for my friend who has climbed a mountain

| | a short story | |


It was late October when I received the phone call about the expedition.

The climb was scheduled, set in stone for a week from Monday. A sudden and startling scheme that shocked me to my core-- none of us had expected the climb so soon. I explained that I was unprepared and quite ill-equipped, the project would be rough-- was she sure she was ready for it? I was perched stiffly on the stool before the counter with my phone pressed against my ear, straining to hear her voice in the atmosphere which was cluttered heavily with voices and clinking of dishes and utensils.

She paused slightly on the other end of the line at my question, and pulled in a breath that was shallow. She hadn't been expecting it either, she told me. “No one ever anticipates the Everests. Sometimes they come without one's permission or consent-- and here stands mine. I can't run from it.”

I bit my lip, pondering this with some little disorder swelling in my mind as the waiter approached with my coffee, pushing it to me over the slab of stainless steel. The location was the cafe Uttara hāvā, a little Nepali nook in which locals swarmed for the scones and the company, where the thick fragrances of cigar smoke and baked bread loomed in the air. I was no stranger to the environment, it had become something like a home to me that week, as myself and the others wasted away at the ill-insulated motel in which we were bunkered, awaiting word of the pending Everest climb.

We were just kids really, all but our captain, so we weren't sure exactly what we were doing or where we were going. We were still in that aimless state of wondering. We'd learnt to trust our captain's orders, and not just because she was a little older than us, but because she was wiser. If you asked anyone on our team, that's what they would tell you-- you'd hear words like wise, and kind and gentle, but you'd also hear words like strong and relentless. That's who she was to us, a sage whom we revered and followed as younger children do a respected teacher. She was our teacher.

So I nodded, sipping my coffee, “Alright,” I said, “alright, when do we start?”

Her goal was Everest, and to reach the top. Our leader was a skilled climber, but never had she taken on a task so great. Eight thousand and forty eight meters high at the peak, cracking the pale blue sky to vanish among the clouds at the slightest provocation of moisture. In the mornings the clouds would lift themselves to reveal the upper crags and long blue creases which jutted down the giant's face and rippled to the valley below, casting shadows in among the mossy beds of trees.

It loomed over her like a giant, I'd observed, as we'd stood there at the base and examined the terrain. It was the giant and she the feebleness of a human, that was how I'd first seen it. But when she stood before us and spoke of the climb, it was different. Yes, the mountain still stood large and towering, but her words and her posture overcame it.

On the first day of the expedition her shoulders were squared, her eyes were bright and her chin was up. We all knew this was the greatest challenge she would face, we knew the path would be difficult and the going at times would be tough, but somehow the butterflies within me and the team, calmed in the confidence which resounded clearly in her voice. This mountain would not conquer her, she would conquer it.

From base to summit, approximately five miles stretched out in front of us. It was under a dismal sky that we began our journey, booted and backpacked, crunching through the ankle deep powder which had inconveniently fallen and settled the previous night.

Though we conversed occasionally among ourselves, I could tell that our leader was overwhelmed at first, saddled with the thick layer of marbled stone which swelled out before her like a wave, rising gradually upward until we faced sheer cliffs which required our grapples and cleat boots. In all of these trials, she was always the first one to traverse it. We were the spectators who stood and watched, waiting and basing our own moves solely off of her bravery.

I was just a teenage girl-- I'll be the first to admit that I was scared out of my wits. I was startled by unpredictability and frightened by sudden changes. I was often the kind who needed affirmation from others-- kind, solid words to set me off on the right course again. But standing there, studying our leader as she scaled the icy mountain-side, silhouetted against the darkening sky, I suddenly felt a great deal braver than I had before. In the face of a day which was evolving swiftly into a blustery night, I witnessed her courage surmount her fear.

