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The Bottom of Space
…The blistering cold pierced my skin as a sword pierces flesh. Despite the amount of protective gear that I was wearing, I could not lock the cold out. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would ever experience so much torture. I continued to climb, knowing all along that the climb might be my undoing.
The storm was worsening. A blanket of snow smothered everything in white. Without the 80 MPH wind, it would have been an easier assent. However, the wind was there, and it turned the snow into a weapon, billions of needles that penetrated my gear and attempted to destroy me. Steve was no longer in sight; the only indication he was still alive was the tension on the ten foot rope that united us. I estimated that we were about 27,000 feet high with still another 2,000 feet to go. This is the stage of the climb that we have trained our lungs for, but never did we imagine that our lungs would deal with this paucity of oxygen.
When we hit 28,000 feet, the storm relented. The sun punched through the clouds, slowly warming our frost bitten faces. I suddenly came to the realization that we climbed higher than the clouds could dream of reaching. Steve finally became visible in front of me, and looked back at me with a smile.
“One-thousand feet to go,” I yelled to him.
His smile grew brighter and he turned, looking forward once again. No words needed to be exchanged, for the message was evident to both of us. In another thousand feet, we were going to accomplish the goal that we have dreamed since we first began climbing. We entered a state of Nirvana, a level of excitement that only people who climbed this high could understand.
After another hour of walking, we reached our goal, the summit of Mount Everest. For the first time in three months since arriving at Base Camp One, we stopped, awe-stricken by the sight before us. The bright blue sky above us appeared as a blanket for the world, surrounding it and keeping it warm. The sun was completely visible at 29,029 feet above sea level, and was high above us as a trophy of our accomplishment. This was a trophy that few men in history have held. Steve turned to me and we embraced each other in our excitement.
“We did it!” Steve proclaimed to me, “We reached the top of the world!”
That phrase took a great toll on me. I did not see this climb as the pinnacle of our lives, but as only ticking off one of many on a long list of future accomplishments. It is at the top of this mountain that a person realizes that there is a substantial amount still to accomplish. For some, it is to continue climbing. For others, it is to settle down and have the peaceful life we climbers have always dreamed. There was a fork at the summit of Mount Everest with a sign in the middle. In one direction, the sign reads the top of the world. In the other direction, the sign reads the bottom of the universe. Steve was taking the road that read “the top of the world”, and I was taking the road that read the “bottom of the universe”.
“Are you ready to head back down?” Steve asked as he broke my train of thought, “It has been a half hour already, and we want to make it back to Camp IV before the afternoon weather sets in.”
“Alright, let’s go,” I replied.
We made it down to 27,500 feet without difficulty. However, we had no choice but to walk right into the storm we faced during our assent. The afternoon weather intensified the storm exponentially. We were in a fight for our lives once again…