North Face

We left the base camp a week ago.

They told us it was bad luck to try the north face before the midnight sun had set, but Evelyn doesn’t believe in luck. Didn’t believe in luck. Not even when all of the guides sat down and refused to come with us, Evelyn didn’t believe in luck.

We left at dawn of the longest day in the world. Before the sun set, Evelyn was somewhere at the bottom of a crevasse, along with half our supplies and the GPS unit. I wonder if she thought about luck in the moment when it opened up underneath her, or if she still believed science could account for everything.

Wren said we should turn back. David said we should keep going. For Evelyn. Wren said that was fine, but he wasn’t going one step closer to the north face, and finally we set up camp on a ledge that seemed to be solid stone and spent a few hours fighting about it and a few hours trying to sleep in the weird half-dark night before the sun was back up.

Wren wasn’t there.

We found him half-buried in snow at the bottom of the scree, bruised and blue, and there wasn’t any more arguing then. We went on, keeping one eye on David and one on the mountain, until David froze to death in his sleeping bag and we left him behind in his tent.

And so it went: sometimes in the endless days and sometimes in the brief nights, by ice and crevasse and mountain ledge, failed crampons and broken riggings, suddenly and slowly. A trail of bodies like breadcrumbs to help us find our way back.

If anyone makes it back.

We don’t have to worry about supplies any more: there are only two of us left, carrying everything that hasn’t been swallowed by the mountain. There have only been two of us for almost a day now. We’re lashed together in case someone falls, but that didn’t help Ami before, so it’s more of a prayer than a lifeline.

They say it’s bad luck to try the north face before the midnight sun has set. I don’t know about bad luck, but I know about mountains. I know about this mountain.

Jack says it’s not too late to turn around, save ourselves, get back to base camp. He says in the morning we should pack up and descend. We’ll live to try another day, Jack says. Another season.

Jack doesn’t know what I know. He hasn’t heard the wind in the boulder fields whispering. Jack hasn’t been listening. And that’s too bad for Jack. Because we have to go on. The wind says so. The creaking of the glaciers says so. The snow falling silently on our tents says so.

We don’t have a choice. Not any more. This mountain – this face – does not permit failure. It told me so.

We have to finish what we’ve begun.


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