Conrad Anker shares Park City stories
Conrad Anker has experienced quite a bit of upward mobility since his days living in a tent at the ParkWest ski resort. Literally.
Anker spent the winter of 1981-82 in the trees of what now falls within the boundaries of The Canyons Resort. He flipped burgers three days a week at the mid-mountain restaurant and "skied and climbed the rest."
Now a renowned explorer and mountaineer, Anker has scaled some of the world’s loftiest peaks, including Mount Everest and the most challenging terrain in Patagonia, Antarctica and the Himalayas.
He attracted international attention in 1999 when he discovered the body of George Mallory, the famed English mountaineer who mysteriously vanished during an attempt to become the first person to summit Everest in 1924.
That discovery is the subject of Anker’s bestselling book, "The Lost Explorer," as well as of a new movie, "The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest," which is currently playing at the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City.
In the film, Anker relives Mallory’s ill-fated climb, from the hobnailed boots he wore to the exact path he traversed in pursuit of the peak.
It remains a mystery whether or not Mallory actually reached Everest’s summit he was last spotted alive just 800 feet below the apex. Part of Anker’s purpose in recreating his climb was to determine if it could have been done.
Along the way, though, Anker realized that it’s not the curiosity surrounding Mallory’s success that makes his story so captivating; it’s his passion for climbing and his love for his wife, Ruth.
It wasn’t difficult for Anker to step into Mallory’s mindset. He, too, lives a life driven by the urge to climb and is supported by his wife, Jenni, and three children.
Anker started climbing full-time in 1987, a year before he graduated from the University of Utah. After his winter on the ParkWest slopes, he had enrolled in college to study commercial recreation and tourism.
In his spare time, he and a friend started a Park City-based clothing company called
Alfwear. They made mostly fleece hats and sold them to local outfitters like Cole Sport and Jans Mountain Outfitters. "It was a garage deal," Anker says. He still remembers the Post Office box number where they received their shipments.
He sold the company in 1988 to Kevin Boyle, who later changed the name to Kuhl. At that time Anker was being sponsored by The North Face and was well on his way to becoming a professional climber.
In between tackling the most challenging peaks in the country and eventually around the world, he worked as a carpenter in Utah cities including Sandy and Springdale. "I’d find work, work hard, save my money and then go climbing," he recalls.
It wasn’t until 1999 that he got the opportunity to climb Everest as part of an expedition that set out with the specific aim of finding Mallory’s remains. Anker happened to be the guy that found his body.
His discovery deepened an already intense fascination with Mallory’s story. He wrote a book on the subject and participated in the making of a film documenting the expedition. "I always wanted to do a more comprehensive film, something that really paid tribute to who Mallory was in a historical sense," he says.
In 2004, filmmaker Anthony Geffen picked up a copy of Anker’s book and became transfixed by the parallels linking the two climbers’ lives. He contacted Anker with the idea for a feature film and "The Wildest Dream" was set in motion.
The project started as an independent film and later became a joint venture between Atlantic Productions and National Geographic Entertainment. The crew started filming in 2006 and in 2007, they crossed the globe to conquer Everest.
Anker and his climbing partner, Leo Houlding, did everything they could to replicate Mallory’s expedition, from donning 1920s apparel and gear to free-climbing the Second Step, a dangerous 90-foot rock wall that Mallory would have had to scale before reaching the summit.
While gripping on its own, the climb is only one aspect of the film, Anker says. It features previously unseen archival photos and specially restored film footage to provide an intimate glimpse into Mallory’s life and the circumstances surrounding his death.
Another major component is the love story between Mallory and his wife, told through a series of letters narrated by Ralph Fiennes and the late Natasha Richardson.
Adding a sense of poignancy to the tale is Anker’s own love story and the fact that his wife has experienced a loss similar to Ruth’s. In 1999, Jenni’s first husband, Alex Lowe Anker’s close friend and climbing partner died in an avalanche in Tibet. Anker was with Lowe during the tragedy.
One of the promises Mallory made to his wife was that he would place her photograph at the summit of Everest, the highest point on the planet. His body was found with most of his gear and belongings, but no photo.
In the end, there is no definitive conclusion to whether Mallory reached his goal, Anker says. "We’re not a court of law and we’re not here to say unequivocally they did or didn’t make it. It’s possible they could’ve made it. I prefer to leave it a mystery," he explains.
Anker embarks this weekend on a 12-city tour to promote "The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest," which is slated for release in theaters nationwide next month. He’ll stop in Salt Lake City on Aug. 4 during the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.
Now that the film is complete, he has more time to focus on his charitable causes, which include the Khumbu Climbing School, a vocational training and instructional program for high-altitude workers in Nepal; the Conservation Alliance and its efforts to keep wild places open for human-powered recreation; and the Himalayan Cataract Project, a project he helps promote with co-director and Park City resident Geoff Tabin.
He strives to follow his motto "Be good, be kind and be happy" on a daily basis and says getting back on a mountain is always at the forefront of his mind. "There are always a few more climbs and there’s never a shortage of motivation to go climbing."
For more information and to view a trailer for the film, visit http://www.thewildestdreammovie.com . For tickets and showtimes at the IMAX Theatre at Clark Planetarium, visit http://clarkplanetarium.org .
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Gov. Cox announced that the state’s mask mandate in schools would end for the last week of classes. Park City School District officials strongly recommended that students continue to wear masks. South Summit officials anticipated they would not require masks for the final week.