It’s been a hard few months of work sinking into a sofa with too much popcorn. We’ve scrolled through the good, the bad, the outright ridiculous and more. After all that we’ve found the best mountain climbing documentaries on Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube.
To get it out of the way first – we’re referring to mountain climbing documentaries. For technical rock climbing (like Free Solo) check out the best climbing documentaries. Out of the hundreds of contenders these are our favorites for many different reasons.
Mountain climbing or mountaineering does contain some technical climbing but it’s mostly just battling against the elements, bitter cold and freezing wind, avoiding things falling on you or you falling into them, and getting back down alive. Simple right?
Coming back from some of these mountains isn’t guaranteed. The activity can be incredibly dangerous even for elite climbers with years of experience. As such, a few of the mountaineering documentaries here do contain some pretty tense and sometimes harrowing scenes. Consider this a warning.
Most of these documentaries are available either for free to stream or to rent on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or iTunes. There are also some high quality free mountain climbing documentaries on YouTube thrown in for good measure.
Out of the different streaming services Amazon Prime Video is the best of the bunch for mountaineering documentaries with not many on Netflix. Try a free month of Prime Video here.
Availability does change so we’ve included a few sources.
Touching The Void – Classic Mountaineering Documentary
|Released: 2003||Length: 1hr 46min||Directed By: Kevin Macdonald|
Touching The Void is a classic mountaineering movie/documentary that left it’s imprint on both the genre and viewers. The true tale of two climbers, a horrific choice, and an astounding ending.
It’s retold by the climbers themselves – Joe Simpson and Simon Yates – and the scenes are recreations. This doesn’t take away much and the whole of the film and story are pulled together masterfully.
It’s based on the account from the book of the same name that was written by Joe. Definitely watch if you haven’t already. Also the sort of film you’ll watch again just to glance across for someone else’s reaction.
Meru – Best Mountaineering Documentary
|Released: 2015||Length: 1hr 30min||Directed By: Conrad Anker, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi|
Jimmy Chin, Renan Ozturk, and Conrad Anker battle against the previously unclimbed Shark’s Fin route on the 6,600 meter Meru Peak in the Indian Himalayas. This is an excellent mountaineering documentary on the process, the gear, and the route as well as a great bit of storytelling.
The footage both on the wall and off is high quality and edited together to tell a gripping story. Meru is a mountain that requires the utmost technical climbing skill and the best luck. Their journey is hard to watch but for us this is the best mountaineering documentary of the last decade.
Mountain – Beautiful Mountain Climbing Film
|Released: 2017||Length: 1hr 14min||Directed By: Jennifer Peedom|
Mountain isn’t strictly a mountaineering documentary but it’s a stunning film to let yourself be drawn in to. The film takes us on a cinematic journey through a range of climbing, mountaineering, skiing, and other big walls or falls.
Featuring a wide cast of climbers and “extreme” sports persons. Instead of being an in-depth explanation of the suffer fests of mountaineering this film has more of an artistic bent. It’s a real joy to take in and the music adds another level to the already-great cinematography.
Willem Dafoe narrates and the score is masterfully done by the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
|Released: 2012||Length: 1hr 35min||Directed By: Jennifer Peedom|
In August 2008 on K2 there were multiple teams attempting the summit or ready to climb from the base camp. Over the course of 48 fatal hours eleven climbers died on the mountain.
The Summit pieces together real footage, interviews with people who were there, and re-enactments to try and find out what went so wrong. If you’ve been following the recent K2 Winter summit attempts this film clearly shows how hard it is to try even in summer.
|Released: 2015||Length: 1hr 36min||Directed By: Jennifer Peedom|
For the first time in a long history of mountain climbing documentaries, we get the perspective of a Sherpa. The Sherpa are an ethnic group found along the higher mountainous areas of the Andean Himalayas. They are also the go-to porters and guides for Everest and other famous peaks.
Tensing Norgay is probably the most famous Sherpa as he the first person to summit Everest, along with Edmund Hillary. This film looks into the lives – and deaths – of the people who have made more summits than any other. Featuring the climbers and their families talking honestly about their thoughts on what they do and why.
There is also an incident involving a fight between a climber and a Sherpa on Everest that led to huge friction in the community. The film covers the fallout from this event and gives us an insight into some of the questionable morality that goes into climbing Everest.
Every single one of the other documentaries here features Sherpas or porters who are crucial to summits. It begs the question of why the mainly western climbers get the money, fame, and films made and not the locals who arguably do way more to get them there.
The film is beautifully shot and really insightful. For people who are interested in the fatality of Everest and other mountains, it’s an eye opener and a must watch. Directed by Jennifer Peedom who also directed The Summit.
Porter: The Untold Story At Everest
Best Free Mountaineering Documentary On YouTube
|Released: 2020||Length: 55min||Directed By: Nathanial J Menninger|
If you liked Sherpa and want to see more of the conditions and work they do, look no further.
A young American goes out to become a mountain porter for Everest – no luxuries, no special treatment, no taking the light pack. Free to watch on YouTube, this is a great little feature that’s worth a watch at just under an hour viewing time.
Nathaniel set out to see for himself just how hard these porters work by doing the job himself. Sleeping literally in the same bed, carrying the same packs and without excuses. It shows the insane workload that Everest and Himalayan porters have as well as the poor conditions and pay they endure.
Excellent Free Mountain Climbing Documentary On YouTube
|Released: 2020||Length: 46min||Directed By: Adrian Ballinger|
This short documentary is an excellent look at what it takes to climb K2. Adrian Balinger, Carla Perez, along with their guides take on what is known as the world’s deadliest mountain.
