Crimson, gossamer light blew out of the east and with it imagined warmth, Ama Dablam now a blooming illumination and lying across a vast river of cumulus, Everest.
Yesterday had been a furtive building of shelter and a collection of Yak dung, the night a solitary shrouded bivvi, the smoke rising from the chimneystack of my leaning boulder, sleep heavy and induced.
Three a.m. and the alarm chattered in the blue, cold night. Now it was three hours later. I was donning crampons and fastening axes, snows crisp above. Spectres of heroes accompanied me as I crunched up the white, following ridges of ice around indefinite abysses. Steep fields led to the apex; a line, snaking to the summit, crystals before and behind, and air at my sides; thin, rasping air, lung-bursting air, sharper than razor blades. Body wracked with effort, focus straying to dreams and then the impasse. Already beyond pitched ground, the dangers were too great. Lobuche East just ahead was shunning my clumsy, outstretched advances. I stopped, the valley shone a mile below, memories started to flood back.
The Somme last Christmas, again alone, unclipping the linked slings, once taut from my harness. Watching them arc, an umbilical chord severed; Genesis, born half way up the crux, walking into a new world from the top of the gully. Tiring in the Alps, stone fall, an injured shoulder and no chance of retreat, the Barre des Ecrins collecting dawn light as we descended. Tocllaraju denying us the summit, a fifty metre mushroom of frowning ice. However, we two minimally equipped, happy with our achievement. Dehydrated in the Verdon; ‘La Demande’ shining, slippery, mirrored limestone in the baking August sun. Sulphurous fumes rising yellow from Merapi and Misti cheaper than a return flight to Venus. Elated, cutting loose on the overhang of ‘Central Icefall’; a rock move in a world of ice chandeliers. Swimming in the shaded lake below Clogwyn du’r Arddu; history, friends and the dinosaur eggs – huge rocks, dark silhouettes in the cold, crystal water. Coming back to dinner in Chukkung after a day trip to Island Peak. So many people, smiles, grimaces, anger, frustration, happiness beyond, old, young, and the places, so beautiful.
That afternoon, I drank tea in Pheriche, a vertical mile and memory away.