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The Climb of Hope
I’ve been working towards this moment for years. Training everyday, having an intense diet, having no life outside of my work environment. Today is the day. We are only 1500 ft from the top of Mount Everest, camped out on a little side ridge of the mountain. It’s cold and blowing wind but that isn’t stopping us from accomplishing our dreams. It has been a long journey up until now, but today all of the hard work that we have all put in is going to pay off. We are just a small group of people, and luckily we haven’t lost anybody from our crew yet, which is actually very rare. Our crew is my family and losing even one person would be so heartbreaking. There’s me, Mark Jones, 36 and still haven’t made it to the top of this darn mountain. I am the leader and guide of the group so everybody’s lives are in my hands. Then we have Margaret Johanson, the only girl in the crew who is one tough cookie. Margaret has trained 7 years for this moment and it’s my duty and job to get her up and back down safely. Then we have Marshall Dyck, who is my assistant and best friend. I’ve known the guy since second grade, ever since we met we’ve been glued together. Marshall is the only one out of us all that has a family back home. He has a beautiful wife; Donna, and 2 little girls; Charlie and Sammy. Lenny Howard, which we all call Lemonade because he always has a bottle of lemonade on him, is another important piece of our crew. Lemonade is the genius of the crew, he knows statuses of the weather and does most of the guiding and leading out of the five of us.He is just fascinated when it comes to weather patterns. Finally we have Hunter Johnson, the baby of the group. Hunter is only 19 years old and has worked and trained so hard to be coming on this mission with us. It’s a risky take to come on something so dangerous at such a young age, but Hunter was ready and wanted to live his life to the fullest after he graduated so we allowed him to join us on this hike.
“Hey Mark! We’re all geared up and ready to head out, give us the go when you’re ready.” Lenny hollars out.
“Yup, just grabbing the ropes and toe picks. You guys start heading up and I’ll be right behind you, Lemonade make sure you’re in the front leading. Marshall, stay behind the group and keep an eye out for me,” Mark replys.
As the leader of the group, it’s my duty to make sure camp is properly packed up after every night and to make sure nothing is left behind and that my crew is properly prepared for the day. Today was the hardest day to prepare for. We have to make sure that each person is set up with enough oxygen tanks to make it to the top of Everest and back down again until the air is clear and safe to breathe in. The air gets so dense at the top of the mountain, you can only last for so long without your oxygen tank. Those tanks have been a pain in the butt to haul up this mountain.
“Hey guys let’s take a little break, I see Mark in the distance. Let’s just give him some time to catch up so we can all travel together to the top,” Marshall says to the group.
“Hey Lemonade, how much time do we have on the tanks yet?”
Margaret breathes heavily as she takes her mask off to talk.
“We have about 7 hours left to make it to the tip of the mountain and then back down to air safety level. If we keep up this pace we will be cutting it close but I have allowed us with about 20 minutes of extra air tank time in case something goes wrong,” Lenny responds.
“Hey Lemonade, maybe you should stop doing my job and stay in your lane.”
Marshall chuckles and makes a shot at Lenny.
“Hey guys let’s keep up this pace. We’re doing good, we’ve got about 3.5 more hours till the tip! I want the order to switch up. I’m going in front, Lemonade you’re behind me, than I want Hunter, than Margaret, and finally Marshall. Look out for the people in front of you and behind you, we’re gonna be getting into the steeper points where we will need our ropes and safety harnesses.” Mark explains to the group.
“Hey Mark, 19 years old and I’m almost at the point of mount everest! All to you buddy, all to you,” Hunter yells at Mark as they begin the last couple hundred feet of their climb to the top of Mount Everest.
