VERTICAL LIMIT (A Telling Re-Telling)

Salutations, folks!

 For those who don’t know me, my name is Ryan Siacci. You may or may not be privy to my opinionated ramblings which take place over at my home blog, Zen and the Art of Climbing1. Today, however, I have been summoned by the powers of The Dihedral to do battle against a mortal foe, a demon of cinema, a scourge on the soul of climbing…

 I am, of course, talking of no other film than the infamous Vertical Limit2. Here is a movie which did for climbing what Nixon did for American politics – maimed its reputation so comprehensively as to prove irreparable. Our journey begins with sweeping vistas of Monument Valley and unfortunate close-ups on a bird which might have been more convincing had it been jiggled across the frame on a piece of fishing line. This is probably the highlight of the movie. Chris O’Donnell takes a few shots of the eagle (insert pithy musical reference) before top-rope leading a rooflet??? He has to lead, because his old man hasn’t finished building an anchor yet, and he might be soloing for all he knows, because his sister tells him he’s on belay halfway through the pitch… safety first, and all that guff.

 But wait…. AMATEURS AT 12 O’CLOCK, CHECK YOUR SAFETY! Cue exploding bolts, exploding cameras, exploding cams and a total disregard for friction coefficients. Did Metolius sign off on this shit? Push against the fucking rope, Annie!

 Anyway, everyone is quite sad when old mate hits the deck, but I am more sad when I find out that this movie was directed by Martin Campbell. The man sure could make a Bond film, but managed to miss simple details in Vertical Limit like the fact that Pakistani helicopter pilots generally don’t have Kiwi accents. Anyway, after a handful of clumsy cultural references and some random artillery shelling, our protagonist finds himself in front of a backdrop of K2 that would make the Wizard of Oz proud.

 We’re ready for the film’s first act to begin… 

To be watching Vertical Limit with the likes of our friends at Zen and the Art of Climbing as well as Allezgirl is like a dream you never knew you never wanted to come true actually coming true. 

 I’m Carrot representing The Dihedral, and I have the privilege of introducing the characters of one of the greatest climbing movies ever released on the exact date of December 8, 2000. 

 Three years after the shit storm in Monument Valley which took the life of Royce Garret, we end up at the base camp of K2. 

 As luck would have it Peter Garret (Chris O’Donnell) now a wildlife photographer on assignment in Pakistan needs some supplies and is forced to re-stock at base camp.  Who does he meet there after threes years of minimal contact following his fathers death?  If you guessed his fathers ghost decked out in Mountain Hardware gear from head to supernatural toe, then you are wrong.  You should have guessed his sister Annie Garret, because everything about Vertical Limit is completely predictable.  Also she is decked out in Patagonia gear.  (Side note: I invented a Vertical Limit drinking game, every time you see a gratuitous close up of a brand name you have to drink.  I call it “the only way to get through watching Chris O’Donnell trying to act” drinking game) What is Annie doing on K2 you may be asking yourself, well she’s there to act as a guide to some Texan D-bag who has a taste for bbq and a hunkerin for adventure, his name is Elliot Vaughn, and he has a goal to summit by 2pm tomorrow so that he may greet the inaugural flight of his new airline (Majestic Air).  They goin’ climbin’ y’all.

 It’s the night before the big expedition, but rather than rest and prepare for the climb to the summit of the second tallest mountain in the world, Elliot has prepared to have a party, here is who you need to know… Tom McLaren (lead guide), if you were going to pick one person to represent all that is wrong with the years 1995-2001 then Tom McLaren is your guy, complete with a single gold loop earring, and an overabundance of gel.  Then we have Malcolm and Cyril Bench; we are introduced to these two bros. lying naked cooking up a batch of moonshine. There are three things that Malcolm and Cyril love in this world, they are…drinking moonshine, ladies, and climbing, and each other, they love each other.  So that’s four things they love.  I guess, maybe they love more things as well, it’s kind of unclear just how many things Malcolm and Cyril love, but at least four things.  And finally Montgomery Wick (Gummy) this is the salty old mountaineer who apparently lost his wife on K2.  He takes climbing very seriously and every time they show him it’s accompanied by some Native American wind instruments.  What we know about Gummy.  He’s missing some of his toes, he shaves with a straight razor and no shaving cream, his only friend is an alpine fox, and he has the ability to mysteriously disappear into the night.  Only one of those things is untrue!

