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Scaling the Summit

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"There is competition between every person here and this mountain. The last word always belongs to the mountain."
Anatoli Boukreev, Everest (2015)
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Why are we Describing Scaling The Summit Here? Because it's there.

This is about someone climbing a mountain. We're not talking about some hill that casual outdoorsmen can hike up and down on a weekend, rather the really big, ice-clad peaks. This is something that requires considerable resources, time and planning.

Once they start up the mountain, they are at its mercy. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, and if one does, escape may or may not be an option. So why would anyone make the trek? Perhaps for the flowers that are up there, or maybe they are seeking the wise old hermit. maybe they just want to get away from everything, or are drawn to the challenge. Whatever their reasons, they will now have to face the dangers that lie between them and the summit.

In the early days, such expeditions were almost always government commissioned in the race to put their flags in the highest places in the world. Characters in these settings are often the Bold Explorer or sometimes Gentleman Adventurer. In modern times, climbers are just as likely to be wealthy individuals on an adventure vacation.

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In fiction, there are two ways this is usually seen. First as the main driving force of the plot, wherein the climb is the story and the conflict is the struggle with the mountain. Otherwise, it can be shown as a major challenge in a larger story, or sometimes the climb is what puts the heroes in place for the story's events to be kicked off. While it may be set on any mountain anywhere, it has a high likelihood of taking place in Yodel Land (the Alps) or The Shangri-La (the Himalayas).

Or they could just be shown up there because it's cool...literally.

While up there, there are a number of things that are bound to happen, because they make for good story telling, and a lot of them do in fact happen on a mountain climb. Hair Trigger Avalanches and ice crevasses are some of the hazards. Chances are also good for a Climb, Slip, Hang, Climb to occur or for someone to Cut the Safety Rope. Oh, and don't forget the Yeti.

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Compare with Climbing the Cliffs of Insanity, which can be an aspect of the mountain and Death Mountain, a related video game environment which may or may not involve climbing. See also the "Because They Are There" entry from Ebert's Glossary of Movie Terms that lists "The top ten lines you can always count on in a mountain-climbing movie".


Examples

Anime & Manga
  • El-Hazard: The Magnificent World: Mr. Fujisawa is an avid mountain climber. During the final "Magnificent World' story arc, He tries to climb a maountain in the middle of a desert and falls in, finding a garden oasis inside instead.
  • In Kagewani, the episode "Hyouga" centers on a group of mountaineers climbing up a summit led by Mika Kuroda. She was leading the team to locate her missing father when the team got attacked by a cryptid. She was the only survivor rescued by SAR parties.

Film

  • Retired government agent Jon Hemlock comes out of retirement in The Eiger Sanction when his old colleague is murdered. Hemlock is told only that the killer is a mountaineer, so Hemlock joins a climbing party of suspects, seeking to avenge his friend's murder.
  • The 1998 documentary Everest was supposed to be a film about mountain climbing in general, but while the production crew was there the '96 Everest Disaster occurred, and the film also became a chronicle of its events.
  • The 2015 drama Everest is the second film with that name to cover the same events, though this one does in a dramatized fashion.
  • K2 is about a pair of mountaineers of differing personalities throughout their climbing careers, leading up to an expedition to the titular mountain.
  • K2: Siren of the Himalayas: A documentary about a team climbing K2.
  • Mission: Impossible II begins with Ethan Hunt climbing in Arizona as an Action Prologue.
  • The Mountain (1956). A passenger plane crashes near the peak of Mont Blanc, in the Swiss Alps. Robert Wagner's character wants to climb the mountain and loot the crash site; he pressures his more experienced brother (played by Spenser Tracy) to guide him up. In addition to the alpine perils, the brothers face a moral dilemma when they reach the crash site and discover there's still one survivor.
  • Seven Years in Tibet starts with Heinrich Harrer leaving his wife and going on a climbing expedition in the Himalayas. While he's there, the war starts and he's arrested by the British Army.
  • Third Man on the Mountain is about a boy who wants to be the first to successfully climb The Citadel in Switzerland. He comes from a long line of mountaineers; in fact, his father died during one attempt, which is part of his motivation.
  • Vertical Limit is about an expedition to K2 that meets with disaster after an avalanche, and a subsequent expedition sent to rescue them.
  • The Epic of Everest (1924) is a documentary about the unsuccessful Irvine/Mallory expedition. It received a remastered re-release in 2013.
  • North Face is a historical fiction film about the unsuccessful attempt to climb the north face of the Eiger in 1936.

Literature

  • Dinotopia: As part of their training as Skybax riders, Will and Sylvia have to prove that they are not bound to the earth by climbing the tallest mountain in Dinotopia to a place called the Tentpole of the Sky, a monastary-type place built by Tibetans on the icy peak.
  • In the Discworld backstory described in Carpe Jugulum, young wizard Mustrum Ridcully scales Copperhead, the highest mountain in Lancre, to impress the young witch he's rather taken with. He does it the hard way, climbing up the outside, only to find she (Esme Weatherwax) has flown up there on her broomstick. This apparently illustrates something fundamental about the approach to life taken by wizards and witches. Apparently she flew him back down again, having made her point that there are easier ways to get to the summits of high mountains.

