Design by Madison Grosvenor.

Have you ever climbed a mountain? It is not an impossible task for many, but it is still an uncommon achievement. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, but I’ve never had the opportunity nor the background knowledge.

The Summit of the Gods” is a French animated film following the photographer and climber Fukamachi Makoto (Damien Boisseau, “Samsam”) as he looks for the mysterious mountain climber Habu Joji (Eric Herson-Macarel, “Oxygen”), who disappeared years before. After months of searching, Fukamachi finds Habu living at the base of Everest, waiting to summit Everest along a dangerous path, by himself and without oxygen. Habu is haunted by the death of a younger climber he was teaching years before. He lives only for his final and most monumental summit. Fukamachi has become similarly obsessed, not with the climb itself, but with discovering what drives Habu and the extraordinary climbers before him to risk their lives for the summit. Their obsessions have turned into their own white whales, relentlessly following them to alien lands not meant for human presence.

The allure of conquering a true mountain peak is an easy one to fall captive to — I myself did it earlier when I said I have never climbed a mountain before. This is kind of a lie, as I have hiked many trails that go to the peaks of mountains. This includes the dramatic-sounding Mt. Storm King and the deceptively easy-sounding Beehive Trail, both of which required scrambling up rock faces with either ropes or iron ladders for assistance. I have tricked myself into seeing these hikes as not legitimate because they don’t fit the legendary status I have given to mountain climbing in my head. These hikes were both breathtaking and physically demanding — I witnessed many hikers turn back because they were tired and couldn’t keep going. Yet, they are probably not what you picture when I say mountain climbing. They were both fairly short, single-day hikes that novice hikers could climb.

Now, the snow-capped peaks that are multiple days away from civilization, beyond where the human body is meant to go, are the peaks that captivate me.

In his video “The Everest Discrepancy,” the YouTuber EmpLemon describes not only the obsession to climb but the allure of the unknown. The world’s most remote locations are where some of the most intriguing mysteries are born. “The Everest Discrepancy” documents the mystery around Everest’s possible first successful ascent — when George Mallory and Sandy Irvine attempted the summit in 1924 and died somewhere along the way, possibly reaching the highest point in the world 29 years before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay would officially do so in 1953. The video goes through every piece of information discovered by researchers in the decades after Everest had been submitted, from the location of Mallory’s body to the accounts of fellow climbers who stayed behind and watched Mallory and Irvine from a distance. 

Even with the decades-long investigation into Mallory and Irvine’s attempt and subsequent deaths, EmpLemon describes in his video how Everest is simply too hostile to truly explore the mystery. Although Everest might have become an expensive tourist attraction in recent years, it is still a deadly, remote location. We can still see that climbers don’t stop looking for a challenge, no matter how deadly climbing might be. Since Hillary and Norgay first summited Everest in 1953, people have continued pushing the boundaries of climbing — climbing without oxygen, climbing by themselves or reaching the tops of multiple peaks in a single trip.

Reaching the top of a mountain, even a small one like the mountains I have hiked, can be an intoxicating experience. The rush of reaching the peak doesn’t just happen as you arrive at the very top, it hits you in the moments before the finish line as well. After hiking for hours, your muscles are aching, burning from the effort, but you keep pushing forward — wanting to reach the end no matter what. The overwhelming compulsion to reach the summit of a mountain, no matter the concern for the safety of yourself or others, is a phenomenon called “summit fever.” In most low stake hiking trips, it doesn’t have any side effects beyond some sore feet, but, on serious mountains, summit fever can be fatal. 

“14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible” is a Netflix documentary that follows the real-life story of Nimsdai “Nims” Purja, a Nepalese mountaineer who attempts to summit all the world’s fourteen highest peaks in just a seven-month window. Purja wants to break the boundaries of what’s possible and bring attention to the often-overlooked Sherpa community that makes these summits possible. I won’t spoil the documentary, since it is an incredibly inspiring film that you should watch for yourself, but Purja is yet another climber who has become infatuated with climbing — perhaps infected with a bit of summit fever. He remortgages his own house in order to help finance the trip, putting his entire life on hold in order to attempt the 14 summits. Purja is also a reminder that the peak isn’t everything. On multiple occasions, he jeopardizes the success of an attempt by refusing to leave a man behind, prioritizing the lives of others over blind obsession with his goal. This documentary is a reality check, not only on the fact that mountaineering is not an easy or simple task, but also on the fact that climbing takes an almost superhuman determination to succeed.

All three pieces of media — from fiction to documentary to the tireless efforts of YouTubers — I’ve talked about so far share one thing in common: the overwhelming need to climb. For the people these stories are about, it’s not just about the challenge or the thrill of the climb, but something more — climbing becomes an almost indescribable necessity required to live. I don’t want to pretend I am like them — both the fictional and real people have accomplished things I can only dream of — but having even just glimpsed this urge, mountains have come to fascinate me. I think I have started to understand what has captivated so many climbers and filmmakers before me.

After watching all three of these movies, I have decided that I will also climb a mountain — one that requires days of climbing and will force me to push my own limits. I don’t know when exactly, but these films have created an obsession that I know I won’t be able to shake until I reach the top of a mountain. But I also have learned from the movies I have watched that mountains are not myths for humanity to conquer and establish superiority over nature — they are real places where mistakes can be fatal. If I listen to the wisdom and reality checks of my superhuman predecessors, I’ll be able to temper my newfound passion. I won’t succumb to summit fever and become just another disciple of mountaineering, but I will still nevertheless climb a mountain.

Daily Arts Writer Zach Loveall can be reached at