber he is... because you get distracted by the art... which is probably the way he likes it.

And taking pictures makes the climbing Way harder.

He was filming this Everest expedition, and his morn got really sick.

And he found out about it and had to leave so he could see her before she died.

[Jimmy] My mom had made me promise fairly early on, she was like...

"If you're gonna make this your life, you need to promise me one thing.

You have to promise me that you will not die before me."

And when I was on climbs and on expeditions...

I would get to a certain point, and I would say, "Okay.

How close am I willing to go to potentially break that promise?"

So, after my mom died... when the climbing started to get into that place...

I remember a moment being like, "Well, I can go for it right now."

[Equipment Jingling]

[Renan] Conrad's up there. Can't find good gear.

Our hands and feet are all frost-numb.

Nice, Rad.

Good move.


We're probably at about 20,500 feet.

Just short of the ridge.

It's fucking Arctic.

Today's our summit bid.

[Renan] Bring it in.

[Conrad] Whoo! [Renan] Yeah, Rad!

[Pebbles Rattle]


[Krakauer] The game in climbing is cut that line as fine as you can.

But you don't want to take stupid risk.

If you die taking a stupid risk, not only are you dead... but you've embarrassed yourself and you've disgraced yourself.

You're not supposed to take risk lightly.

You're supposed to show that you're so good and so controlled... you can take it right to that line and go no further.


[Jimmy] It's been a super long morning. Started at 2:00.

Probably another 500 feet to the summit.

[Jimmy's Voice] We're gunning for the summit ridgeline... and Conrad's burrowing through this overhanging cornice.

Renan is in the line of fire.

Snow and ice falling 150 feet... just slamming Renan.

[Renan] All the shrapnel and the ice that he was kicking down... was going directly onto me- like, constant deluge.

And I could really feel that I was losing my fingers and toes.

I started just screaming... and yelling and crying.

That was my absolute last breaking point.

I even said something when I got up there, like, "My feet aren't doing so well."

They didn't even acknowledge what I said.

They were talking about spending the night there.

[Jimmy] Conrad and I are having a conversation like...

"Is there a spot to bivy? Is there a spot for us to spend the night?"

Trying to sleep perched on this tiny little corner... at 20,000 feet without sleeping bags... and risk fingers and toes.

[Jimmy] What if we push on? Should we push on?

If you go for it and you spend the night out... there's a probability that's higher than you want... that you... aren't gonna come back.

Just shy of the summit.

It's 4:00, and we're at 17 days.

We're fuckin' roasted. Started out this morning at midnight.

If we go today and attempt to the summit, that means we're gonna be out tonight... and an unplanned bivouac at 20,000 feet in really cold climate... without proper protection and without sufficient food... just doesn't make any sense.



[Renan] It's over.

A hundred meters short of the summit.

We just don't have the safety margin to make it.

It's not easy turning around. But-

Fuck, this thing was an ass-kicker.

Maybe it just wasn't meant to be climbed.

But I'm not coming back.


I mean, that's just so- [Exhales]

[Jimmy Fitting?]

The center of the universe is- Unattainable.

♪♪ [Man Vocalizing]

[Renan's Voice] When we finally made the decision to go down... it was a relief.

Uh, it was also heartbreaking.

♪♪ [Vocalizing Continues]

Our feet are... hammered and we're just emaciated.

[Renan] When we got down off the mountain... our condition was this combination of frostbite and trench foot.

Trench foot is what you get... when your feet and your hands are in this wet, damp condition... for a long period of time, and they start to rot.

I came back in a wheelchair. I couldn't really walk for a few weeks.

All of us gave it our best. We pushed our limits.

Uh, there was something left undone.

But... I was possessed.

I wasn't even down, and I was like...

"Okay, do I come back in pre-monsoon, post-monsoon?

When are we gonna do it, and what do we gotta do better this time?"

[Wind Whooshing]

[Jimmy] After 2008, Renan and I ended up on a bunch of different shoots together.

We went all over the world. We were in Chad, Africa.

We were in Borneo.

We worked on a ton of jobs together.

We knew that there were a number of teams who attempted the Shark's Fin after us.

And then this great Slovenian climber named Silvo Karo... called Conrad to ask for beta- ask for information on the route.

And so we gave him our total support. We weren't being possessive of the climb.

