4:00am: Surely my heart rate must be reaching three hundred beats per minute. My head is in a vice; my throat, sandpaper. “Alright, on the count of three: one, two, three.”
I gather the courage to reach my hand out from the sleeping bag. It eventually finds my drink bottle. “Damn it,” frozen over.
I lie, shivering, over my frozen bottle of water. In ten minutes time, enough water will have melted for me to wet my lips. In two hours, I will force down yet another bowl of tasteless oatmeal. In twelve, I will watch the sun set over the tallest mountain in the world.
8:00am: I swear I’m fitter than half the people on this tour. And yet here I am, lagging behind at the end of the group. Nemo, one of our guides, follows closely, sensing I will be the next to drop out. Three have already done so—altitude sickness, altitude sickness, and altitude sickness respectively—and I’d been flirting with the idea to call it quits ever since that yak cheese gave me typhoid (I doubt it was actually typhoid).
2:00pm: We’ve made it this far. Base camp was the easy part. Mostly flat ground from our final resting site: Gorak Shep. Beyond us, the dreaded Khumbu Icefall: one of the most dangerous crossings to the summit of Everest. A celebratory dance and a quick lunch to commemorate reaching the end of the trail before a group vote: head home, or continue our ascent to the ‘best view of the peak.’
“Why not? We’ve made it this far.”
6:00pm: The peak of Kala Patthar—sitting 5500 metres above sea level—looked so close two hours ago. An hour later, no different. Kala Patthar: the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The sun is beginning to set, and with it, the temperature. I’m cold; slightly delirious at this point. Michael has a smile on his face. He’s just off for a casual stroll to the shops. F#kn’ Michael.
Nearly there. Colourful prayer flags smile at me from the peak. I will myself to scale the last twenty metres of boulders to join the rest of the team. Everyone is already there happily chatting away, taking pictures.
“That wasn’t too bad was it?” asks Michael.
“Water,” the only word I can muster.
But no one is listening. They are looking due east to where she stands glowing blood red in the sky: Majestic Sagarmatha, Chomolungma— ‘Goddess Mother of the Mountains.’ I am mesmerised by the surreality of it. Here we stand with the setting sun on our backs, look up at the highest mountain in the world. It’s hard not to get emotional. Nine days braving the elements. Headaches, stomach pain, sleepless nights. This view in front of me makes it all worthwhile.
Now get me the f%@k down.