It’s a great doc that covers the people, logistics, hazards, and the sheer tenacity of trying to climb K2. The quality of the footage along with Adrian’s commentary give great insight in a genuinely entertaining way. It was only a few months back that K2 was climbed in winter for the first time.
Mountain Of Storms
Best Free Mountain Climbing / Skiing Film On YouTube
|Released: 2018||Length: 52min|
A wonderful film that captures a legendary road trip from California to Patagonia. Five friends ski, climb, and surf their way down the American continent. It ends with a triumphant summit of the iconic Fitz Roy massif that makes up the famous Patagonia brand logo.
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
|Released: 1975||Length: 1hr 26min||Directed By: Bruce Nyznik|
In 1970 Yuichiro Miura set out to attempt two incredible things. First off and no mean feat was to successfully climb Mount Everest. The second was to ski all the way back down. We’ll leave it to you to see what happened.
As the film was made back in 1975 it definitely goes at a different pace that the modern offerings. That isn’t to say it’s worse – in fact it’s a classic of the era. The poetic voice-over with the lingering shots of the mountain and a fatal ice-fall add up to something incredible.
Mountain Skiing Documentaries
If you enjoy the mountaineering documentary sub-genre of “people who climbed up huge mountains and then ski’d back down” there are some goodies. Big mountain skiing, or alpine skiing, is a bit of a niche but really interesting for those into ice and snow whether it’s up or down.
- K2: The Impossible Descent – Free to watch on Redbull TV. Andrej Bargiel skis down K2, the world’s second highest mountain.
- Mount St. Elias – Free to watch on Redbull TV. Skiing down “The Man Eater”, aka the mountain of the title in the USA.
- Solving For Z – Free to watch on YouTube. A thoughtful look at the dangers and thrills of big mountain skiing
The Wildest Dream – Unique Mountaineering Documentary
|Released: 2010||Length: 1hr 34min||Directed By: Anthony Geffen|
The first people to summit Everest and come back down were not the first to try. One of the first attempts was the 1924 British expedition in which George Mallory and Andrew Irvine disappeared near the peak. Over the years there has been much discussion over whether they had made the first summit.
This film charts the 1999 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition, which set out to try and find evidence of the summit. This included looking for the bodies and camps that had not been found. Finding dead bodies on Everest is much more common than you might think.
Conrad Anker did actually come upon a body from the expedition – a grim find which found many clues to the original attempt. We’ll leave it to you to watch and find.
The Wildest Dream is up there as one of the best mountaineering documentary films we’ve seen. It manages to capture much of the original story with archival footage and photos, as well as the new team’s struggles. Another must-watch.
Beyond The Edge
|Released: 2013||Length: 1hr 30min||Directed By: Leanne Pooley|
As mountain climbing documentaries go this is an interesting one. Beyond the Edge takes us back to the first summit of Mount Everest in 1953. It uses a mix of original audio interviews, photos, and very well done recreations using period accurate gear to illustrate the harsh conditions and tough attitudes of the day.
It dramatizes real events to give us a glimpse into the meticulously planned attempt to be the first to climb Everest. Tracking a historic mountain climbing feat is a hard feat done well here. Originally screened in 3D.
High and Hallowed: Everest 1963
|Released: 20||Length: 48min||Directed By: Jake Norton, Dave Moron, Jim Aikman|
If Everest first being summited by a Nepali and a Brit – and not an American – is an appalling tragedy to you we’d suggest this. High and Hallowed follows the 1963 attempt of the west ridge by a crack team of all-American climbers. It also contrasts this with another team of Americans doing the same route in 2012.
It ends up being a really interesting watch because of the mixed stories. The footage from both attempts is great and the story weaves both timelines together well. If you’re interested in mountain climbing documentaries this will be one of your favorites though it’s less so for a casual viewer.
Narrated by Jon Krakauer who is himself a legend in mountaineering. Jon was present at the 1996 Everest disaster where eight people died and more lost fingers and toes due to a terrible storm. He wrote the bestseller Into Thin Air about it.
Cerro Torre: A Snowball’s Chance In Hell
|Released: 2013||Length: 1hr 38min||Directed By: Thomas Dirnhofer|
Cerro Torre has a long and very tumultuous history in the world of mountain climbing. The “first ascent” in 1959 has since been thoroughly disproven, and the ethics of the original climb and the next attempt are heavily criticized.
David Lama and Pete Ortner take on the peak in their own style. If you are at all interested in the controversy and the “best” way to climb peaks, this will be right up your alley.
The Fatal Game
|Released: 1997||Length: 52min||Directed By: Richard Dennison|
An unflinchingly harsh look at a life or death situation on Everest. Mike Reinberger and Mark Whetu attempt to summit Everest and find the way back down harder. A hard choice and tough questions follow, using real life footage and interviews.
Kilian Jornet Path To Everest
|Released: 2018||Length: 1hr 20min||Directed By: Sèbastien Montaz-Rosset|
Kilian Jornet is a world-class athlete who skis, climbs, and runs to a world-class level as long as it involves a mountain. This film covers his stunning summit of Everest.
This is one film of a series called Summits Of My Life made to chronicle Kilian’s milestone challenges. You can see the rest of the films here or read his book about the series.
K2: Siren Of The Himalayas
|Released: 2012||Length: 1hr 15min||Directed By: Dave Ohlson|
Another great K2 mountain climbing documentary that follows a team of professional mountaineers. If you’re into finding out the nitty gritty, the team dynamics, and learning about the mountain you’ll be into this.