Dispatches from the roof of the world
Dispatch #45 May 21, 2012
The Mountain Decides
Kristoffer Erickson
Writer mark Jenkins adjusts his boot at Camp 3 during an earlier rotation.

“Mark Jenkins reporting for National Geographic magazine: Camp 2, on Mount Everest, during the final summit push.

“We slipped through the teeth of the dragon this morning, while it slept. Above the Icefall but before Camp 1, we began meeting climbers coming off the mountain. Their faces were deeply sunburned or frostbitten. Their eyes sunken, lips split. Some stumbled on frostbitten feet; others were barely dragging themselves downhill. To a one they were shattered, having gone 15 rounds with the most brutal and merciless of opponents: the weather—inhuman cold and punching wind at high altitude on Everest. Some had summited, and their crispy visages could crack a smile. Others had not, and could not. Stopped by the wind, or illness, or simply the line of people in front of them. Two months on the mountain, often months of training beforehand, tens of thousands of dollars, and it all comes down to a few hours.

“The mountain always decides. All you can do is take that decision. Yesterday afternoon and this morning as well, choppers were flying up the Western Cwm to Camp 2 picking up climbers. There were presumably some with frostbite, others with high-altitude pulmonary or cerebral edema, still others injured in falls. The full story of who was hurt and who wasn’t, who dropped out and who didn’t, won’t be known for weeks. I must admit is it sobering to walk past dozens of climbers, turned into scab-faced zombies, all going down while you are going up to fight the same fight they just survived. Naturally we are hoping we will fare better, but who knows.

“The South Col Six all reached Camp 2 before 10 a.m. this morning, crawled into our tents, and immediately took naps. We’ll spend today and tomorrow here before moving up to Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face. These two days will be spent largely sleeping, eating, talking, and listening to music. The goal will be to physically and mentally prepare for the final two days of hand-to-hand combat up high. Our team is strong, capable, and confident. But as I said, the mountain decides. Stay tuned.

“Mark Jenkins, signing off.”

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