While Netflix has become well known for its expansive library filled with plenty of old television shows, classic movies, and amazing original content, the streaming service has recently become quite an outlet for outdoor adventure films as well. One look at my personal queue will show that it is packed with all kinds of adrenaline inducing mountain bike and ski movies, fascinating travel documentaries, and films about explorers journeying to the remote corners of the planet to fill in the blank spots on the map. My queue also happens to have more than its fair share of mountaineering films as well, including some of the best movies that this niche genre has to offer. Here are seven of my favorites that can be streamed on Netflix right now.
14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible
One of the latest mountaineering films to arrive on Netflix, 14 Peaks tells the story of the fearless Nepali mountaineer, Nirmal Purja. Having grown up in Nepal, Purja feels a deep connection to mountaineering and sets out on a mission not just for himself, but for all of the Sherpas who are often overlooked by the Western mountaineering community. Despite a lack of funds, naysayers, governmental road blocks, family health issues, and of course the absolutely terrifying and difficult nature of his mission, Purja sets out on a mission to prove that nothing is impossible. His positive attitude carries him to climb the world’s 14 tallest peaks in world record speed. “If I can stay alive, I can do this,” says Purja “…in seven months.” This is a film that brings you into the harrowing world of mountaineering and shows you just how far determination, positivity, and belief in yourself can take you. This is an absolute “must see.”
Touching the Void
One of the greatest mountaineering films all time, Touching the Void tells the true story of Joe Simpson, a climber who – along with his partner Simon Yates – was attempting to climb the 6344-meter (20,813 ft) Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes back in 1985. After a successful summit, the duo was making their descent when Simpson suffered a horrific fall, breaking his leg in the process. What follows is a harrowing tale of survival and courage in the mountains, where one man refuses to give up no matter what seemingly insurmountable obstacles are placed in his way. This is a film that everyone should see, whether you’re a mountaineering buff or not.
In 2008, several teams of climbers were attempting to reach the top of K2, a mountain that is widely considered to be the most dangerous and difficult in the entire world. During their summit push, a series of unfortunate events – including an untimely avalanche – led to the death of 11 climbers, in what at that time was the single most deadly day in modern mountaineering history. The Summit takes a look at the events that led up to that disaster and introduces viewers to the principle characters who were on the mountain that day. Some of their heroic acts helped keep the tragedy from becoming an even bigger one, although sometimes at great cost to themselves.
Mount St. Elias
This film follows a trio of outstanding ski mountaineers as they travel to Alaska to attempt the longest ski descent in the world, an 18,000-foot (5486 meter) drop off the beautiful and terrifying mountain from which the film derives its name. Mount St. Elias takes us along on that expedition, which pushes these three very talented climbers and skiers to the very edge of their physical abilities, as they take on the biggest challenge of their lives. The beautiful and compelling cinematography will leave you holding your breath as they push towards the summit, and then begin the long ski descent back down the mountain. In terms of extreme skiing, it simply doesn’t get much more dangerous than this.
When the tragic events chronicled in Jon Krakauer’s classic book Into Thin Air took place on Everest back in 1996, a documentary film crew led by legendary director David Breashears was there. That crew found itself in the middle of an unfolding tragedy, while they struggled to accomplish the goals they had set out for themselves, most namely lugging a 40-pound (18 kilogram) camera to the summit to capture a 360º view of the Himalaya. This beautiful film not only managed to capture the grandeur of the mountain, but the senseless tragedy that played on its slopes. It went on to become one of the most successful IMAX movies of all time, and is considered a tremendous feat of filmmaking. It loses some of its appeal in the translation to the small screen, but it remains a fantastic piece of work filled with high drama and plenty of amazing images.
Beyond The Edge
In 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to summit Mt. Everest. Their success made headlines across the planet, making them instant celebrates, and inspiring a generation of mountaineers that followed. This film tells that story through the use of archival footage, wonderful photographs, and well-staged reenactments. Beyond The Edge takes us back to an era when mountaineering was still a grand adventure into the unknown, and explorers were celebrated for their amazing accomplishments. Shot on location in both New Zealand (Hillary’s home country) and Nepal, the film features amazing mountain landscapes and a compelling tale of the first ascent of the world’s tallest mountain.
Into The Mind
Another ski mountaineering film, Into The Mind takes us on a quest to ski the ultimate mountain, where ever it may be found. The film features footage from Alaska, Bolivia, the Himalaya, and other far-flung locals, as well as well-known ski and snowboard mountaineers such as J.P. Auclair, Xavier de le Rue, and Benji Farrow who are searching for the most wild, remote, and crazy destinations to glide down. The glitzy approach to story telling is balanced out with fantastic footage of beautiful destinations, and some of the best skiing and snowboarding you’ll find anywhere.
K2: The Ultimate High
Put this one in the “so bad, it’s good” category. K2: The Ultimate High is a fictional account of a true-life expedition to the second tallest mountain on the planet . Based on a play of the same name, the story follows two friends (played by Michael Biehn and Matt Craven), who join a team of climbers heading to the Karakoram to take on what is perhaps the toughest mountain in the world. As you can imagine, the climb does not go as planned, and disaster ensues along the way. The 1991 theatrical film does include some great scenery, and reasonably solid mountaineering action, although the campy dialog and generally subpar acting can be tough to watch at times. The outdated gear and equipment is worth a chuckle though, as this film stands as a reminder of just how far we’ve come over the past couple of decades.