Marshall and I are constantly looking around and doing hourly checks to our crew and making sure they’re all staying healthy and equipped to continue the hike. We’re having our final checkup before we will reach the top of the mountain. We have a little less than 200 feet left, which will be the hardest 200 feet of hiking our crew will ever experience.There is one little ledge that is pretty much a straight wall we have to climb up. It is known as the death wall. Many people have either died at that point or just never made it past. I am one of the ones that never made it past. I’ll tell you, it is that hardest thing ever knowing you’re so close to your life long goal and dream and not be able to finish it. First I check Marshall, as usual Marshall is in perfect shape and condition, this man is so fit and undestructable it makes me insecure about myself. Marshall does the same to me, my breathing rates are not perfect but nothing too serious that’s going to stop me from finishing this climb. I go ahead and check Margaret and Lemonade and they are perfect to finish. A little lacking of oxygen in their systems but we came prepared and expected for that to happen. Other than that their stats are looking great and healthy. Finally I go and check up on Hunter, he’s deeply out of breath and is having some organ failure, which is not that uncommon being exposed to this climate change so quickly. I never would have expected this from Hunter though, the youngest of the group and in such good shape.
“Hey man, this isn’t going to stop me. We have one hour left to get to the top and then only 3 hours left till were down back at a base camp. Four hours man, I can do this. Please man.” Hunter is pleading to Mark to let him continue.
“Hey buddy don’t get me wrong, I understand how much you want this. I will let you continue but if I see any signs of further organ failure or short of breath or dizziness, that’s it. I’m not losing you on this climb or putting your health in danger,“ Mark answers to Hunter.
“Thank you bro, I can do this. I know I can.”
“Ok crew, let’s head up. Mask’s on and I don’t want you removing them until we’re at the top. From here on out, focus on your climb. Do not worry about other people, that is mine and Marshalls job. Enjoy this last bit, i’ll see you at the top! Please remember the ledges around the top of the mountain. You don’t know how sturdy the snow or ledges are so be careful.” Mark says to the crew.. “The new order is, Marshall, Margaret, Lemonade, Hunter, and I will follow behind.”
My heart is racing as we continue this climb. Hunter and I are falling more and more behind every minute. I can tell he is struggling. He’s so out of breath and he’s going through his oxygen tank twice as fast as we had anticipated. The wind is blowing so hard we can barely stay on our feet, our feet are freezing, our lungs are exhausted from breathing through a mask, and we can no longer visibly see the rest of our crew in front of us,
We get to the final stretch. Fifteen minutes from the very top of Everest. This is the hardest part, we must put our harnesses on and climb up the vertically straight wall on the mountain. The death wall. We have finally reached it. We have trained and trained for this very wall to make it past it. Hunter and I both harness ourselves in and tie our ropes to the catching point. We put our toe pick boots on and make sure everything is secured and ready for us to climb. The wind is now blowing so hard it feels like we’re in a tornado of snow. We both look at each other and give the thumbs up, signaling that we’re ready to climb.. This climb isnt very long, its about 2 minutes of intense, body breaking, thrilling, and almost impossible moments.Hunter goes first, and nice and steadily I follow behind. Everything was going so smoothly, until the wind began to pick up even more. I could see Hunter getting tossed around back and forth, getting slammed into huge ice chunks along the side of the hill, and struggling so much.
“ONE STEP AT A TIME HUNTER. YOU ARE ALMOST THERE.” Mark takes of his mask to yell at Hunter.
Hunter continues, going ever so slowly, but eventually he disappears in the snow and I can no longer see him. I assumed he made it up pretty quickly though, because seconds after that I could feel Hunter pulling on my rope and helping me up. Finally we both reach the top, we lay on our backs to catch our breathe. We are both so exhausted, almost in tears because of the scratches and bruises we just got. But then, we see the tip of Everest, and I can see the spark light up in Hunters eyes. He looks at me and stands up and starts jumping with excitement. I as well cannot contain my excitement as I have never made it up this death wall and I can literally see and taste the point of Everest.
We start walking, and as I look in the distance my excitement wears off a little bit. I realize that we are almost at the top of Everest and we haven’t seen the rest of the crew yet.I would have expected to pass them coming back down by now or meet them at the top. But then I think to myself, Marshall, Lemonade, and Margaret know this mountain and they know it well, they may just be laying at the top of the tip taking in the moment and waiting for us.
“MARK! WE ARE HERE! WE’RE REALLY HERE!”
Hunter is shrieking with excitement and reaches over and gives Mark a huge hug as he is sobbing like a little baby.
“So so proud of you Hunter. It is so worth all the bruises and pain to see this and experience this moment. All our hard work finally paid off and it feels great.”
