My Old Man and the Mountain Preview Volume 5: Into the Khumbu Icefall

My new book has been released! To interest potential readers, I am 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 order my book here. Thanks and I hope you enjoy this selection from Chapter 22.

22. DON’T FALL

Beep-beep, beep-beep. Peel the lids and it’s frigid black. Where’s my headlamp? I rummage in the mesh pouch and feel my knife, cough drops, Buff, and there it is, the plastic pod with the rubber button. A shaft of white cleaves the black. A bright disc sweeps across the nylon. My watch flashes 2:03 a.m. Beep-beep, beep-beep. I press START/STOP and feel the cocoons in my core metamorphose into full blown butterflies. My tent’s a capsule of safety and outside it’s all hanging glaciers and spindly seracs and crevasses that are deeper than the Mariana Trench. I mean, I could die today. Literally.

When I asked Dave how long it takes to get through the Icefall, he said, “Depends on how fast we move.” I’ve read that Sherpa routinely do it in under three hours and some clients take as long as ten. Ten hours inside that crumbling maze? Not me. I’ve been worried about this day since I first saw the Icefall, and I’ll push my heart to explosion before I dillydally beneath those collapse-without-warning towers. It’d be so much easier to stay here and read Jitterbug Perfume, basking like an iguana in my nylon greenhouse, but then I’d have to live with that not-knowing feeling forever, which might be worse than a quick death. So I slide out of my sleeping bag and jam my feet into astronaut boots.

Rice porridge with brown sugar, two strips of bacon, and a cup of gritty coffee make me human. Dave and Kent and Melissa and I sit in the dining tent, harnesses racked, helmets strapped tight, transceivers at 100 percent power. Tuck’s here too, even though he’s not climbing. He serves me two more strips of greasy bacon, winks, and says, “Eat up. You’re gonna need it.”

Outside, a juniper fire smolders in a crevice, the smoke mixing with our foggy exhalations. Dave crouches and takes a pinch of tsampa in his outstretched hand and lets the grains slide between his fingers onto the flame. Glowing branches sputter. Melissa seizes a fistful of rice and launches it toward the stars, brilliant this morning because the moon’s just an eyelash. Hard grains bounce silently and disappear in shadows. Kent points his camera at the altar and tries to capture the stars in the frame, and I step in front of his lens and silently wish for safe passage and good luck. Today deserves a little prayer because each step’s an act of faith and each breath’s a resounding commitment.

I bend over to strap my crampons to my boots. First the left, then the right, and I stomp a few times to make sure they’re secure. When was the last time I wore crampons? Aconcagua? Baker? No. I remember now. It was a month ago, when I was training in the Buckhorn Wilderness, an hour’s drive from my parents’ door. There’s that hatchet-splitting-kindling sound that I know and love so well. It’s the same melody my spikes have crooned on every glacier I’ve ever climbed. Everest is bigger and scarier and less familiar, to be sure, but it’s just like two Rainiers stacked together. Dave double checks my doubled-back harness and I double check him too. A nod, a breath, and we’re off and running.

To read more, order My Old Man and the Mountain! 

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