George Mallory, Edward Norton, Noel Odell, and John Macdonald. Front row:
Edward Shebbeare, Geoffrey Bruce, Howard Somervell, and Bentley Beetham.
In 1999, Conrad Anker discovered the frozen body of George Mallory on Mount Everest. For years afterward, he wondered about Mallory’s quest for the summit. Mallory and his partner, Andrew Irvine, were last seen in 1924 only a few hundred meters from the summit. Had the pair tackled the Second Step successfully and made it to the top? How much was Mallory torn between his love for Everest and his love for his wife Ruth? What was it like to climb a mountain as cold and brutal as Everest in the relatively light, flimsy gear of the 1920s?
The Wildest Dream sets out to answer these questions with archival video footage of Mallory and Irvine on the mountain, love letters between Mallory and Ruth, and a bold attempt to reenact their bid for the summit by modern-day climbers Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding. The new National Geographic feature film got its premiere Canadian screening Saturday night at the Banff Mountain Film festival.
Conrad and his team had plenty of obstacles to overcome when they decided to recreate the historic, ill-fated climb. One of the most obvious: Who would play Irvine to Conrad’s Mallory? Conrad was thrilled when he learned about British climber Leo Houlding. “We were looking for similarities to Irvine in age and experience, and I knew he was going to be solid. He was totally game.”
Conrad and Leo gained tremendous respect for Mallory and Irvine as they donned the mountaineering clothing of the 1920s and climbed toward the Second Step. The antiquated outfits offered scant protection against the bitter cold of Everest, and the boots were far less sturdy then their modern-day counterparts.
The film celebrates Mallory’s pioneering accomplishments, which—despite his sad fate on the mountain—would make him legendary in the world of climbing and high adventure. (Who could ever forget the man who said he wanted to climb Everest “because it is there”?) Conrad hopes, too, that The Wildest Dream accurately represents Mallory’s life and illustrates what climbing was like nearly a century ago versus today. And he says he’ll be thrilled if it provides the “motivation to get people outdoors to do something wild!”
Watch for The Wildest Dream in theaters during the spring of 2010, and become a fan on Facebook for updates!