In 2011, The North Face assembled an eclectic team of athletes for a ski expedition up Denali, the hulking 20,320-foot mountain that rises from a snow-clad range in Alaska’s interior. The trip, captured in Camp 4 Collective’s film The Denali Experiment, brings together an unexpected mix of new-school talent and mountaineering veterans, matching the likes of Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, the spine-ripping star of ski films by Teton Gravity Research, with experts of the high mountains, such as Conrad Anker and Telluride’s Hilaree O’Neill. The result? The young guns are pushed beyond their comfort zones as they learn what it’s like to suffer for their turns, pushing themselves to physical and mental extremes before getting the glory. And the old hands learn a thing or two about jibbing at 14,000 feet.
In 2008, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk attempted a long-sought-after summit: a highly technical and challenging granite buttress called the Shark’s Fin on the northeast side of the 6,310-meter peak Meru Central in India. They — like many other alpinists before them — did not make it to the top, although the resulting documentary, Samsara, redefined climbing films, winning the Charlie Fowler Award at Mountainfilm in 2009. In that film, Chin clearly states that he is never coming back to Meru, yet in the fall of 2011, the three men return to India to take another shot at what has become a 20-year obsession for Anker. Each man has many reasons not to return to a place the Hindus consider to be the center of the universe, including family responsibilities for Anker and Chin and a traumatic head injury suffered by Ozturk during a ski accident. Yet the summit still beckons the three men.