We weren't- it wasn't- We don't own that mountain.

We were like, "Here it is. Here's what we learned."

And, "Finish the story of the Shark's Fin."

Because then we don't have to go back. It's done.

[Jimmy] And we kind of assumed Silvo would get it.

And then I got a call from Conrad, you know.

And all he said was, "He didn't get it."

At that point we're like, "Okay." Gears turning. "We're going back."

[Chuckles] They say the best Alpinists are the ones with the worst memory.

[Birds Tweeting]

[Jimmy] About six months before we were supposed to head to Meru... on our second attempt...

Renan and I were out shooting a commercial project in Jackson Hole.

It's not too steep up here. The summit's probably right here.

[Jimmy's Voice] I had gotten a call from Jeremy Jones and Xavier de Le Rue... two of the best big-mountain snowboarders in the world.

In here, is this the steepest part?

[Jimmy's Voice] It was a big job, and I asked Renan to film on it... even though he wasn't a great skier.

This line, below this is, like, thousands of cliffs.

I'm stoked. Those are the first turns I've ever made with Jeremy and Xav.

Bodes well. [Chuckles]

That was awesome.

[Jimmy] We were headed down together when I saw Renan catch an edge.

And he spun out of control and disappeared over a cliff.

Oh. Oh!

I got down to him, and there was blood all around his head.

[Chattering] [Man] I got it.

He'd smashed his skull, and you could see into his head.

I thought he was gonna die... in my arms.

[Monitors Beeping] I felt responsible.

[Man] He has an open, depressed skull fracture with pneumocephali... which is air inside the skull.

And... he has a C2 teardrop fracture and lateral mass fracture... as well as a C6 spinous process fracture.

[Monitor Beeping]

We came out, okay?


He's gonna be immobilized for a long time. They're gonna take him to surgery.

Any sort of, like, significant risks during the surgery?


So they tell us we can see him and they roll him out, and he just looked-

I- I mean, I recognized him, but-

I mean, he looked so beat down.

So when I found you, you were... face down... in a pile.

You essentially had, like, a triangle about that big- about that big where I could see your skull.

[Jimmy's Voice] Renan had landed on his head and severely fractured his skull.

He broke two vertebrae in his neck.

He severed one of his vertebral arteries.

And basically cut off half the blood flow to his brain.

I asked, I said, "Well, what are we talkin' about here?"

They were like, "90% of people with any one of these injuries will never walk again."

His head injury- They were saying, you know- it was within a millimeter of him being a vegetable.

Here we are- [Conrad's Voice] I got a call from Jimmy.

He said, "There's been a really severe accident."

And I drove down right away.

We had this moment where it was...

"You're gonna be fine. Things are good."

And we got up and we got the walker... and we walked from east to west on the linoleum floor.


Recovery mode. Yeah.

Let's go somewhere quick, so we can get our job done.


September. Exactly.

[Conrad's Voice] At the time, he was like, "I want to go to Meru."

But I didn't want to be like, "Dude, you're hooped. I mean, come on."

You don't have the heart to tell someone something's impossible.

You're not gonna stuff 'em right at that moment and say...

"Dude, what are you talkin' about? You're never goin' back to Meru.

You're never goin' climbing." You just don't say those kind of things.

[Monitor Beeping]

We'll see how it- see how it does at altitude at some point.


[Wind Whooshing]

[Jimmy] Once I knew Renan was stable...

I headed back to Jackson to try and finish the job.

[Jeremy] As far as Jimmy coming back... no one would have said anything if Jimmy said, "I'm not going to do it."

"Um, I'm done."

Those are real personal decisions.

It was kind of a, "All right, you have to get back on the horse" mentality.

Five, four, three, two, one.

Xavier de Le Rue. [Beeps]


[Jeremy] The general mood was pretty light.

Our objective for the day had been reached. Good vibes.

Our conversation before dropping in was... go one at a time, make sure everyone's in a safe spot.


[Jimmy] So, Jeremy made a couple turns.

Cut up on the side of this safe zone.

Called me in, and I make a turn right next to his turn.

And then- And then I feel it-

The whole slope shift.


[Jeremy] I yell, "Avalanche."

Just screaming, "Get out, get out, get out."

[Jimmy] For a moment, it looks like slow motion.

