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Chapter 10

Mother goddess of the earth


Pemba was standing, arms crossed, staring down two yak herders. Between them stood a barrel of equipment. The yak herders had red, wrinkled faces and shiny black hair, wound round their heads in plaits, ornamented with yak bone rings and turquoise stones. The two of them picked up the barrel, barely able to lift it between them. They staggered a few steps towards a jet-black yak, and then collapsed. Wild gesturing followed, indicating that she was an ancient and venerable yak and we would cause her death by cruelly foisting such an enormous load on her. 

Yaks are the pack animals of Tibet, like cows but with long thick coats and wide horns. Several thousand years of living in a land of bitter cold and little food had done nothing for their tempers. They could spot a white-eye at a 100 paces and took vicarious pleasure in forcing them off the trail. Yaks always had right of way. 

Pemba, barely containing his growing annoyance, picked up the barrel in one hand, pointing out that it was well under the allocated weight. The Sherpa people originate from Tibetan refugees who took shelter in the mountains of Nepal. Their language has remained sufficiently similar to Tibetan for them to be able to communicate. 

Although the number of yaks hired and weight carried by each was specified in our climbing contract with the Tibetan Mountaineering Association, the reality was a prolonged haggling session. The yak herders knew they held the upper hand. There was no other way to move equipment up the 22 kilometres of glacier to ABC. They insisted we needed to hire more yaks, which they would happily provide, for an exorbitant fee. By late afternoon Ian had told them to get lost and we had reached an impasse. They sulked in their camp, about 500 metres away. They were camped in skin tents, each built round a fire, with a hole in the roof to allow the smoke to escape. We sat ignoring them, looking at our vast pile of equipment. 

On the south side the main massif of Everest had lurked coyly behind the west ridge and the mass of Nuptse. The north was very different, with the mountain magnificently dominant all the time. North side base camp was a vast area of gravel plain, lying just beyond the snout of the Rongbuk glacier. The teams were far more spread out than they had been on the south. Our only close neighbour was an Indian team, from Bombay. Their orange tents were only a few metres away from ours. They were the first civilian expedition to come from India to Everest and had funded the expedition mostly through personal loans. 

‘If we had been going to play the highest cricket match in the world, we would have plenty of money,’ sighed Uday Kolwankar, their ABC manager and one of the organisers. ‘But in India, no one cares about the mountains.’

Everest is called Chomolungma in Tibet, ‘mother goddess of the earth’. The previous day we had done the puja ceremony that asked her for safe passage. The Sherpas had built a chorten on the ridge above our camp and two lamas had come from the nearby monastery to conduct the ceremony. The lamas served as a bridge between the worlds, temporal and spiritual, ancient and modern. Their robes, saffron and wine red, spoke of a tradition older than Christ. Their leather hiking boots and digital watches were firmly part of the late twentieth century. At the end of the ceremony Jangbu gave each of us a multi-coloured cord, blessed by the lamas. It was to be tied round our necks and remain there for the course of the expedition. We were deep in a land fundamentally alien to us. We were not about to refuse any aid that was offered.

The next morning everything was resolved. The barrels had apparently become lighter overnight and everyone was happy. Those not involved in loading up yaks were trying to trade, anything for anything. Ian was negotiating for an ‘eye of Buddha’ bead. He and the herder had no common language. Ian was dressed in his vivid red Goretex jacket, the most advanced outdoor fabric available. The herder wore an ancient goat skin coat, which had never been washed, before or after the demise of the goat. However, the language of commerce was universal. From the smelly depths of the goat the herder pulled out an electronic calculator and punched in 100. One hundred rupees were required. The negotiation was happily settled. 

The yaks and Sherpas rapidly disappeared into the distance. The rest of us made more gradual progress towards ABC, bedevilled by the altitude which did not affect the Sherpas this low down. I felt dreadful. I could have been at home, warm and comfortable, with lots of oxygen and a car. Instead I was trying to breathe air that had less than half the oxygen my body was used to and I was having to walk along miles of glaciers, with all my possessions on my back, to get anywhere. The summit of Everest was nearly three kilometres higher, and I was already shattered. It was altitude, the great leveller. I got no special dispensation for having climbed Everest before. My body had to start from scratch to adjust. 

