As we near the October 1st release of My Old Man and the Mountain, I will be publishing snippets of writing copied directly from the final pages, and a small gallery of photographs from Everest. If you like the writing and want to read more, please preorder my book here. Preorder sales help to increase exposure and get the book onto bestseller lists. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy this short selection from the book’s prelude.
May 26, 2012
Three more steps and another loud breath, and finally I crest the South Summit and I look past Dave, across a dip in the snowy ridgeline, and feel my heart swan dive out of my chest and plummet down the Kangshung Face eight thousand feet into Tibet. There’s a queue of about a hundred climbers coming down as we’re trying to go up. I don’t see any way to get over, around, or past them without taking the same ride as my heart. All I can think about is the disappointment in Dad’s eyes when he hears we bailed three hundred feet from the summit and says, “What a shame. I’m sure you would’ve made it if it weren’t for the damn crowds.” I’ve been training for years and I’ve done everything right and I’m so close, but it’s like the mountain won’t let me climb it. Dave sighs into the clunky valve of his oxygen mask and says, “Just like usual on Everest. Hurry up and wait.”
But waiting can kill you at 28,700 feet. The rhythm—step, breathe, step, breathe—is what keeps you alert and alive. The moment you stop moving is the moment you start to die. I’ve seen what happens. I saw it a few hours ago when we shuffled past the corpses of people who died just a week ago. Your body closes in on itself, cutting off extremities in an effort to sustain the vital core, and before you know it you’re unable to walk or even lift your arms. Your oxygen-starved mind plays tricks on your body. The pain in your lungs and toes disappears and the cold no longer feels so cold. You lose consciousness not long after that and drift off into a dreamless slumber from which you never wake. I think about all the frozen corpses I’ve seen, their leathery skin bleached white as fresh snow and their limbs contorted unnaturally. How long can we wait?
Dave trudges into the dip in the ridgeline, clips his tether to a ten-foot ribbon of fixed rope, and waves for me to join him. There’s a rocky cleft here and I guess he’s thinking it’ll protect us from the wind. I plant my crampons on a convex patch of snow and crouch, wrapping my arms around my knees. Maybe I’ll stay warmer if I squeeze myself into a ball. Melissa, Kent, Chhering, Kaji, and Pasang clip in next to us. Kent twists the regulator on my oxygen bottle, reducing the flow, and I return the favor because we have to ration our breaths. Then I curl my hands into fists inside my gloves and settle in to watch the crowd pass.
Where the hell did all these people come from? We’ve been climbing through empty wilderness for the past six hours, but now the mountain looks like a Best Buy on Black Friday when the credit-card reader at the checkout suddenly craps out. The crowd is backed up at the Hillary Step, a forty-foot tower of gray stone jutting from the ridgeline into the cobalt sky. It’s a notorious bottleneck with a sheer drop on both sides. From where I’m crouched I count fifty-seven people. Three more come into view on the corniced skyline. I keep adding.
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