Live-Action TV

  • Leverage: "The Long Way Down Job" has the team infiltrating a climbing expedition to find the body of a man who has dirt on the one sponsoring the expedition. Eliot and Parker head out on the mountain to find him, while Sophie stays at the base camp, which she considers a field day, since she's surrounded by rich people who aren't thinking clearly due to the lower oxygen.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus:
    • In the "Mountaineering Sketch" a man plans an expedition to the "dual peaks" of Mount Kilimanjaro — except there is only one peak. He has double vision.
    • In "Climbing the North Face of Uxbridge Road" a TV Documentary crew cover a team of mountaineers "ascending" a common London street (disguised at first by a Dutch Angle closeup). They act as if they're climbing a steep, treacherous mountain, but meanwhile pedestrians walk past as normal. At the end of the sketch the lead climber loses his "grip" and "falls" horizontally down the street, pulling his fellow climbers with him.
  • Seinfeld: George goes climbing with Elaine's boyfriend (who he has a mancrush on) and ends up breaking the poor guy's face.

Music

  • "An Alpine Symphony," a symphonic tone poem in one movement by Richard Strauss, musically depicts the ascent and descent of an Alpine peak. The scenic episodes included on the ascent progress from forests and pastures to a glacier and "Perilous Moments" shortly before the summit is reached. The descent of the mountain is undertaken during a thunderstorm, which helps speed up the recapitulation of earlier themes (in reverse order, of course).
  • VladimirVysotsky has quite a few songs devoted to mountain-climbing, usually in the upbeat, Dare to Be Badass, tone: Rock Climberette, The Top, Song about a Friend.
  • "South Side of the Sky" by Yes, about an expedition "around the south side" going horribly wrong and resulting in all of them dying.

Tabletop Game

  • In K2 the players are leading teams of mountain climbers as they try to reach the summit of K2. The players have to get their climbers acclimatized to the harsh mountain conditions and then carefully use periods of good weather to race up to the top of the mountain and back down. If they misjudge the weather or have insufficient acclimatization, the climbers could die in the attempt. The K2: Broad Peak expansion has the players climb the Broad Peak mountain and the Mount Everest expansion has them take on the role of mountain guides who are trying to safely guide groups of amateur climbers to the top of Mount Everest.
  • The Pathfinder Organized Play scenario #0-16 "To Scale the Dragon" sees the party scale the highest mountain in the region (nicknamed "The Dragon") to retrieve an ancient artifact hidden on its peak... then haul ass pronto, as they are chased by literally every yeti living in those mountains.

Theme Parks

  • Disneyland: Every now and then, a group of climbers will ascend the Matterhorn, helping complete the Yodel Land theme. Though it's an artificial mountain, it's still a challenge and the climbers have to be certified before they are allowed on it.

Video Game

  • Cursed Mountain follows a mountain climber searching for his missing brother in a mysterious Himalayan village while combating various supernatural terrors.
  • World of Warcraft: One questline in "Mists of Pandaria" has you following in the steps of the Pandaren emperor up the slopes of Mount Neverest, the highest point in Pandaria, possibly in all of Azeroth. While the game mechanics mean you can just walk up to it, there are hostile elementals and icy whirlwinds as well as dangerous animals all along the way.
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider starts with Lara on an expedition climbing the Serbian Mountains to reach a lost city she thinks is beyond them.
  • This is the plot of the Atari 2600 game Spike's Peak.
  • Alpiner has the player climb six of the world's highest mountains, over and over again.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild adds a climbing mechanic that lets Link climb any of the numerous mountains in the game, ranging from series staple Death Mountain to snowier peaks such as Mount Hylia and the Hebra Peaks. There's usually a simple path that lets you walk like normal to spots that are important to the plot, but climbing can bring you to special hidden things such as Koroks.
  • This is the central feature of Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: If you climb to the top of Highmount on Hoth, you will receive a debuff that slows your movement, prevents you from mounting and keeps health from regenerating.
  • In Celeste, Madeline is climbing the eponymous mountain in a bid to break out of the rut she's in. In doing so, she is initially antagonised by, but later makes peace with, Badeline, a personification of her own deep-seated fears and insecurities. On the way, Madeline also encounters Theo, who is climbing the mountain for his own reasons, though he isn't as concerned with reaching the peak as Madeline is.

Western Animation

  • CatDog: The episode "Climb Every CatDog" has Cat trying to climb Mount Nearburg against his childhood rival Mindy Wonderful, the prize being that the mountain will be renamed after whoever makes it to the top first. Of course, CatDog gets intro trouble when they accidentally leave their gear behind at the sporting goods store, but they still manage to get to the top...only for them to see that Dunglap made it first so he can give them the gear they forgot.
  • The Classic Disney Short "Alpine Climbers", in which Mickey, Donald and Pluto scale a mountain looking for edelweiss and eagle eggs and wind up tangling with a mountain goat and the mother eagle.
  • House of Mouse: The short "Mickey's Mountain" has Mickey and Pete racing on Unnamed Mountain to rename it (Mickey wants to name it after Minnie, while Pete want to name it after himself). At the end, it turns out that Minnie made it first, having taken a ski lift.
  • In the Looney Tunes short "Piker's Peak", Bugs Bunny competes with Yosemite Sam to be the first to scale the Smatterhorn.
  • One episode of Samurai Jack has Jack climbing up the mountain to the top in order to search for the truth that the three monks offer to help him with.
  • The Simpsons: "King of the Hill" has a newly-fit Homer trying to climb the Murderhorn as a stunt for Powersauce bars, both to impress Bart and complete his father's climbing mission, where he was betrayed and knocked off by his partner. Homer then becomes disillusioned when he finds the partner's frozen corpse and reads his diary, revealing that Grampa was really the betrayer. In the end, the mountain collapses, and Homer sticks his flag on what's left of the peak.

Real Life

  • One of the many larger-than-life things about BRIAN BLESSED is the fact he is an accomplished mountaineer. He very nearly became the oldest man to scale Everest. Without benefit of additional oxygen. It was only the advent of a potentially life-threatening condition — or maybe in this case a life-inconveniencing condition — that forced him to turn back, not far from the summit.
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