Before starting the formal interview with Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, and Chai Vasarhelyi about their stunning documentary MERU, on May 4, 2015, I felt compelled to tell them that while I have climbed stairs in my life, I have never, and never will, climb a mountain. Vasarhelyi, the co-director with her husband, Chin, laughed and said she was with me.
I started the interview, though by noting that there had been an earthquake on Mt. Everest a few days before on April 25, and asked Anker if he knew anyone who had been there when it happened, and if he himself had even experienced an earthquake while climbing. He had, and his answer confirmed my resolution to experience mountain climbing vicariously.
We went on to talk about the lure of the impossible, as in trying to conquer a mountain that had confounded all previous climbers, the intensity of experience and trust that can’t be found in any other activity, and how Chin and Anker began their 15-year-old climbing partnership. I was also very curious about what it was like for them to see themselves on screen experiencing some truly harrowing moments.
I was even more curious about what it was like for Vasarhelyi to see, rather than just hear about, the challenges, some life-threatening, that Chin faced on Meru.
And for those contemplating filming under these conditions, I asked Chin about the proper care, and unexpected problem maintaining cameras under such extreme conditions.
After having the men describe the unique experience of elation and exhaustion that making it to the summit of such a mountain evokes, it then seemed logical to inquire about their experience of the spiritual while climbing
I finished by asking about something I was never going to experience myself, because I am never going to climb a mountain. What does it sound like at the top of the world?
MERU is their documentary about of how a team of climbers took on the challenge of conquering the eponymous mountain, dubbed by some anti-Everest. In the course of the documentary, the intensity of experience, both in preparation, and relationships are examined through stunning footage of the two attempts to reach the summit, as well as the emotional journey the climbers, Anker, Chin, and Renan Ozturk, navigate that brought them to Meru. Vasarhelyi and Chin directed from footage Chin and others collected during the preparation and actual climbs. Anker is the North Face Team USA leader, has conquered more mountains than I have time to list, and found the body of George Mallory on Everest. Chin has been Anker’s climbing partner for over a decade, and 14 year veteran of The North Face Athlete Team. His photography has been featured in, among other publications, National Geographic. He has led climbing expeditions on most of the world’s continents and has been voted by People magazine as one of the world’s most eligible bachelors before marrying co-director Vasarhelyi, whose previous work includes I BRING WHAT I LOVE and A NORMAL LIFE.