by Maddison Coonan
The first time I attempted to ascend the mountain it was a trying experience. It may not have ended in an avalanche, but it certainly began with the checking, double-checking and triple-checking of the supplies and safety harness. I suppose I can be slightly overcautious, but when you engage in an activity such as mountain climbing it is of the utmost importance to feel reassured.
After all, plunging to your grisly death down a blizzardly rock is perhaps not the best way to find out that your safety equipment is older than the mountain itself.
I made my first attempt on a Thursday afternoon. Gloomy clouds were murmuring to each other in the sky, but that was to be expected. I began my mental preparation. I envisioned myself sprinting to the summit in a day, my supplies ricocheting off my back, the people of Australia cheering me on from their lounge rooms.
Then there was reality. It turns out I could barely walk three steps. I was persuaded that if I thought positively, inspiration would soon gush out of the soles of my boots and lift me up to the peak. Well, I did receive some inspiration, but it was more of an ooze than a gush. Maybe it can still be an adventure, I thought to myself hopefully.
Adventure it was not. I slipped and slid toward the base of the snowy protuberance, my heart racing, my eyes screwed shut by fear. I could feel my back aching from my attempt to shield myself from the soul-piercing cold, and my stomach whining due to lack of nutrients.
I began to question why I even wanted to do this in the first place. This was a momentous climb; perhaps I should have chosen Mount Kosciusko instead of Mount Everest. After all, it would be safer, less daunting.
NO! I told myself firmly. I just needed a new strategy, a change in technique. Now, I thought, why would I do that? I could always just try again. I suppose I could wear a red jacket. Red is the colour of confidence, right? Yes, but this is not a self-confidence issue, I told myself scathingly, this is a question of mentality.
Back to the lodge I went. While sipping a steaming mug of hot chocolate in front of the roaring fire, it struck me. No harness! I could do the climb without a harness! OK, OK, I know; it was not the safest route, but I was convinced that if this new method was to work than I would at least be able to actually begin ascending, rather than descending the landmark.
The next morning, I rose early, admiring the beauty of the snowflakes that floated like angels across my window, obscuring my view of the mountain. I suppose I should have seen that as a warning, but I had come so far, I wanted to at least enjoy it while I could. Harness or no harness, I needed to at least try to climb the tallest mountain in the world.
I ate my breakfast in a hurry, not too concerned by the fact that the other climbers were huddled around the T.V in the living room. They were whispering frantically, looking at each other with grim expressions. I thought their favourite programme had been cancelled; they were always very serious.
After breakfast, I dressed, collected my supplies and trudged toward the mountain. The sky’s expression had darkened and the snow had thickened like ivy, but I was ready. I decided to acquaint myself with the terrain first before I embarked on the steeper parts of Everest.
This is just a practice climb, I told myself, nothing wrong with stumbling and stalling. The first 100 metres took me almost two and half hours to complete. I felt the weight of my decision manifest in the burning sensation in my calf muscles.
Suddenly, the beauty of the snowflakes melted into the fury of winter as the avalanche’s roar echoed. My heart pounded against my brain. I was frozen. I tried to morph my body into a cocoon, but it was too late; masses of snow were stampeding toward me.
I screamed. I was suffocating in a sea of slush, my body was being spliced. My skin became paper as it was torn to shreds. My blood became ink as it splattered my skin. I kept tumbling and tumbling and tumbling, until…silence.
I opened my eyes. My breath came in rasps and my vision was blurred, but I could feel a breeze wafting around my being, gently tickling my skin. My skin! I started, remembering the heavy injuries I had sustained. I glanced down anxiously. The joints in my fingers were tingling with pain and my arms were an inky black, but apart from those minor annoyances I was unharmed. At least, I was physically unharmed.
Starting at the screen in front of me, the cursor was was flashing violently, gloating at my failure. I looked nervously at the notes that I had abandoned. They stared at me in disgust.
‘I know, I should have trusted you,’ I said half-apologetically, half-wearily to the scribbled paragraphs. My fingers began to ache again. I sighed. Writing really was hard.