Chapter 1: Synopsis
A young woman is one final climb away from the summit of a mountain in the himalayas. But the weather has turned sour and her Sherpa advises her to not go ahead.
But she ignores his advice and climbs on.
Does she make it?
PART ONE - 2009
The biting cold peeped through the folds of the tent and sneaked inside to touch my face with its iceberg-tipped fingers. I was up in a flash.
Surely, it couldn’t be time already. It felt like a minute ago when I had closed my eyes. Rubbing my hands together, I read the numbers on the digital clock again. The moment had indeed arrived.
The weather conditions seemed to have changed since I had fallen asleep. The wind whistled, reaching shrill, high-pitched notes, and ripped through the night. I unfastened the flap of the tent, which fluttered immediately upon release. I craned my neck up towards the summit, knowing that it was staring right at me, questioning if I had what it took. Conspiring with the elements, it had decided to throw a fresh set of challenges my way.
I ran through the checklist once again. Once satisfied, I rolled up the tiny piece of paper and packed it deep into my jacket pocket. Attention to detail was the difference between life and death at this height.
The moment I stepped out of my tent, I saw Gula Tenji, deep in conversation with a fellow Sherpa. His face wore a worried look. Minutes before midnight, news had filtered in that one of the other Sherpas had gone missing. Most likely dead. So I knew that Gula’s mood would have been less than ideal than what was required for our final day climb.
“The weather, not suitable, madam,” said Gula, in his broken Hindi dripping with a Nepalese accent that I found cute even after spending ten days with him.
I tightened my facemask within my mountain jacket to ward off the looming blizzard and looked up towards the heavens that now threatened to burst with water. I could see and feel the summit within my grasp. But the odds seemed heavily stacked against the one thing that mattered to me; to scale the summit.
“I know things don’t look good,” I said in response to Gula, checking my backpack at the same time, “but are you sure we can’t take a chance?”
“You pay me to look after you. Let me do my job. We climb tomorrow.”
I could pick a certain firmness in his tone that I hadn’t heard before. But I didn’t let that bother me. “And who said things will improve tomorrow?”
“If it doesn’t, we go back down. We have limited supplies and oxygen. We are in death zone.”
The death zone was what the outside world termed the dangerous conditions that existed 8,000 metres above sea level. Gula had obviously learnt that term from the climbers, but I refused to be fazed. “Which is why we should go for the summit today.”
“Please, madam! Climbing in this weather, get us killed! Wait for weather to clear or head back down.”
“Without going to the top?”
“Without going to top,” Gula said, his gaze unrelenting, but failing to hide the plea in his voice.
I laughed, took my eyes off him, and collected the rest of my equipment.
He noticed me turn away from him. “What are you doing, madam?”
“I’ve come from very far. From depths you can’t imagine,” I paused, looking him in the eye, “I am not going to descend without summiting the peak.”
I saw the Sherpa gape at me in disbelief. I could tell what he was thinking—this stubborn woman in front of him, in her late twenties, defied common survival sense. I probably inspired him, but I know I also scared him. If something happened to me, no one would climb with him again. But that was not it. He cared about my safety.
“I know what you are thinking. And thank you for bringing me this far. But I am going to do this. With or without you.” I heaved the backpack onto my shoulders, slipped my goggles on to shield my eyes from the oncoming blizzard, and trudged away. I could feel his eyes behind me.
I took my first step and straight away acknowledged how hard it was going to be. At that altitude, each step was equal to lifting a truck of elephants.
I took multiple breaths, each deeper than the previous one, and turned back to see Gula turn towards the rumbling skies. His fingers quivered, as he prayed silently. I smiled to myself, knowing that I would need every bit of divine blessings if I were to make it to the top.
And make it back alive.