Irish film about K2 mountain tragedy ascends to Sundance 2013

29 Nov 2012

A feature-length documentary recalling the deadliest day in modern mountain climbing history when 11 climbers were killed, including Limerick man Ger McDonnell, has been selected for the Sundance International Film Festival 2013.

The Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, is arguably the most prestigious independent film festival in the world.

Nick Ryan of Image Now Films produced and directed the film, The Summit.

“At the heart of The Summit lies a mystery about one extraordinary man, Ger McDonnell, who was faced with a heart-wrenching predicament at the very limit of his mortal resources,” says Ryan.

“He encountered a disastrous scene and a moral dilemma: three climbers tangled up in ropes and running out of time.”

“In the death zone, above 8,000 metres, the body is literally dying with each passing second. Morality is skewed 180 degrees from the rest of life.

“When a climber falls or wanders off the trail, the unwritten code of the mountain is to leave them for dead. Had Ger McDonnell stuck to the climbers’ code, he might still be alive.”

World altitude record for aerial photography


Ryan travelled to Pakistan to film the notorious mountain, setting a world altitude record for aerial photography from a helicopter.

“Going to K2 gave a fascinating insight into the reasons why the climbers are prepared to risk so much for a few fleeting moments from the summit of this foreboding mountain,” says Ryan.

“Not being a climber, it helped me understand why someone would accept the one-in-four odds of successfully summitting and surviving.”

The documentary includes never before seen footage of the climb and interviews with sherpa Pemba Gyalje, who was awarded National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for his heroic deeds on K2. Gyalje worked as technical adviser to Ryan and his crew, filming reconstructions of the tragic events.

The project attracted some of the most talented names in documentary filmmaking. Writer Mark Monroe (of Academy Award-winning The Cove and The Tillman Story,) and Academy Award-winning executive producer John Battesk (Searching for Sugar Man, Restrepo, The Imposter).

Leading team trainer and motivational speaker Pat Falvey was an executive producer on the project. A world-renowned adventurer, Falvey has climbed Mount Everest and completed the seven summits twice.

“RTÉ is thrilled that The Summit has been selected for Sundance,” says Sarah Ryder, executive producer for RTÉ. “It is a fantastic accolade for the team who have worked so hard to make this stunning documentary a reality. It has been a real pleasure to work with such a visionary and hard-working director and to watch this incredible project grow. 

“Nick’s achievement in being selected for one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world is an achievement for us all: for Nick himself and Image Now Films and Pat Falvey productions, for co-funders RTÉ and the BAI, the Film Board and BBC. And it is a genuinely good news story for Ireland.”


John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years