And the next moment, everything went to fast-forward.

And it just- I got swept.

I'm airborne.

Totally weightless.

And I lost sight of him. That was the last I saw of Jimmy.

And the slide just kept going and going and going and going.


[Jimmy] I just got crushed under an ocean of car-sized blocks.

Probably going 70, 80 miles an hour... down 2,000 vertical feet.

And in my mind, I heard this voice... having this conversation that was like...

"Wow, I- I always wondered how I was gonna die... and now- now I know."

I was just expecting to get torn to pieces.

But after a while, it started to slow down.

And this weird undercurrent started pushing me up through the snow.

And at the last moment...

I popped out of the toe of this thing... buried up to my chest.

I was in that moment being like, "Oh, my God. I'm in one piece."

Like, I coughed up this huge chunk of snow, and I took this huge breath... and I was like- [Gasping]

And I looked at my arms, and I was like, I mean...

I couldn't even believe they were still connected to my body.

And then, um-

Yeah, it was a lot.

[Jeremy] It was really difficult to descend and felt like forever.

But I come around the corner... and way out at the very bottom... of the biggest debris fields I've ever seen... is Jimmy sitting upright.

[Exhales Sharply]

[Jimmy] I haven't seen a fuckin' slide- [Chuckles]

[Jeremy's Voice] This avalanche has trumped all avalanches I've ever seen.

I couldn't help but think, "Jimmy's dead."

I just can't believe that he survived it.

Oh, boy!

[Whines] Whoo!

[Jeremy] We just saw a miracle.

[Xavier] Yeah, they saw a miracle.

Or I saw superhuman effort. I saw somethin'. I don't know.

[Jimmy] Most people don't survive those kinds of avalanches.

People die in a lot lesser avalanches.

So I got really lucky.

Took off for a while. I disappeared off the map... and I needed some time to really contemplate.

[Grace] After Renan's near-death accident...

Jimmy was extremely shaken.

And then the avalanche four days later.

It really contributed to him reexamining his life.

He'd been given a second chance, and so what do you do with a second chance?

[Krakauer] So, Jimmy survived this thing that people don't survive... and he was really messed up.

He was in a bad way psychologically.

And this makes you doubt your judgment about everything.

He bailed from various commitments.

He's not goin' anywhere. He's certainly not goin' to Meru.

Renan can't go to Meru. He's crippled, maybe for life. Seriously.

You know, no one knew if Renan was gonna come out of this.


[Conrad] Renan and I got together. He had his neck brace on... and he was in his La-Z-Boy chair.

And he was kind of like this.


I'm offering encouragement. I'm like, "Yes, we can do this.

This is- This is good."

Yet, in the back of my mind, I knew that I might have to be- it might be, "Renan, you're just physically are not prepared to go back to Meru."

[Jenni] I think Conrad was the driving force for the entire trip.

At first I didn't want him to go back, but it was just that loyalty to Mugs... and wanting to fulfill that shared dream.

Having climbed mountains myself, I understood that.

Especially if it's a first ascent. No one's been there before you.

[Jimmy] After some time off and- and some serious contemplation... the idea of not skiing and not climbing and not being in the mountains... um, was- was too much to- to imagine.

I just wasn't ready to give it all up.


[Renan] There was only five months until we were supposed to leave for Meru.

It was a pretty serious point in time where...

I didn't care that I was injured.

I just cared that I wasn't going to be able to join the team again.

Can I have you bring your arms up like so?

[Renan Continuing] And I'm sure, to my friends and family, that was really hard... because they just wanted to see me okay.

I just feel bad to put them through that.

[Doctor] One of the fractures is this thing back here... which is so far displaced that that's not gonna really heal.

This is the second fracture.

[Renan] One of the biggest question marks was the vertebral artery.

I'd lost half the blood supply to my brain... and climbing at altitude, there's a high risk of... some sort of blood clot getting through that artery... and giving me a stroke during the climb.

But for me, it was worth the risk.

It was something that I had to do.

It was worth possibly dying for.

I mean, in my mind, I thought it was-

I thought it was crazy that he wanted to go back.

But I realize that Meru for him was something to hold onto.

For him, it was like, "This is my dream."

To come back and climb Meru... and prove to himself that he had the capacity to make a comeback.

