Friday, March 25, 2016

Film Review: 40 Days at Base Camp

There have been a number of documentaries that have come out over the last few years concerning Mt. Everest. These have ranged from the mediocre television climbing documentary, Everest: Beyond the Limit, to the absolutely phenomenal IMAX film about the disappearance of Mallory and Irving, The Wildest Dream. (To see our review of The Wildest Dream, click here.) 40 Days at Base Camp, a new "short" film, can now be be added to the Everest film cannon.

In a 54-minute documentary, 40 Days at Base Camp follows a combination of guided and unguided expeditions through a season at Everest base camp and higher on the mountain. The film looks at both the gritty existence in base camp to the high-end accommodations some people garner. It also examines both success and failure on the mountain.

In some regards 40 Days at Base Camp covers ground that we are all aware of. For example, Base Camp is dirty. Some expeditions are doing everything that they can to clean it up, while others continue to make a mess of it.  This isn't new ground in the cannon of Everest documentaries, but what is new is the other part of the dirtiness at base camp: human remains.

As the glacier moves and recedes, it's churning up things that have been left higher on the mountain.  And these things include not only the garbage of a generation past, but the remnants of human bodies.  Many expedition leaders have chosen to clean up both the literal garbage on the mountain as well as the bodies of those left behind.  This is a grim, but necessary task. With body retrieval fees of over $80,000, it's not surprising that many of those who perish are left on the mountain.

In light of the recent scuffle on Mt. Everest, it should be no surprise that there is crime on the highest mountain in the world. One of the most disturbing moments in 40 Days at Base Camp comes when an expedition leader discovers that someone has stolen six of his oxygen containers, effectively undermining his entire summit plan. The thought of spending weeks preparing for a single push and then to come up short because of the inept planning and thievery of someone else would be a lot to take in.

We are all aware of the decadence that takes place at base camp. Some people who come to Mt. Everest truly want to climb the highest mountain in the world. Others merely want to get to the top in order to say that they did it. Some of those who fall in the latter camp will do anything to make their trip easier. In one scene a climber decides to helicopter out to Katmandu for a few days off. In another, a successful summit climber, flys out the same way. There's something that isn't quite right about this type of attitude toward the mountain. And while lots of mountains require one to fly on and off, that's not the part of the history of Everest, and seems almost disrespectful to the experience of climbing the mountain.

40 Days at Base Camp is an excellent short documentary film that sheds new light on the experience of climbing Mt. Everest. And though the film exposes the grittier side of existence on the mountain, it also reminds us of how beautiful the place is. Even with the garbage and the human remains and the crowds and the stress that all of that brings, it's still the highest mountain in the world, and one of the world's great challenges...

40 Days at Base Camp can be watched online. To learn more about it, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

1 comment:

Kate Harper said...

That link to the film only has a static page. I wonder where I can see the film?