We made use of a transit camp, perched on a hill of shattered rock half-way along the glacier. My resting pulse was up to a 100. Sleep brought little respite, as at night the aches and pains set in. My back hurt, my calves, my feet ... I had become so soft in the city. No amount of pounding the streets of Johannesburg with a rucksack on my back added up to a real mountain. Nearly two years of comfy beds, office chairs and cars had not prepared my body for sleeping on the ground, for climbing with loads day after day, for the mental and physical privations of weeks in remote Tibet. I could only hope my body would remember old habits from other expeditions and settle down.

As we pushed up towards ABC the scenery soon compensated for the effort. The earlier stages were simply rubble-strewn glacier, with all the charm of a vast construction site. However, higher up we were walking on a road of moraine that ran up the middle of the east Rongbuk glacier. Huge fins of ice protruded from the glacial bed. Some were four or five stories high, massive blue pyramids. Between them lay lakes of ice, frozen up against the scree we walked on. On either side white glaciers curved down the brown mountainsides to join this main stream. The east Rongbuk glacier had its source in a bowl-like valley that lay between the north-east and the north ridges of Everest, and the east arm of Changste. ABC was situated on a small rock-shelf below the cliffs of Changste. 

It was a beautiful camp. To our west was the snow wall that led up to the north col, site of camp 1. Across the glacier in front of us was the great wall of the north-east ridge, topped by the intricate mass of the pinnacles. To the east the scene opened out, to a jagged line of smaller mountains. 

The vast bowl of air above us was filled with the howl of the wind far overhead, the rumble of rock-fall, the creaks and groans of the glacier. The only sign of life was the birds that circled over camp, following the climbers in search of food, and a small, very fat mouse that lived in our storage tent. 

All the teams were clustered together, a multi-coloured huddle of tents. Once again there was a wide mix of nationalities on the mountain. The Tibetan side was more affordable for small teams, so we had everything from a large Japanese expedition, with over 40 climbers in all, to some couples, climbing without Sherpas or oxygen. There was some antagonism early on about the use of the safety ropes. The teams were divided between those that had made it into base camp before the avalanche had closed the road, and those who arrived after it. The latecomers, of whom our team was one, were felt to be freeloading. A mass meeting of team leaders and sirdars was held at our ABC camp. In fact ropes had only been fixed up to camp 1. Plenty of work remained to be done and eventually an equitable arrangement was reached, with everyone contributing rope, labour or money, or some combination of the three. Pemba, Lhakpa and Jangbu joined in fixing ropes from camp 2 to camp 3, across the rock slopes of the north face. 

ABC proved to be out of radio contact with base camp, our handsets foiled by the mass of Changste. The Sherpas could reach base from camp 1, where they were based as they worked higher on the mountain. Pemba had a particular affinity for radios, and talked on them whenever he got the chance. He would call Padam at base camp each night he was at camp 1. Martin, now out of contact with the rest of the team, would listen to what seemed an eternity of Nepalese chatter. The sheer volume of talk seemed enough to be describing a dozen disasters on the mountain.

‘What’s happening,’ he would demand when Padam finally got off the radio. ‘What was all that about?’

‘Everybody fine,’ Padam would reply. 

That was all Martin ever got. What all the other things were that the Sherpas had to say remained a mystery.

Fortunately for him, the Indian team had a radio booster at ABC. I took to using their system to talk to Martin, and gave him a little more information than Padam did. As a result we spent a lot of time with the Indians, at base camp and at ABC. 

In 1996 five climbers had died in the great storm. On the same day, 10 May, three Indians had died on the north side, members of an Indo-Tibetan Border Police team. Five Japanese were supposed to have climbed over them as they lay dying, choosing summit glory over aiding fellow mountaineers. This was the subject of much shocked speculation, particularly in Britain. Some quotable name supposedly claimed ‘there was no morality above 8,000 metres’. Rumours about all of this were running rife on the south side of the mountain in 1996.  

