|The trek out.|
I called Lin back after talking with Noelle. We tried to have the conversation we had both been looking forward to, but I could not find the mood after the conflict with my sister. We chatted about the climb and agreed it was good to be done. Then I felt consumed with fatigue and said I was going to get some sleep. But before I could do so, Paul, the Austrian member of the team, brought me a can of beer and suggested I join the others celebrating near the Comm Tent. This I did, and was glad of the choice, but the combination of two month’s sobriety, altitude, and exhaustion combined to deliver me into a state of almost immediate intoxication. I fell asleep in a folding chair still holding what remained of that first beer.
Waking a short while later, I shuffled off to my tent. I looked into the warm yellow glow of the rainfly as I lay there considering the climb. It did not seem real. Not yet. Any satisfaction for having summited Everest was pushed back by a greater force. My immediate sensations were flooded with a deep gratitude that I had won the right to live the rest of my life. I would get to see my children marry and have children of their own. I would get to grow old with Lin, holding hands like each day was a prom date. I could crab fish, mountain bike, perform Improv, and write. I could return to the work I love as a Financial Planner. I would see Summer and cheese burgers, candles and campfires. I had not realized how completely these things had been set aside. Nothing was on my calendar post-Everest, but now I was free to fill it up with the pile of chips being slid back across the table toward me.
The camp cook’s assistant, Llama, made money on the side doing laundry for Climbers. For 2,000 Rupee (about $16) he would wash, dry, and fold a garbage bag of dirty clothes. I sorted out the worst of my garments and delivered them to him with a Hershey bar meant more as an apology than gratuity. Llama loaned me a tiny mirror from his kit so I could shave, then he filled the cistern for my shower.
The on-demand water heater popped to life as propane and spark came together within. I had showered only twice during the expedition, with the water temperature touching extreme ends of the thermometer with each experience. But on this day a satisfying warmth fell upon me, and steam filled the tented walls. Large flat stones had been gathered to make a shower floor. Their texture felt pleasing against my bare feet. I stood beneath the water sensing something close to comfort, examining the ravages of altitude upon my naked body. There were bruises, cuts, a swollen knee. Much of the muscle mass I had spent months building was gone, consumed by my body through weeks of burning more calories than I could eat. In all I had lost 30 pounds.
I walked out of camp the next morning to meet Ty and Lakpa as they disgorged from the Ice Fall. I had checked with Big Boss the night before and he confirmed they would be coming down from camp 2 in the early hours. Spring had arrived, so even at 17,000 feet the morning temperature was warm enough to sit out in short sleeves. I perched on a boulder tall enough to afford a clear view of the trail and waited. They appeared an hour later, looking tired but happy.
“Gimme that pack,” I said to Ty.
“No. I gotta finish this thing,” he answered with a prideful smile.
We walked together back to IMG Base Camp, discussing the events of the last few days and came to agree that, for the most part, things had happened as they should have given the circumstances. All was good between us and we were now free to celebrate the achievement that had brought us closer than ever.