Everest is Laughing at Us
“Everest is laughing at us,” I thought, perhaps in a moment of delirium high on the wall leading to the West Shoulder. I’m not beyond anthropomorphizing mountains, and in fact knowingly do so all the time. Mountains, and even individual routes, do seem to have their own unique personalities, sometimes challenging the miniscule climbers clinging to their flanks, other times embracing them and their attempts to climb.
Two days ago, at 23,500 feet or so, Dave Morton and I thought finally we’d gotten high enough, through enough challenges, to cruise easily up to the West Shoulder. After all, what we thought would take but a couple of days’ effort had now taken six – six days of 10+ hours of toil by Dave, Brent, Charley, and me. This morning, Dave and I left camp at 5:40 AM; it was now 2:30 PM, and it looked like just 50 meters or so of steepish snow and ice would lead us to the mouth of the couloir arcing some 200 meters vertically to the West Ridge and the site of the long awaited Camp 3.
“This stuff is ridiculous!” Dave, usually unflappable, yelled out to me. “There’s no pro, the ice is like cake batter with rocks in it. Can’t get anything in, and it all just falls apart.” Dave retreated to
our belay, and I gave it a shot, finding the same thing: junk. I then tried straight up, but to no avail: rotten ice there was replaced by rotten snow: easy to climb, but no protection possible and dangerous to descend.
Stumped. The mountain had thrown yet another curve ball at us, and we felt it was one we could not hit. But, finally, in frustration, Dave decided to take one more shot at it. With diligence, he pushed forward, finding spots in the ice where he could sneak in a screw between rock and get some protection. Before long, he was across the runnel and into some solid ice for a belay.
By now, though, it was 3:30, and the afternoon thunderheads had closed around us; snow was falling, and we had a long way to descend back to Camp 2. Thwarted again. Was that wind actually laughter coming from the mountain as she watched our frustrations?
Of course not. Everest, while certainly filled with deep, unique personality, is just being a mountain: big, steep, icy, tough to climb. The weather, while not doing us any favors this year, is also
just doing it’s thing: nothing malevolent in the dry winter and icy conditions.
No, no one is enjoying our struggle…except for us. That’s why we’re here, that’s why we climb. The struggle is an inherent – and perhaps defining – part of the climb. Without the hardship, risk, and unknowns, a route like the West Ridge would have little to offer us.
Like anything worthwhile in life, we have know idea if we’ll succeed here, and by “succeed” I mean in the classic, erroneous definition with the summit as barometer. The myriad challenges of this route have surprised us daily, and will no doubt continue. But, we’re still smiling, still laughing, still enjoying the pitfalls and setbacks, even as they trouble us. Perhaps Everest is not laughing at us, not challenging us, but is instead, in a weird way, encouraging us, reminding us that the best things in life come through struggle, and letting us back in that struggle and knowledge.