Living On The Edge

Coloradans have long pursued outdoor adventures, usually to satisfy a craving for one thing: Adrenaline. But what’s the real cost of our most feverish obsession?

November 2012

Because It’s I’m There

An accomplished climber explains why—even after surviving life-threatening injuries—he has no intention of stopping.

On September 19, 2011, Renan Ozturk felt a creeping numbness along his cheek. He couldn’t form words, so only gibberish came out, and he was so fatigued he couldn’t crawl into his sleeping bag. The maladies arose from injuries he’d suffered six months earlier. While skiing in Jackson, Wyoming, Ozturk fell off a cliff, ending up with a fractured skull and two broken vertebrae in his neck, and damage to an artery running to his brain. That he later had relapse symptoms was no surprise; unfortunately, when they set in, Ozturk was pinned to the side of a blizzard-battered mountain in northern India, attempting to scale a peak no one had ever summited before.

Ozturk, now 32, grew up in Rhode Island and started climbing while at Colorado College. “I was exposed to a community of climbers who appreciated it beyond the sport,” he says. “It was more of a lifestyle.” After graduation, he got more into it—partly for the adrenaline, more for the camaraderie. “I’m part of this tightly knit tribe of people who share a passion and their beliefs,” he says.

The adventure, of course, still has allure. Ozturk says scaling Mt. Everest, which routinely hosts guided tours, holds no interest. But, he says, “If I were to find a giant pinnacle of a rock tower, a big skyscraper that nobody had climbed, you’re not really sure how to get there, you’d have to travel through some unique cultural terrain to get there, that would be something I’d pour my energy into.”

Enter Meru, a film of Ozturk’s first ascent—with well-known climbers Jimmy Chin and Conrad Anker—of the Meru Peak in northern India, a trek of spiritual as well as physical significance. “Its glaciers feed the headwaters of the Ganges River, maybe the most holy river in the world,” Ozturk says. “The Hindus consider Meru to be the center of the universe, and all the climbers who have tried it have failed.” 

Meru follows the men’s first unsuccessful climb of the shark fin–shaped peak in 2010 through their return in 2011. It shows, with harrowing bluntness, the concern Chin and Anker have for their protégé as he suffers a strokelike episode on the first day he was to lead the climb. (The setback came after Ozturk had bought his plane ticket to India without telling his girlfriend, which she describes in the movie as “a slap in the face.”)

The film grippingly portrays the withering grit of climbing while also revealing how and why these enthusiasts keep battling sites that have conquered them before. “Everyone has a true nature, and maybe some people never find that,” Ozturk says. “Guys like Jimmy and Conrad obviously have found their true nature; they’re willing to risk life and limb even though they have families to support. I think it’s just a matter of where your passions lie and what makes you happy, and just acting on what you’re meant to do.”