And I- I understood it as well... because, in a way, I needed the same thing, you know.


The bike. [Exhales Sharply]

[Jimmy] Renan had put his heart and mind into recovering.

And the way that he had progressed was... almost inhuman.


Conrad and I were gonna go back to Meru.

But we still had to make a decision about Renan.

And Renan was... pretty adamant about going.

It was this moment when the three of us got together... and Jimmy made the case for Renan to come along.

[Jenni] I was against Renan going on the climb.

I just confronted Jimmy and I said, "You know...

I am not keen about this.

You know, you can't take Renan up there.

I mean, what if he dies?"

But I couldn't talk Jimmy into throwing Renan off the trip. [Laughs]

It's like he was totally dug in.

He just said, flat out, "If Renan feels he's ready, I trust Renan."

[Jenni] I was worried about Renan.


[Jenni Continuing] But I was also worried about the well-being of the entire team... because... just to go up onto a face like that with a weak partner... where, what if they got into another big, bad storm?

[Cracks] [Jenni Continuing] Or what if one of 'em... got wacked in the head with a rock... and they had to get him down off, and they-

You need to have your partners be sound and strong.

You know, when our friends heard about it, they were like-

They thought we were completely out of our minds.

Whew. Dude, I don't know.

No! No! You know, that's not right.

This isn't like Conrad, or Jimmy.

You know, these guys, they don't fuck around, they don't do stupid stuff.

If they did, they'd be dead by now.

Two or three times, I had these deep anxiety attacks.

I mean, here it was, at 2:00 in the morning, and all of a sudden it was just like... this wave of anxiety came over me, and I'm- I'm up there, like, going, "Shit."

I've got two kids sleeping upstairs. My wife's there.

Another boy's off at college. I'm responsible for them.

And I'm going, "You're going back?"

You know, the rewards of climbing are huge.

If you- if you survive it, if your family comes out of it okay... if everyone comes out, then climbing- climbing is so worth it.

The problem is, as we know, you don't always come out of it okay.

People die. And then you can't justify it. That is the great dilemma.

Conrad knows this better than anyone.

Look at what happened to Mugs, and Conrad's next partner, Alex.

[Conrad] After the death of Mugs in '92...

Alex Lowe became my main climbing partner.

Alex was the premier climber at that time.

Conrad was Alex's favorite partner... and best friend.

Conrad was just right for him... because he could match Alex's pace.

And there wasn't too many people who could do that.

This is Nirvana, what this is.

So we're gonna hang out, just enjoy the mountains.

[Krakauer] You know, Mugs was the mentor... but Alex was much more Conrad's equal.

These are, you know, two of the most brilliant climbers ever.

I mean, people were blown away by 'em.

And they fed off each other!

They were this perfect match, the perfect partnership.

I went to Antarctica with both Alex and Conrad in '97... in one of the best trips I've ever done, and they were in rare form.

Just brilliant to behold.

So he had this new partner, and they were gonna tear up the world.

[Conrad] Alex did a remarkable job of balancing family.

We were all sort of vagabonds.

And here's Alex. He's, like, legit. He's married, and he's got kids.

I was married to Alex Lowe for 18 years.

And, um, in the autumn of 1999... uh, he was on an expedition with Conrad.

It was to Shishapangma, in Tibet.

And, uh, they went up to take a look at the mountain.

[Conrad] It was supposed to be a rest day.

David Bridges, Alex and I went up, getting ready to do the climb... and we got to this point- it was probably 7:30, 8:00 in the morning.

All of a sudden, there was, like, this crack, and we looked up and it was, "Oh, shit."

There was a- a release.


[Jenni] Before Alex left, I had this weird premonition.

I didn't want him to go on the climb.

I said, you know...

"I'm worried that you're gonna die in an avalanche."

And Alex said, "I always come home."


[Conrad] Alex and David ran straight downhill. I traversed at an angle.

I was like, "I'm gonna lay down before the avalanche hits."

And as I looked over, David and Alex were still upright, and they were still running.

I was picked up and thrown, battered, tumbled.

And just kind of half-buried.

And then... it was silent.

I remember standing up and walking around... and going over to where I had seen them, and there was nothing there.

There was no ski stick or a glove sticking out of the snow or anything like that.

Our other teammates came up to help with the search... and we searched there for the better part of the day.

