Leaving Everest Base Camp, the first stretch toward the peak takes climbers through the Khumbu Ice Fall. In 1.62 miles they gain two-thousand feet in elevation, snaking over deep crevasses and between tall seracs, which are huge columns of ice towering overhead.
Climbers (and stray dogs like Lucky Luke) cross the crevasses on aluminum ladders strategically placed early in the season. We don't know how long Lucky had been climbing up and down the ladders en-route to Camp 1. He earned his nickname due to the fact he had not yet fallen.
Near vertical walls fall away to a drop of a hundred feet or more. Some mountaineers refuse to look down into the abyss. Kay LeClaire took a peek between rungs. The ice is a beautiful blue, but one must not gawk for long.
More climbers die in this ice fall than any part of South Col route up Everest. But Kay started preparing for this moment years ago...
Excerpt from JOURNEY TO THE TOP OF THE WORLD:
One cold, gray Saturday, our class meets at a rock-climbing park to practice. My heart sinks when I look at the steep cliffs. At five foot, one inch tall, often I cannot reach the hand and foot holds used by taller climbers. I must grope for my own.
Before long, I’m clinging to the sheer rock, unable to reach any hold. My heart hammers. I’m gasping for breath. Rope anchors me to the rock from above. If I peel off, I won’t fall far. But I freeze.
“What should I do?” I whimper like a toddler.
“Go up,” says the instructor, not a shred of sympathy in his voice.
Get a grip, Kay. I scold myself, then scrabble for a hand hold. Up I go.
I feel great when I reach the top, but that success didn’t dispel my fear forever. The panic can return anytime. Mountain climbing is dangerous, and there have been times I could have died. Sometimes a climber gets hit by a rock fall or avalanche. That’s just it.
When the panic comes, I’ve learned to take a deep breath and focus. Focus on the job at hand. I’ve trained. I have the proper gear and knowledge. I don’t take unnecessary risks. The rest is out of my control.
Thanks, Kay. It sounds like good advice for life as well as mountain climbing! I've felt panic sitting safely in my chair facing a day of writing. My life is not at risk, but something sure is, or it wouldn't feel so scary.
What about you? What makes you quake with fear and need to remind yourself to focus on the job at hand and let go of the rest?
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JOURNEY TO THE TOP OF THE WORLD.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories of history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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