Final Ascent

You stop, for oxygen and to rest your arms, one foot in the crack your fingers used to haul you up. Your right hand grasps the edge of the ridge you have been climbing towards, then the left reaches for it too, but it’s smooth and sloping there and your glove starts to slip. You hand gropes either side but finds nothing safer. You can’t rest on one foot any longer so you pull all-out, scrabbling your feet against the rough face of the rock for extra purchase. Left hand is slipping but you give a convulsive heave and land your chest on the ridge edge, still holding on with your right, pause for a moment and swing your legs up, round and over, safe.

You struggle to your knees. You are there, the summit! Your breath rasping in your ears, rigid with cold in the biting wind, you stand up, on top of the world! Around you the lesser Himalayan peaks are ranged, majestic and glittering. The glacier you and the team toiled across is a magical land of sculpted ice and snow, far below.

You are dizzy with exhilaration, anoxia and the breathtaking beauty, the achievement, surviving, the joy of living.

Time to take some photos for the team, the lads at the garage, for everyone back home. Taking off the rucksack and gloves to get the camera out is exhausting, your hands stiffen with cold but you manage shots in all four directions. You look up at the sky, vast, black but radiant, incongruously studded with stars and streaked with gold, unworldly, bewildering and overwhelming...

“Oxygenation is critically low. Move him straight on to the tranquil sunset scenario – resuscitation‘s out of the question of course”