Weekend Warm-Up: The Ghosts Above

Directed by photographer and filmmaker Renan Ozturk, The Ghosts Above explores one of the great mysteries in mountaineering history.

Ozturk joins a select group of climbers, including Mark Synnott and Jamie McGuinness, on an expedition to the North Side of Everest to search for the remains of Sandy Irvine, who disappeared on the upper slopes of Everest with George Mallory in 1924. While Mallory’s body was found in 1999, Irvine’s remains missing. In particular, his camera remains a kind of Holy Grail for Everest enthusiasts, because it might include a summit picture, which could change History.

So the expedition’s actual goal is not the summit but an off-the-beaten-track spot at the so-called Yellow Band, where the body might be. And yet, this is Everest: How can they possibly not summit at the same time?

The expedition took place in 2019 when COVID was not in our dreams, and guided climbers by the hundred were trekking to the summit. This topic is also a key point in the film, illustrated by footage from Ozturk’s previous expedition to the south side and by Ralf Dujmovits’s infamous 2012 image — a precursor to Nirmal Purja’s similarly horrific shot from 2019 — of an endless conga line of climbers on the route.

“That year, in the eyes of the general public, the trash and crowd aspects of Everest were kind of villainized, and one photo in particular of the line was published and passed around the world,” Ozturk said. “I thought I would fall into that same thinking, but after experiencing the mountain firsthand it completely flipped the script for me.”

The film includes smartly composed stills, some very cool time-lapses, and great use of drones flying over both the Rongbuk Glacier and the upper slopes of Everest. Most of all, though, it offers unparalleled footage of summit day from the north side, faithfully transmitting the struggle, the fear, and the awe of this famous place.

Ozturk’s appreciation of Everest notwithstanding, readers who want a peek behind some of the issues and scenes in the film should check out climbing blogger Mark Horrell’s recent post.