I went back down to camp. I needed some medical attention.

[Jenni] I got the phone call. I thought it was Alex at first.

And Andrew's voice came on, and I instantly panicked.

Andrew's like, "Jenni, there's been an avalanche."

You know, and then my heart was racing.

Right away, I said, "Is Conrad there?"

Because, you know, I thought that... somehow Conrad would've protected Alex.

You know, that it couldn't happen to him if Conrad was there with him.

I remember Jenni saying, "Is there anything else you can do?

Can you go back and look for him?" And we're like, "No. It's just- He's gone."

And it was- it was-

There was, um- There was just this finality of it.

[Krakauer] After Alex died, Conrad went through this transformation.

He was just- He looked gaunt.

He was- He had retreated somewhere deep inside and wasn't comin' out.

I worried he was over the edge and wasn't coming back.

[Conrad] It's just- I mean, the wheels were coming off.

And, um, I didn't know why I was so fucked up.

Gil Roberts, a friend of mine, who was in a very similar situation.

He was there when his climbing partner died.

And more than once, he picked up the phone, and he's like, "Hey, man.

I've gotta come talk to you. We've gotta get together."

And I didn't know why Gil wanted to get ahold of me.

And it was, like-

I remember his line. He's like, "Yep. Survivor's guilt is a bear."

And having to do that. And it was, like-

Because for me, it's, like, this heavy fucking thing... that wouldn't leave me alone.

'Cause Alex had it going on.

Here he was, he was successful. He had three kids, a happy married life.

Everything was cool, and I lived in a van.

[Jenni] Conrad was filled with remorse over Alex's death... and he came back from the expedition... feeling like he was the one who should've died.

[Conrad] Trying to find balance and peace in that...

I just didn't know where to go.

But it always circled back to being with Jenni... and the conversations that we had on the telephone... and being together with each other.

[Jenni] I think he felt like... to continue being a great friend, he needed to be there for us.

It was like a little connection to Alex that was still there for me.

And then, you know, before we- either of us knew what was happening... we were kind of falling in love.

[Conrad] The duress of this tragedy- Jenni and I, we fell in love.

And then eventually we married, and I have adopted the boys.


[Jenni] I wasn't like I chose and said, "Okay.

I'm gonna fall in love with another climber." It just kind of happened.

I still think I might have been better off with a cowboy.

[Krakauer] Conrad has this side to him that realizes...

"I got some heavy responsibilities here." it's the key to Conrad. There's this constant dialectic.

He needs the mountains to climb, but it's like, "Am I taking too many chances?

Can I control the risk?" Of course you can't control the risk.

"Well, why am I doing this? Because I have to do it or I go fucking crazy."

[Renan] In the end, Jimmy and Conrad left the decision up to me.

[Shutter Clicks]

Even though it'd only been five months since the accident...

I decided I wanted to give it a go.

[Conrad] We had become so close after the 2008 ordeal... that to not give him the opportunity- it wasn't celebrating the teamwork that we came into the climb with.

That was the decision. [Exhales]

[Amee] Well, I wasn't really given a choice... in the matter.

Renan actually decided to go to Meru... and bought a plane ticket and didn't even tell me.

It was kind of a slap in the face, but... the bigger concern was his safety.

[Jimmy] He knew the heat that we were taking... and he knew that we had to trust him to let him go.

And that's what we did. We trusted him.

[Krakauer] Maybe that's way over the heads of most people... that kind of risk and that kind of expression of trust.

But when Conrad was a young buck, and Mugs was teaching him... they'd be at a really sketchy pitch- dangerous, you can't afford to fall.

Mugs would be like, "Okay, Conrad, we all know that I can lead this.

Now let's see if you can lead it. Are you ready?"

So many decades later, it was Conrad... saying to Jimmy, Renan, "Okay, you guys had a rough spring.

But you can do this. I trust you, and we're gonna do this."



[Jimmy] The entire hike in was intense.

There's no doubt that I had a heavy heart going into it.

It felt just like so much... pressure.

You know, it felt a little bit like we were heading to the gallows. You know?

[Renan] Fifteen feet, Conrad!

[Equipment Clinking]

[Shouting, indistinct]

[Conrad] The old geek ripped.

Is that what sent ya? Yeah.

