At 2am on 11th of May, we walked out of EBC aiming to summit Everest on May 15th. I had no sleep that night anxiously thinking of what laid ahead. Two hours into the icefall journey at about 4am we were stalled by a badly broken ladder. That marked a freezing 4 hour long wait under the hanging seracs for the icefall doctors. Standing there on a tiny frozen bridge all but drained my energy. I climbed the rest of the way half my usual speed with rabbit’s heartbeat keeping my partners waiting. I remember the rest of the day as a miserable epic of searing heat followed by a blizzard with little food and water. We were so exhausted that at C1 – now in full blizzard – we crawled into a random tent belonging to the Indian Army and spent the next hour warming up shoulder to shoulder in a position of an Egyptian mummy. Somehow that brought me back to life.
That marked an airpocket of low energy with all perfectly plausible explanations: no sleep, freezing nighttime delay in Khumbu icefall, little rest at basecamp following an aggressive rotation, audacity of going for the summit bid just 14 days after my arrival from the North Pole…
Still I could not help but weep in my tent at C2 after that epic 15 hour journey. I felt guilty before my partners and cursed my human fragility, heavy limbs, half-time speed… All I probably needed then was a big hug and for someone to say: ‘What you are expecting from your body is irrational. Rest, sleep, eat, empty your mind and you will do just great’. But mountains are a solitary pursuit with everyone preoccupied with their own journey. You have to draw on your own strength to come through a tunnel of misery.
That night I took a decision to forego May 15th summit day and take a 3 day rest at C2 aiming to summit in the next weather window. My strength did come back in full force in the next few days. Oddly, that May 15th window has never materialised due to exceptionally high winds. A happy ending for me with no opportunity lost.
Still, that encounter with fragility – not a state of mind I have much allowed myself to show – was puzzling in my inability to cope.
‘I think somehow somewhere I may have missed life’s lesson on how to deal with fragility. A tough one to learn on your own at 6500m’, I texted to Tim who as wise as ever replied: ‘Welcome to the human condition. The issue is not whether you are fragile – is how you come through it. It’s called ‘grit’!’
I pondered that tongue and cheek reference to GRIT&ROCK, had a good night sleep, a full day’s rest and the following morning I headed up to the Lhotse face for a walk that did wonders for replenishing my happy hormones. I felt light and strong again. On that short journey I have passed a young American man who looked like walking death. I offered him water and asked him whether he was coming from the summit. ‘No, I am walking the walk of shame. I could not carry on and had to turn back – I guess, my body is not made for this.’ I comforted him by telling him how I fell to pieces a few days back and how being at C3 for him was an amazing achievement. Strangely that act of comforting someone who clearly felt miserable and was too harsh on himself gave me a store of positive energy.
Fragility is what ultimately makes us so very human. It should reawaken the mind into a battle to stand up and fight after we have made ourselves somewhat comfortable. Relating to it and experiencing it prepares us for the old age when, I suspect, those encounters are daily.
Upwards and onwards now. Being cut off from social media over the past 5 days at C2 helped me focus my mind on the climb and the reason why I am here. As we head higher into thin air to C3 on May 17 and ultimately to the summit attempt on the night of May 19th, I will summon my ‘grit’ to cope with inevitable 300m of altitude gain that seem insurmountable. Those somehow pass and leave us with a feeling of achievement. Amen!
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