Hunter yet has not realized what I am realizing. I’m trying to subtly look around for the crew but I cannot see them anywhere. All of a sudden my heart sinks in my chest and I get this awful feeling. I remember Lemonade and Marshall telling me about the drop off on the other side of the tip of Everest and the many soft patches of snow that could collapse on you any minute.. Many climbers do not see it, they are excited in the moment and walking around that they never realize there is a huge drop on the other side of the tip or that the snow is too soft. I don’t want to believe it but I just had to go and check for myself. Not saying anything, I begin walking to what could possibly be the most horrific sight of my life. Hunter looks at me and can tell what is wrong. I can just see his eyes droop down and his heart drop. We walk slowly and carefully together. We peak over the edge of the mountain and sure enough, all three are laying on their backs or stomach on a little ledge that looks as if it is a 25 foot drop. Right aways my instincts kick in, I begin taking out my ropes and my picks and all of my supplies. I create a heavy base to tie my rope too and harness myself onto the rope and onto hunters rope. Hunter lowers me ever so slowly. My heart is racing a million miles per minute. I have a thousand thoughts going through my head right now.
I hear the ice just breaking and I am just thinking to myself please lord do not let this ice or rope break on me. Hunter is using all of his strength to lower me down, and he is struggling because he is so out of breathe. I am just counting down the feet until I can feel that little ledge below me. Finally I feel ground beneath me, I hit it, I hit the ledge and for a short moment I feel relieved. But then I remember why I’m down here. The wind is picking up I can barely see what’s in front of me. Margarets arm moves ever so slightly and I see her rolling over gasping for air. They couldn’t have been here long because they were only about an hour ahead of us. Immediately I harness Margaret up and give Hunter the thumbs up to raise her back up without even checking the other guys first. Once Margaret is safely in the air I leave Hunter to get her up and I run over to Marshall. Thinking to myself dear god please let him be breathing. I take his mask off, there is no sign of movement. I put my fingers to his neck to check his pulse. I freeze and sit there for a few minutes. Not wanting to bear the truth. But there is no pulse. My best friend is laying in front of me with no pulse. He has a wife and kids waiting for him back home. My heart is just in pain. I run over to Lenny, tears streaming down my face. I rip off his oxygen tank and put my hand to his neck just as I did to Marshall. Again, I sit there. My heart pounding out of my chest. And I don’t feel anything. Here I am, sitting on a little ledge that could break at any moment, with my best friends, on Mount Everest. I am just sobbing and holding both of their hands. I look up and see that Margaret has made it up. All of a sudden I hear a beeping in my helmet. I look at my oxygen tank and see that I have a 1 hour warning left on it. I lean my ear to both Marshall and Lenny’s helmets and hear the same beeping noise. I never realized how much oxygen we had been using. Under all of this stress and adrenaline, we must have been using up three times the amount of oxygen that we had been planning too. I look up again, I see Hunter signalling me to come up. He looks worried and I can tell that his helmet is beeping as well. It hurts my heart to do this, but I lean over and grab Lenny and Marshalls oxygen tanks and strap them to my waist belt.
“Goodbye my friends. Congrats on making it. You earned this, I love you and will miss you.”
I say my last goodbyes as I begin to hook myself up to the rope that is going to bring me back up.
“Mark what are we going to do. We do not have enough oxygen to make it to safe air level.” Hunter is so worried.
“Mark! I am so sorry. We were just standing there. Enjoying the victory. And all of a sudden the ground beneath us just collapsed. I tried to save them, I really did. I dug them out of the snow. But my lung began to collapse. I couldn’t move anymore! I am so sorry!” Margaret is screaming and crying at the top of her lungs.
“Margaret it is hard right now. I know. But you need to slow down and catch your breath. We need to stay calm because we only have about 2.5 hours left of oxygen between the three of us and we need to save every bit we can. Take deep breaths and try to stay calm. None of this is your fault. You couldn’t prevent this is any way.” Mark tries calming Margaret down.
I’m trying so hard to keep the rest of the crew calm. I have only two left. Scared out of their minds. I’m trying not to show my fear, but I am scared. Right now I’m thinking to myself. How am I going to do this. It’s impossible. We’re not going to make it.