I just heard the "ping" and then the fucking gear rattling.

Cha-ching, cha-ching.

Oh, it was a good- Of all the places to fall though-

Ah, it's dreamy.

[Jimmy] That was a good place to fall.

It must have been, like, five pounds on you, huh, Renan, like-

[Renan] Yeah. Well, I got lifted off the triangle ledge.

[Fabric Flapping]

[Wind Howling]

[Rustling] [Grunting]

Oh! Fuck!

[Jimmy] Oh, man.

[Renan] Survival mode.

It's broke.

We're Himalayan big-wall climbing, and we broke our portaledge.

That's more straight. Yeah.

[Jimmy] Whew. [Conrad] Athletic tape... two eye screws, and- and we're back in business.


[Man] ♪ One night of magic rush ♪

♪ The start a simple touch ♪

♪ One night to push and scream ♪

♪ And then relief ♪

♪ Ten days of perfect tunes ♪

♪ The colors red and blue ♪

♪ We had a promise made ♪

♪ We were in love ♪

♪ To call for hands of above ♪

[Jimmy] That there is called space hauling.

This route's pretty steep.

That's why all the shit's hanging off in space. [Chuckling]


[Chuckles] I just had to film what we're eating right now.

Conrad wants us to eat yesterday's leftovers.

Oh, it looks great.

[Conrad] We have one choice on the menu, and it is couscous.

[Jimmy] Tomorrow, what are we having for dinner?


[Jimmy, Laughing] And the next day? Couscous.

[Jimmy] What did we have for dinner four days ago?

Couscous. [Jimmy] Sweet.

[Conrad] This looks really good, I think.

I'm sure that, uh Happy and Leroy, my two dogs, would just love this.

They'd be like, "Yeah!"

We're not his dogs.


Mmm, couscous.



[Jimmy] I was watching Renan, and he seemed confused and slow.

I thought it might have been the altitude.

I'm not sure what's going on.

[Metal Clinks]

[Renan's Voice] Something was really wrong.

I literally just turned my face away and cried.

[Jimmy] When we finally got the portaledge built and got inside... that's when Renan really fell apart.

He just collapsed.

♪♪ [Man Vocalizing]

♪♪ [Vocalizing Continues]

[Jimmy] He tried to say something to me... and it was just complete gibberish.

You know, you could see the alarm in his eyes that, like... however hard he was trying to speak... it wasn't happening.

♪♪ [Vocalizing Continues]

It'd been a year and a half earlier that, uh, my father had suffered a stroke... and I'd seen what it does.

[Exhales Deeply]

You know, we're making calculations in our head, and we're like...

"Well, we can't go down right now.

We'll make a mistake. We're way too wasted."

[Conrad] it was a moment of, uh, anxiety. It was moment of unknown.

It was a moment of acceptance that we might not make it up the route.

Acceptance that- of Renan's health... that where he was, there was nothing we could do about it.

[Wind Whistling]

[Fabric Flapping]

[Renan] The next morning, the sun was shining.

I felt a little bit better... but I still couldn't really talk.

All that I could think about is, "I don't want to go down."

"If we go down, then I'll never forgive myself."

I still just felt strongly that I had to contribute to the team and not let us down.

It was my turn to lead.

Those guys didn't want me to go, but I looked up at Jimmy... nodded, and it was understood that I was going for it.

They were monitoring me very closely.

[Equipment Clinking]

From somewhere, I started to feel this momentum... and climbing started to feel good.

I couldn't believe I finished my leads.

It was this huge breakthrough for me.

Jimmy and Conrad were still really worried about me... and they carried most of my weight.

Meru- it's relentless. Every time.

[Renan's Voice] We still don't know what happened that day.

We just smoked a cigarette together and talked about it... and decided to keep going.

After seven days of climbing, we were just getting to the hard part.

The wall got super steep and overhanging.

[Conrad] This is pitch 20. Jimmy's getting after it.

It's the House of Cards, the start of the Indian Ocean Wall.

[Renan] I knew he was scared.

We all knew any mistake on this pitch could be catastrophic.

[Jimmy] Wow, that's- it looks longer... than it did last night. [Laughing]

In the House of Cards pitch, they called it that because... it's these immense blocks of granite.