We made a few miles of progress and set up camp in the dark, kindling a fire in the heart of the tent-circle we'd hastily pitched in the frigid air. We were tired, and the atmosphere was somber. Our hearts were weakened by the exertion of the day and our thoughts laid heavy on the many miles yawning ahead of us that next morning. Our leader, though she experienced all the same aches and pains and shivers, smiled and strengthened us by urging us not to think of tomorrow in so dismal a light. “God has tomorrow under control,” she said, tugging off her gloves to warm her hands over the crackling flames. “Just trust that.”

I zipped myself into my sleeping bag that night, feeling both amazed and somehow at rest. Amazed because of what our leader had said. Her hands bore the burns of the climbing ropes, her feet the nips of the frost and her joints the stumbles and exhaustion of the journey. She'd dared, risked and taken more than any of us had and yet there she stood before us, smiling and speaking encouragement. I felt like a child, as if I was once again learning that trust was a magnificent power-- something that I longed to know as deeply as our leader obviously did.

There wasn't a star in the sky that night. The next morning we awoke to find large, fresh flakes descending rapidly from the solitary gray canvas that the heavens had become. We shook out our things as best we could and packed up. Embracing day two with the hope our team captain had stirred within us the eve before.

The nearer the top, the thinner the air, the rougher the going became. We stopped more frequently to catch our breath. I'd watched her slip several times that morning, as many of us had, though, like usual, she'd born the brunt of it, having lead the way across the danger zones. Her jacket was muddied, and her snow-pants slightly torn in one knee, where a bruise was festering below. 

We broke for coffee around two o'clock. The stuff was barely warm by this point, and it poured thickly out from the thermos, though not one of us dared complain.

“Only a mile or so more,” our leader told us after she had taken several sips. “We're nearly there. We can do this.”

“Are you sure?” I asked quietly, after a long pause, glancing numbly down into the liquid remaining in my cup. “You've been through so much already-- and this snow? It's not about to let up,”

“It's coming down harder now,” added someone else. “Hadn't we better turn back? We've come far-- and that's great, but continuing could be dangerous.”

I glanced up again at our leader, waiting for her response, which came only with a shake of her head. “No,” she said. “No, I'm not giving up. I've come this far-- I'm not giving up. Just trust...” she trailed, slightly, looking around at all of us. “Just have faith.”

Yes, the snow did come down harder, harder than I'd ever seen snow come down before. Long, swaying columns of white gushed down upon us in torrents. It was as if we were beneath a heavenly frozen waterfall, softened only by the wind which beat resiliently against us.

We could hardly breathe, let alone speak. We were donned in gear for supplemental oxygen now, and chilled wholly to the bone. Some of us thought we should turn back before it was too late, before one of us slipped and fell-- or worse yet, if our leader fell. We all knew that we would be lost without her. Some of us cried and if we were to be quite honest, we were all deeply afraid-- and I knew she was too. I could tell she was crying. That she was afraid.

But she never gave up.

I never prayed so hard in all my life as I did through that thick, seemingly endless whirlwind-- in the dark, bleakness of the storm on that looming mountain.

But like all storms and like all mountains, these too had ends and peaks which cleared and spread out before us. At last, we broke through the clouds, lead by our team's captain, who, in the renewed light, looked stronger and more lovely than ever. She waved us on and up to the peak, leading the way, holding the flag. One which was not of surrender, but of victory.

She had made it to the top. She had won the fight.
She had taught us how to climb the mountain and overcome it. She had given us the strength to face it.

She had taught us to never give up.



This short story is written for and dedicated to my *amazing* cousin and friend Becca, who is under-going cancer treatments (and beating it like the amazing, powerful person that God is enabling her to be). She's an amazing friend and an enormous inspiration to me. I've written this story from my own perspective, and embodied her in the character of the heroine-- the mountain climber and conqueror; an amazing young woman who has taught me so much about bravery, faith and trust. Love you so much, Becca. 

xx Katie


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2 people commented on this post.

  1. Katie, this short story was beautiful and very inspirational. Your cousin sounds like a truly determined and faith-driven woman. That's awesome! I'll be keeping her in my prayers. <3 Lovely post, dear.

    Love Always,
    Susan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and for your prayers, girl! That means so much!! *HUGS*

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