It later turned out that six Indians had left the top camp on 10 May. Three turned back while three pressed on despite severe weather conditions. They had radioed at 4 p.m. to say that they were on the summit. (All times given for events on the north side are Nepalese times, not Chinese. There is a 2.15 hour time difference.) However, they did not make it back to camp. Five Japanese and three Sherpas reached the summit the next morning, at 11.45 a.m. They claimed to have passed five climbers, without knowing what teams they were from. None of them had asked the Japanese for help. 

I finally had a chance to ask the Indians how they felt about this incident. Their reply was that the whole affair had attracted little attention in India. It was felt the climbers were army members engaged in a dangerous pursuit. It was no surprise that things could go wrong. The Japanese were not considered to blame in any way, and the relationship between the Indians and the Japanese teams in 1998 was one of mutual aid. As was often the case, the truth proved to be far less satisfyingly sensational than the speculation.

Living at an altitude of 6,500 metres was tough. I had been most worried about Jan, after his poor performance on Aconcagua. He toiled up the glacier to ABC and, having arrived, announced he was never going down again. He battled with the altitude all the time he was there, sleeping poorly and being always short of breath. However, the will of the film-maker overcame all else. In the magnificence of the surroundings and the varied stories of the teams assembled at ABC, he found plentiful material. I enjoyed his company immensely. I found in him a like-minded spirit with whom to share the excitement of the expedition, a mentor in my continued progression into the art of camerawork, a warm and solid shoulder when I was tired or depressed. 

The north ridge provided magnificent climbing. There is nothing on the route as weirdly beautiful, or as dangerous, as the tortured ice of the icefall. However, there is a sense of space, and of exposure, that is unrivalled by anything on the south. From ABC we walked up to the head of the glacier, the foot of the wall up to the north col. The junction with the wall was abrupt. Suddenly a great face of white snow reared up, a fragile line of rope running up it into the distance. The route climbed the face in a great arc. It swung out to the right and then traversed back above a massive wall of seracs. Much of it was steady uphill plodding. Sections were depressingly steep, and I was doubled over every four or five steps, battling to get my breath back. The wall blocked out everything beyond it. The goal became the top of it, the chance to look onto the other side. I climbed it for the first time with Andre. 

When we turned the last corner of the traverse, pulled our weary bodies over the last rise, we found a huddle of colour in a small depression. The tents were overshadowed by a giant wall of snow that protected the camp from the westerly wind. We had two tents at the tail end of the camp 1 area. We dumped our rucksacks and I persuaded Andre to walk a little further for a glimpse of the view. We tramped out from the shelter of the snow wall. However, we found we could barely focus on the view for the strength of the wind. 

High winds, and resultant low temperatures, are the greatest weather obstacle on the north side of Everest. The four kilometre high north face is the first obstacle the wind encounters in thousands of miles. The human beings on the mountain were inching their way upwards at precisely the juncture where an irresistible force met an immovable object. It was not a pleasant place to be. Andre turned tail immediately for the shelter of camp. I huddled down, putting my side into the wind, and squinted out at the view. Below me lay an ice lake that was the source of the central Rongbuk glacier. The vast mass of ice was buckling under its own pressure, with tortured crevasses clawed across its surface. Beyond it a magnificent scene of snowy peaks spread out to the west, with great towers of cloud rising up between them. 

After a short rest, we descended quickly, wrapping the fixed rope around one arm and almost running down the slope with the rope acting as a friction brake. The next day Andre, exhausted, headed back down to base camp. Trevor, who acclimatised slowly, failed to reach camp 1 and then also returned to base. Jan, Ian and I remained at ABC, acclimatising and filming. Andre and Trevor were battling to find the rhythm of a prolonged expedition. Mountain climbing can often be a case of ‘hurry up and wait’. On the north the weather was at its most stable in the last 10 days of May. We had over a month yet before we were likely to push for the summit. Proper acclimatisation lower down was our best preparation for those later days.

Although the altitude gain from base camp to 6,500 metres was just the same as on the south side, it was a very different kind of challenge, physically and mentally. It was easier than the ascent of the icefall and the walk up the cwm had been, being simply hiking up glaciers, but was far further as a horizontal distance. It took more days to get up to 6,500 metres on the north, but it did not feel like ‘climbing’ the mountain. There was none of the spectacular wonder of the icefall, the technical challenge, the danger. There was no feeling of being a proper climber, forging up the mountain slopes. Yet there was just the same need to take it slowly, to acclimatise properly.