 Well, the day has come, Peter is about to be off to take some nature photos, and Elliot, Annie, Tom and the rest of the Majestic crew have a 2PM deadline on the top of K2. 

Howdy TheDihedral readers! I’ve been given the privilege to present to you the 3rd instalment of our account of the action-thriller and critically acclaimed film (HA!) Vertical Limit. This is purely a summary, I assure you. For those who don’t know me, my home base is and I run a climbing blog3 that covers every topic under the sun (much like Thedihedral). I relished this opportunity to make fun of everything that is wrong with cinematic climbing/mountaineering portrayals. I also hadn’t seen this movie before now, and I did not know what I was getting myself into. Oh boy! 

 Annie, rich boy Vaughn, and Tom set out to summit K2 by 2pm on the day his newly purchased airline flies over the summit. I am indeed very curious to know how Annie plans to survive with absolutely no pack. Also, I want a pair of her goggles – I’ve always said sunglasses should look more like submarine windows.

 Not surprisingly a storm is beginning to brew on K2 – a climb notorious for having one of the highest fatality rates. Didn’t see that one coming! Base camp says “turn back!”. Guide says “turn back!”. D-bag Vaughn takes this moment to harass his guide (Tom) and belittle his accomplishments. Apparently money can buy safety these days (well, cockiness). Said storm comes in, buddy’s face is completely frozen and he has the gaul to scream, “fuck you!” at the guide. We’re dealing with a real bad ass here.

 Of course, everyone is immediately in imminent in danger. You know they’re in lots of danger when they show a clip of an avalanche from a 1980’s snowboard film. Today I learned that the mere force of the air from an avalanche has enough energy to knock you backwards before the snow even hits you. I’m out of touch with science these days. Either way, this movie would have ended now if they listened to all the advice thrown at them, but somehow Vaughn’s word is THE word, even though his last expedition resulted in complete ruin. 

 Annie are you okay, are you okay Annie? Yes, she survived the fall no thanks to D-bag. Maybe oxygen tanks would have helped at this point, but oh well. Vaughn knows what he’s doing.

Basecamp tried so hard to reach them, like so hard! One call, and no way of knowing what happened, but suddenly they’re nodding their heads at each other to pay respect for the dead. So sad. 

 Oh wait, they’re alive! Apparently walkie talkies can receive calls too! Well I’ll be damned. 

 As the K2 summiters are stuck buried in a crevasse post avalanche, Annie has magically summoned a stove, pot, and food from her non-existent pack. To give her the benefit of the doubt, it’s probably supplies from another pack, but what kind of world famous mountaineer relies on other people to carry their stuff? I’m disappointed in Annie, but also jealous that she won’t have back problems in 5 years.  

 36 hours to rescue them says base camp; a new time-frame is introduced. These guys love their time-frames. I love that the summiters were maybe 5 hours into their hike, and are somehow not capable of spending more than 36 hours without supplies. I guess they should have brought packs. Thank God Annie has a pack that may or may not exist but probably doesn’t. She should really summon an oxygen tank, but I guess a stove is good too. 

 With night fall and one nitroglycerin soaked shoe later, base camp citizens/partiers are gathering to figure out a game plan to rescue their “friends” on K2.  

So wait a minute… the Pakistani Army is wasting good money on artillery shells when they could simply be throwing exploding shoes across the border?! A short drive to the local Goodwill would see them in possession of a preloved arsenal in mere moments. Inshallah.

It is heartening to see some Australian representation in the rescue team. We all know that there are few better at altitude than we who hail from the flattest, driest inhabited continent on Earth. Nothing like a wee stroll on Mt Kosciusko, our loftiest peak at 2228m, to sharpen one’s skills for the rigours of the Himalaya. Look no further for all your alpine heroism needs.

