Unclimbed – Living on the edge

It’s 8:30pm and we’ve been chopping ice with our ice axes for the past 30 minutes. The cold seems irrelevant at this point as we’re likely going to freeze to death if we don’t get this ledge built and tent installed in the next few hours.

I look up and see a giant overhanging serac that could crush us in the night. I then look down and see a 65 degree slope which leads into the abyss. Rather than focus on what could go wrong, the three of us continue working together as a team to make things right.

I’m clipped into an anchor via a safety line as is Psang Kaji and Kusang. We’re all exhausted from the climb, but manage to compartmentalize the pain, ignore the cold and carry on chopping ice. PK and I manage to set up the tent ignoring the danger above and below us. Meanwhile, Kusang down climbs to the previous anchor in the dark to collect our backpacks that are half buried in snow and attached to a separate anchor.

“This is insane”, I mutter under my breath. The irony is that when I check in with myself, as I often do, I can feel that my soul is incredibly alive. My endorphins are flowing creating this incredible rush that can only be described as the ultimate feeling of “alive”. As challenging as the circumstances are, I’m thrilled to be free-flowing and immersed deep in the now. There is no time to think and no time to worry. There is only time to take action.

Before we know it, the three of us are squeezed into a small North Face tent. The edge of the tent overhangs the cliff and we all decide that rather than attempt to sleep horizontally, we’re going to sleep partially upright against the rear wall so as to not fall off the side of the mountain during the night. PK secured the tent to the ten thousand year old ice using three ice crews. The greatest danger is the serac above us. We are completely at the mercy of chance at this point, which is a position neither of us is happy about. There are some risks you can control and others you must leave to fate. Only in extreme cases like this one do we rely on ‘good luck’ to get us through the night.

I unroll the mats, blow up the sleeping pads, unpack the sleeping bags and dive into my down suit. I quickly transform from freezing to toasty warm. We make hot water using a portable stove and the ice we chopped and feast on Happy Yak dehydrated meal packs. Shepherds Pie for me and Cous Cous for PK and Kusang.

Our clothes are soaking wet from the climb. With no other way to dry them, we take our jackets and pants and shove them down the neck of our sleeping bags. My socks and gloves and placed down my pants and inside my shirt against my skin in order to have a chance at climbing the next day with warm clothes. It’s unbearably uncomfortable, but the warmth of our bodies is the only hope we have to avoid freezing during the climb the next day.

It’s an unbelievably sleepless night. The common occurring avalanches seem all too close and I can’t help but pray that the giant house size block of ice above our heads doesn’t collapse and crush us while we sleep. I drift in and out of a light sleep as snow continually slides down the vertical slope pounding my side of the tent. I’m officially at the mercy of the mountain and do my best to fall asleep and wait for morning.

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