Race to the Summit Review – A deadly duel of height and speed

By Kieran Burt
Published: October 4, 2023 (Last updated: October 11, 2023)
Race to the Summit Review - A deadly duel of height and speed


A deadly duel that ends in death, Race to the Summit injects tension and a sense of vertigo into the rivalry of Ueli Steck and Dani Arnold and shows how the media can have a frightening impact on this.

Heights are something that humans are naturally scared of. The fear of being up above the ground, losing your footing and plummeting below. It’s not pleasant. But the Netflix documentary Race to the Summit shows that some can conquer this fear and let them move beyond its paralyzing effects.

Ueli Steck and Dani Arnold are the two dueling climbers, people who have left the fear of heights below them as they engaged in fast-paced free climbing against one another. But it’s a rivalry that unfortunately ended in tragedy, with Ueli falling to his death in 2017, attempting to free-climb the Nuptse in the Himalayas.

Race to the Summit Documentary Review

Climbing a mountain isn’t easy. Several factors need to be considered — equipment, weather conditions, the easiest route, and more. Once all of those things have been thought of, the perilous climb can begin, slowly and carefully. Speed climbing throws caution to the wind. Even more so when it’s done freehand, leaving equipment like safety ropes behind.

READ: The Summit of the Gods Review

Ueli Steck, a Swiss freehand mountain climber, made a name for himself by making these dangerous journeys and he set his eyes on becoming one of the fastest mountain climbers ever. He sought to climb three mountains in the Alps — the Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses, and the Eiger. And he wouldn’t go up the comparatively easier route, but the harder, steeper, north-facing edge. It’s a tense watch.

But Ueli pulls off this feat and sets three new records, instantly becoming a celebrity. It’s very easy to see how this fame and fortune get to him as well, because in one interview he described the need for marketing, having a good image, and the importance of photos as proof. But this leaves behind the feeling of climbing because he loves it. Ueli’s climbed so far he can no longer see the ground.

When newcomer Dani Arnold enters the ring, he beats Ueli’s Eiger record. It’s something viewers see getting to Ueli. He wrote a furious op-ed claiming Dani cheated and said the record wasn’t broken. While Ueli says he won’t attempt to climb Eiger again, he stooped below these words and beat Dani’s time.

This sparked a rivalry between Ueli and Dani. Ueli would fly off the Himalayas to climb the Annapurna mountain. Avalanches and rockfalls are constant, as well as spin drift, snow and dust being carried by the wind. It somehow ups the danger from the mountains in the Alps.

But Ueli does it. He sets another new record. But this is when his image starts to collapse. Not only does Dani climb over Ueli’s record on Matterhorn, but some in the media question the truth of Ueli’s claims of scaling Annapurna, as Ueli has no proof of it. He didn’t take any photos of it. The documentary replays the interview of Ueli talking about the importance of images and photos, getting the audience to doubt him too.

READ: The Summit of the Gods Ending Explained

The media pressure clearly got to Ueli, as he attempted to climb the Nuptse mountain in the Himalayas, despite saying his climbing days were over. He fell to his death there, which is a sad end for the climber.

Dani’s story thankfully ends happily. While he didn’t attempt to retake the Eiger record, he took the Grandes Jorasses record and is still climbing. He hasn’t changed just because he now has a family, even though everyone is concerned. Perhaps it shows the fame has been rubbing off on him too.

Race to the Summit shows the teamwork required for solo climbing

One aspect that deserves praise is the rest of the team, especially in the challenging conditions of the mountains. For photography, Ueli Steck often turned to Robert Bösch, and looking at some of the shots it’s clear to see why. While the ascent of the mountain is often about the individual climber, this forgets the team of support that other people give. The documentary rightly highlights this aspect and shows off their work.

What did you think of Race to the Summit? Comment below.

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