The rocks that fell off Everest and almost killed me on my first expedition were the same medium that when first starting to climb provided so much joy.
In what other activity are you more in touch with the earth than in one where your grasp, your connection to life, is dictated by your ability to hang on to the rock and the earth itself?
Hang on. Life.
Let go, fall off. Death.
Simple pleasure, just rewards, big penalties for failure.
The primal human animal rejoices in simplicity. It is the essence of climbing.
And so to Everest. Still loving the movement over the earth in the vertical environment. The rock shoes replaced by crampons, poking needles into the heart of the bastard (Ed Hillary called it that, and all climbers realize its truth at some point, glowing ethereal sunsets and heavenly heights not-with-standing).
In the morning, which on Everest is really what is left of the night, because the days are filled with beach heat from a yellow inferno that sits far closer to the earth than anywhere else, you climb.
In the dark. Pitch dark unless there is a moon, when moon shadows glow crisply on the ice. You are closer to the moon too you see. So the moon is like the sun and the sun is like hell.
At night, reality on the biggest mountain on earth is rendered small, a slash of headlight, pumpkin head round, on the snow. Nothing else plays in the visual spectrum, nothing. So you are all alone, unless you can call another headlamp a friend, bobbing along somewhere else, manned by some other restless soul.
The lack of life outside, radiates the senses inside. To breathing, always breathing, looking for air that has seemingly run away, migrated to warmer climates. Breath that makes too much noise, and rasps, and is cold, cascading in icy lumps all the way to the bottom of the lungs.
The little air left for the brain only allows one to wonder if you will soon become a snowman. Somewhere, a long ways away, the toes, if you can still feel them, speak up, chip in, yes, a snowman, that is exactly where we are headed. And when they warm up there will be pain, and pain is held at bay by cold, but cold is not good because it cannot last, cannot be sustained. And the choice to climb, to be here, in this place, even with only the strong brain cells left, becomes a question.
To question is to doubt and to doubt is to fail. Here, so high on the mountains of ones dreams. Nine times, who would be crazy enough to attempt Everest nine times before they finally summit?
And what would be of interest in those attempts. Certainly not the packing, the preparation, the logistics, the travel.
No, what was interesting was the moment in time in each expedition where my life came closest to being extinguished. And when that happened, learning was forced upon me if I was going to survive.
Sometimes I learned simple things, sometimes life truisms, sometimes it was just humorous. Sometimes it was very good fun.
It was all borne out of the condensed intensity of Everest, where the beauty of the sunset, the enthusiastic chill of morning, the happy team, all faded away and all that was left was what I had learned and how I could use that to return and climb again.
Nine expeditions, nine intense life changing experiences, and finally, reaching for the top of the world with only one life left.
That is the story of my Nine Lives on Everest.