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The movie opens up as we see a family of rock climbers climbing up a mountainside somewhere in the southwest. Chris O'Donnell, his sister Robin Tunney and their father are the climbers. Something happens and the three climbers are left hanging, all attached to one clamp that is about to come out. The father tells O'Donnell to cut him off the line or they will all die. He does and the father falls to his death.
The next scene is three years later and O'Donnell is a photographer for National Geographic. He hasn't climbed since the accident. Robin Tunney is one of the worlds greatest female mountain climbers with her picture on various climbing magazines.
They both happen to be in Pakistan, one on a climbing mission and the other taking pictures of animals.
Tunney has been hired by billionaire Bill Paxton to help lead a team up K2. It's strictly a publicity thing as he wants to be at the summit when one of his planes from his newly purchased airline flies over.
Paxton tried to reach the summit 4 years earlier but failed, killing most of the team including Scott Glenn's wife. Her body was never recovered. Scott Glenn is now kind of a crazy old hermit mountain climber that spends most of his days searching the mountain for the body of his wife.
The team goes up the mountain but bad weather moves in. The head of the climbing party says they have to stop and go back. Paxton refuses and forces the team on. As Tunney drives her pick into the snow while climbing, the ground falls from under her and she falls into a snow covered crevasse. Suddenly, an avalanche takes place and Paxton and the head climber fall in with her and the avalanche seals the opening.
Back at the base camp, everyone assumes that they all died. O'Donnell is there as well as he is just worried about his sister. All of a sudden he hears some beeping on the walkie talkie. Tunney is contacting them by morse code. She relays a message that three of them are alive.
O'Donnell organizes a rescue party and he and 4 other volunteers head up. In another side story, O'Donnell has befriended an officer of the Pakistan army and he gets 3 containers of nitro to take up with him. They will use this is to blow open the cave. Along the way up, they convince Scott Glenn to join them. Glenn takes over and splits them into 3 groups of 2. During the ascent, Glenn tells O'Donnell that he did the right thing in cutting loose his father. He says that his father probably only wished that he had the knife instead of O'Donnell.
Meanwhile, back in the crevasse, we learn that if you dehydrate you will die. They have a little water and a six-pack of some drug that they call "dex" (sorry, I'm not quite sure what that is). The lead climber is on the verge of death and Tunney is getting pretty sick herself. Paxton tells Tunney that they need to let the other climber die so there is more medicine for them. She refuses. At night, Paxton kills the other climber.
We cut back to the rescue team and learn that the nitro they are carrying can be ignited if exposed to the sunlight which results in 2 of the team getting blown up. Another group has an accident and one of them is killed leaving only Scott Glenn, Chris O'Donnell and a female climber.
Another explosion happens and after all the dust, er.. um snow settles, we find the frozen body of Scott Glenn's wife.
Glenn checks her pack and sure enough, the dex is missing. He is now convinced that Paxton let her die to save his own life (just like he's now doing in the crevasse).
They finally get close to the area of the crevasse and Paxton and Tunney, using blood from the dead climber and a flare, force them to the outside through a small opening and explode the bag of blood making a huge target of red snow for the rescue team to find.
The rescue team blows open the top using the nitro and try to bring up Tunney's now too sick to move on her own, body. They have problems so Glenn goes down the crevasse to help from down below. Glenn now faces Paxton one on one and just when you think he's going to deck him, he instead attaches a clamp to him so they can be pulled up together.
As they are being pulled up, along with Tunney, the clamps and braces from up above give way and in all the commotion, everyone starts to fall in. We end up with one rope carrying Tunney, and another with O'Donnell, Glenn and Paxton (see the photo).
Glenn realizes that the rope and one remaining brace won't hold the three of them so he gets out his knife and with the screaming Paxton below him, cuts the rope sending he and Paxton to their death.
The next scene is back at the base camp showing the female climber tending to Tunney while O'Donnell looks on. He and the female climber share a kiss and she leaves. Tunney takes off her oxygen mask and jokes with O'Donnell about the kiss. The movie ends as O'Donnell looks at the basecamp's memorial to fallen climbers and we see pictures of all the climbers that died in the original climb and the rescue.
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