Thursday, February 03, 2011

North Face

I rented a movie entitled North Face. I'll give it four out of five stars.

The movie chronicles two teams of climbers attempting to scale the rugged icy north face of "The Eiger", hailed then as "the problem in the Alps", unconquered as yet, in 1936, by climbers.

Many teams assemble at the base of the mountain for the competition. Climbers had been called out for the challenge in movie theater trailers and by the press, particularly in Germany. One of the two teams, who made the fateful attempt in this effort, had the best gear, all paid for by the SS. The other team were Bavarians.

The movie followed the affection one woman had for the Bavarian pair of climbers. She grew up with them and at the time of the challenge, worked for Berlin newspaper. She aspired to be a photographer and reporter and was sent by the editor to interview her friends, to see if they would be taking the challenge. They would not accept the invitation to climb. The older man of the pair felt it was not real climbing, and they would be killed.

In the end, they joined the climbers camped at the base of the north face. Throughout the rest of the movie, the scene switched from the struggles of the two teams who set out that day to climb and the uproarious circus atmosphere, of feasting and partying, done inside the lodge at the base of the mountain by the press and the rich--there to watch.

The woman's boss, an arrogant newspaperman, who had lost his humanity, made overtures to the woman (I'm no good at remembering names, even from a movie), and pushed her to get the best story and photos. She was torn, however, because of her lasting love for one of her childhood friends up there climbing on the mountain.

By the second day, the climbers experienced severe problems. One German climber was severely injured. His partner and the two Bavarians, now caught in a vicious snow and windstorm, made the decision to turn around and rope the injured climber down. They had nothing to resemble modern gear. The freezing nights were spent tied to piton along the sheer rock and ice face.

By the third day, tourists and journalists were leaving the lodge, sure all four were dead. The mammoth struggle to live continued. An avalanche washed the injured German, his friend and one of the Bavarians off a ledge. The other German cracked his head open and was killed. The Bavarian tried to climb back up, but the piton pounded into the rock, failed and he too fell to his death, leaving only the one Bavarian alive.

He was barely alive. His limbs and face were black in frostbite. In the end, he too died. The woman had made a last effort to save him. She had remembered that the train that took rich tourists half up the mountain on the other side to a viewing platform, had tunnels through, by which rock, in the building of the tunnel up, had been pushed out to fall. She and the mountain train keeper went through one of these openings to call to the climbers and urge them on. She spent the night out on a ledge to call to her friend, urging him to stay awake and alive. In the morning, an attempt to get him down failed.

All four climbers died.

The woman refused to return to Berlin with her boss. She said "I am not returning to Berlin." When he asked why, she said "Berlin is full of people just like you."

The North Face was finally climbed in 1938. The problem in the Alps was solved.

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