And so, accompanied by a twin staccato of rotor blades and bad puns, our merry band of misfits venture high up the flanks of the world’s second largest mountain. Who should they find but grizzled veteran climber Montgomery Wick, who immediately stamps his authority on the situation by inexplicably splitting the group and its resources into untested partnerships. Despite having lived as some sort of alpine hermit for an undisclosed period of time, he somehow is able to discern who the strongest climbers are with a glance… he must have been browsing their profiles in between mediation sessions. Either that, or there is some beaucoup powerful voodoo in that incense he was burning…

Sure, I’m no helicopter pilot, but I know that if you turn the doors side-on to the sort-of-convenient, sort-of-not-convenient mountain ledge, it will be easier for passengers to disembark. I know this, because it’s the same reason I don’t leap through the windshield after parking my car. The Kiwistani pilot eventually figures this out, but I’d still be giving him a pretty shitty Uber rating, particularly as he could have avoided this precipitous aspect by siting an LZ on the modest (to wit… flat) snow ridge we soon find our protagonists traversing.

Onwards and upwards, my multicultural chums, and don’t forget your prayer rugs! #blessed #1like1prayer #climbing_prayers_of_instagram

So, with the extensive research/voodoo capabilities old Montgomery Wick is blessed/cursed with, he divides the teams as follows.

(Team Gummy)

Strengths: photography & Voodoo

Weaknesses: Bad Taste In Music & Missing Toes

(Team Sass and Frass)

Strengths: Gear Placement & Alcohol Tolerance

Weaknesses: Luck & Liver Damage

(Team Malkar)

(This is literally just their names smashed together, like a Vertical Limit version of Brangelina)

Strengths: Unity & Compassion

Weaknesses: Takes Grammatical Errors Too Seriously & Liver Damage (again)

(Team Annie and the D-Bags)

Strengths: Climbing & Summoning Backpacks

Weaknesses: Being D-Bags & Forgiveness

 The clock is ticking and the race to save Annie and the D-Bags is on, we are approaching some kind of climax, as there are several cuts from one team to the next, and by the time this run of the film is up, someone will be dead. BUM BUM BUM.  So who is it going to be?  I’ll give you 4 choices.

A)    Tom McLaren gets pulmonary edema and dies in the crevasse. (Team Annie)

B)    Wick’s lack of toes forces him to slip off a tiny foot chip. (Team Gummy)

C)    Kareem just dies, the guy doesn’t even have a cast photo. (Team Malkar)

D)   Cyril survives a nitro explosion and then gets blown off the side of the mountain by avalanche air. (Team Sass and Frass)

 If you guessed (D) then you guessed correct, Cyril is dead, Malcolm his brother is sad, and Frass/Monique his climbing partner has a broken finger…but climb we must!  The clock is still ticking; luckily Annie has used her pack summoning powers to acquire another pack filled with water and medical supplies.  It is no wonder she was recruited to climb K2!

 As the teams say goodbye to Cyril, and begin to move on, the Pakistani army learns the hard way that nitro exposed to sun is volatile and will explode (it is amazing that they didn’t know this until just now, this must have been the first sunny day in the history of life on the Baltistan border).   A call goes out to our teams…


 And the action is rising again!

Like carrot said, you’d think there would have been more of a safety briefing prior to loading up a few humans with one of the most unstable forms of explosives ever made. But whatever. 

 Likewise, it is a great idea to stow your nitroglycerin-containing pack in the snow, and then sit comfortably 3 feet from it. Maybe if they had a more innate sense of danger they would have survived. Also, I would have ditched that crap long ago. Just saying. I would find a way to dig myself into that crevasse if I had to. Again, just saying.

 If anything, the explosion brought on an emotional moment where the shifting snow gave way to Montgomery Wick’s wife, frozen and preserved. Wick admits that he wants to kill Vaughn as revenge for leaving his wife to die on the glacier. Twist!

 They mention “Vertical Limit”. That’s the name of the movie!

 Surprisingly, we move into an actual emotional scene. Annie says they have about an hour or two tops, but the rescue crew is still six hours away. Peter refuses to oblige her request to call off the rescue in order to save his life. Annie, you need to be saved girl. Let your bro do his thing. 