If you pull one of 'em too hard, this whole thing's gonna come down... like a house of cards, only each card weighs, you know, 10,000 pounds... and those sharp edges is gonna just floss 'em all off the wall.

See these giant blocks?

They are moving under my weight.

[Hollow Knocking]

Those are the sounds you don't like to hear.

[Metal Clinking]

[Renan] It was really intense. He was up there for six hours... and it was exhausting for all of us.

They're on a sloping hill, and when you hit 'em, you watch both of 'em going.

Yeah, and everything here, I mean- That would just chop everything.

And then we'd- we'd be fucked.

[Wind Whistling]

[Fabric Flapping] Well, it's our summit-bid evening.

And it's dumping.



[Conrad] More suffering. [Jimmy] It's been dumping... for... since 3:30.

Five, six hours now.

[Fabric Flapping]

[Jimmy] How's it lookin' out there, Renan?

Well, despite the, uh... heavy winds and getting battered... in the ledge for the last four hours... there's stars... so we're goin' for it.

[Equipment Jingling]

It's probably negative 20 out.

I can't feel my feet.

But at least it's windy.

[Exhales Sharply]

Just waitin' for the sun.


Oh, man, I can't fucking think straight.

[Renan] Good job, Conrad!


[Jimmy] On the summit push, I think all of us... and probably Conrad the most, was dreading the upper pitches.

Because he knew he was the only one that could do 'em.

And it was a really hard and dangerous lead.

[Renan] Conrad carried a lot of pressure that day.

It's really hard to explain to anyone what he did up there.

[Jimmy] We finally get to the summit ridge, where we turned around in 2008.

And we hadn't really talked about who was gonna take the last lead.

And that was the final, unknown section.

Conrad looked at me, and he was like, "All right."

[Conrad] I was like, "Jimmy, this is your lead.

It's your turn to take the reigns."



[Conrad] Nice, Jimmy.



Yeah, Renan. Fuck, yeah.



Yeah, Mugs!

Got it for ya!


[Breathing Raggedly]

[Exhales Sharply]

Ten years of climbing together.

[Renan] There was-

There was some points where I didn't think I was gonna make it.

And I know it stressed those guys out a lot, so-

Definitely happy to be up here... and, uh, take part in Conrad's 20-year dream... and 10 years of Jimmy and Conrad climbing together... and... yeah, feel part of the team.

[Woman] ♪ When the cold bites your bones ♪

♪ And gets in your heart ♪

♪ It can make you feel hopeless ♪

♪ And fear will come to steal your sun and make it dark ♪

♪ But don't believe you're lonely ♪

♪ We've all had that moment when our shoulders sink ♪

♪ And we sit back and think ♪

♪ We could just run ♪

♪ But we're not born to chase the fading light ♪

♪ We're not born to fall and lose the fight ♪

♪ Never letting go Oh, no, oh ♪

♪ I'm askin' you to lift me, lift me higher than I ever been ♪ I Hold your breath and say you're gonna come with me ♪

♪ We were born to follow ♪

♪ The light that never fails ♪

♪♪ [Woman Vocalizing]

♪ You're scared to fight, you're scared to climb, afraid to die ♪

♪ But I can be your courage ♪

♪ And help you see you've already won this ♪

♪ We all have that moment when our head hangs low ♪

♪ We question if we should go ♪

♪ Or turn back and run ♪

♪ But we're not born to chase the fading light ♪

♪ We're not born to fall and lose the fight ♪

♪ Never letting go Oh, no, oh ♪

♪ I'm askin' you to lift me, lift me higher than I ever been ♪ I Hold your breath and say you're gonna come with me ♪

♪ We were born to follow ♪

♪ The light that never fails ♪

♪ Come along We're settin' sail ♪

♪ Never looking back again ♪

♪ We're not born to chase the fading light ♪

♪ We're not born to fall and lose the fight ♪

♪ Never letting go Oh, no, oh ♪

♪ I'm askin' you to lift me, lift me higher than I ever been ♪

♪ Hold your breath and say you're gonna come with me ♪

♪ We were born to follow ♪

♪ The light that never fails ♪

♪ The light that never fails ♪

♪ We were born to follow ♪

- ♪ The light that never ♪ ♪♪ [Vocalizing]

- ♪ Light that never ♪ ♪♪ [Vocalizing]

♪ The light that never fails ♪♪