 Meanwhile, Vaughn is up to his no good ways and decides to kill McLaren. McLaren turns over in his sleep to Vaughn standing above him with a syringe filled with oxygen. V, you’re scum AND stupid. McLaren CLEARLY needed dex, so why did you have to viciously stab him with the syringe? He sees the syringe, he thinks it’s dex, you give it to him slowly. That’s it. No need to attack the guy – he’s barely alive as it is! Ay caramba. And you left the syringe behind. Good grief man, you’re thick. 

 Peter gathers some super human strength and launches himself across a glacier with nothing but a horrible anchor system and two ice axes. That adrenaline rush, eh? He stabs that glacier like his life (and bones) depended on it somehow without ripping his arms clear off. I’m not sure what good the rope is doing now, but if we start questioning gear placements at this point we truly haven’t been paying attention to the rest of the movie. 

Back to the crevasse where our hero (and Vaughn) are working on their escape… 

Here we are, my long-suffering comrades, at the savage conclusion (that’s a K2 pun, ICYMI). If you’ve stuck with us this long, you’ve experienced an assault on your senses which flawlessly mirrors the emotional impact of expedition mountaineering… It has been a sufferfest, to be sure, but you will be stronger and wiser for having seen it through.

 For a moment, I thought I’d accidentally pressed play on my copy of Evil Dead. There’s fucking blood everywhere, explosions, the works! It’s pretty great, but also needlessly elaborate and gory. I’m no rocket surgeon, but I’m pretty sure you can just use an emergency flare as an emergency flare, not as a method of dispersing your erstwhile buddy’s congealed remains… but Vaughn’s method is undoubtedly way more metal, and I applaud that. \m/

 Our heroes quest upwards through unlikely terrain while Annie shakes like a Chihuahua. As the climbers lurch over the crest, they spot the Cannibal Corpse album cover/LNT nightmare that is the distress signal. Victory at last!

 Ok. So I mentioned that I’m not a rocket surgeon, but I was an Army Combat Engineer. That means I know a little bit about explosives, and what I know is this – enclosed spaces amplify the lethality of explosions. This is not some far-fetched theory like “the moon landing was filmed in a basement” or “the world is run by lizard people” or “tennis is a legitimate sport”… it’s a fact. Ergo, if this movie had even a modicum of realism, Annie and Vaughn would be pink mist at worst or have their internal organs liquefied at best. That’s a pretty shitty rescue if you ask me.

 But we’re really missing the point of Vertical Limit if we’re asking for even the merest whiff of realism, so let’s proceed to the gaping crevasse created by the blast. The rope goes down (dat knot, tho), a body comes up. Don’t have time to rig a mechanical advantage system? No biggie, it’s pretty easy to haul 60 ish kilograms at 8000 ish metres using only your arms. Don’t be soft.

 Just when all looks to be at its worst, Monty shows up to save the day. Legend. So legendary, in fact, he doesn’t mind rappelling off the single-piece anchor which popped out of the snow mere moments ago. I want to be that guy when I grow up! He heads down into the crevasse to wrestle with Vaughn as well as his inner demons. In the end, he decides to spare the antagonist and shows continued disregard to safety by failing to screw the carabiner closed. Such a badass.

 Meanwhile, our heroes have discovered the benefits of redundancy in an anchor system, but remain clueless on basic crevasse rescue technique. Progress capture? Never heard of it. More needless drama ensues, and the result is that Monty cuts the rope, sacrificing himself and Vaughn in order to save Annie’s life. 

 Here we are folks. Full circle. A classic, cyclical plot with a heroic ending.




1. Find Ryan Here

2. The Trailer “Fear will fall Courage will rise”

3. Find allezgirl Here

4. The secret script for the unreleased sequel. Vertical Limit 2 (Horizontal Limit)

8 Replies to “VERTICAL LIMIT (A Telling Re-Telling)”

  1. This was, by far, the most hilarious movie review I have ever read. Thanks for the laughs, guys!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ahaha! Thanks for the laugh! One thing I’ve always wondered is how the hell they got down to safety…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. LOL This voodoo review is way more fun than most Hollywood’s comedies. Really, I wonder what Part III is gonna be—Diagonal Limit? 🍸

    Liked by 1 person

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