Andre and Trevor had tended to spend rather too much time fantasising about the summit and rather too little dealing with the practicalities lower down. They were now demoralised by the difficulty of reaching 7,000 metres. I didn’t understand their approach. In 1996 each new camp had been a celebration. Without an enormous pressure of expectation I had managed to keep going, day by day, to heights I had never dreamed of. In 1998 I knew that no woman had ever succeeded in climbing Everest from both its north and south sides. However, I had no idea whether I could climb the north side, so gave no thought to that unclaimed record. I tried to look out as much I looked up, to drink in the beauty of where I was, where I had come from.

One evening I crawled out of the chilly shelter of my ABC tent and made for the warmth of our kitchen tent. Even if dinner was not yet ready, Phuri made a mean bowl of popcorn. Heat and food were the basic desires of our ABC life and the kitchen tent was the primary source of both. Jan heard the crunch of my boots on the rock and grovelled out of his tent to join me. 

We entered the kitchen to find a strange woman sitting drinking coffee and chatting to Phuri. 

‘Hi, I’m Fran,’ she said cheerfully, in a broad American accent. ‘I’ve lost my husband. Have you got a radio?’

Her lively attitude did not seem to match with the seriousness of her problem. Jan and I sat down and asked for some more information. She had left base camp that morning ahead of her Russian husband, Serguei Arsentiev, who was a faster walker than she was. He had already climbed Everest once, without supplementary oxygen. However, he had still not arrived at ABC. The two of them were on the permit of a Russian team but seemed to be operating largely independently. 

We explained that our radios did not reach base camp but Fran in fact seemed more interested in company than in help. She did not want to sit alone in the one tiny tent she and Serguei had at ABC. She chomped away at the popcorn and chatted happily and incessantly, like a pot bubbling over with words. Typically American, she told us her entire life story. Soon I knew all about her troubles back in Colorado, saving money for her son’s college fund. She and Serguei were only on Everest because they had got such a cheap trip. They were climbing without supplementary oxygen or Sherpa assistance and she was rather dismissive of those who used such aids.

‘Humping huge loads up the mountain is not my idea of fun,’ I commented. 

‘But it’s all part of the challenge,’ she replied.  

Eventually she returned to her cold and empty tent. Thereafter we greeted the two of them whenever we passed them on the mountain. Neither she nor I had any inkling that there would be one final, disastrous meeting between us that season. 

The days at ABC passed with a gentle rhythm. We were now all better acclimatised and so able to fully enjoy our surroundings. Although each team was self-sufficient, there was no shortage of gossip to be shared. Our camp was on the edge of the main route through ABC and climbers often poked their heads into our mess tent to pass on news, or cadge a cup of tea. We were approaching full moon and the entire glacier glistened silver at night, edged by the impenetrable darkness of the shadows of evening. Each tent formed a little bubble of luminescent colour under an inky velvet sky. Once the moon set, the stars came into their own, diamonds filled with a burning fire of inconceivable intensity. 

Ian and I would lie in the warmth of our tent, my head on his shoulder, his arm round my back, in silent enjoyment of the peace and stillness of the wilderness night. There was a simplicity to mountain life which I loved, a clarity of purpose which was difficult to achieve elsewhere. There were none of the million different worries that tear you apart in the modern world. We ate, drank, slept, climbed. All progress was focused in a single direction – upwards, towards the point where you could go no higher. 

‘I love you,’ Ian whispered in my ear. I curled against the heat of his body and smiled into the darkness. Mountains had always been home to my most special moments. 

The mood at base camp was very different. As the days passed the base camp group began to brood. The weather was not good, cold and windy with light snow most afternoons, but that was typical of Everest and the north side. No one was climbing high on the mountain. It was barely the first week of May and it might well be another three weeks before we attempted the summit. Nevertheless, at base camp the food was monotonous, the living uncomfortable, the days very long with little to do. And there was no getting away from any of it.

People expect expeditions to fail due to some dramatic event, an avalanche or killer storm. Real life seldom offers anything so sensational. Expeditions crumble because their members crumble. And the members crumble under the constant pressure of the little irritations of life. On a mountain there is no escape, from the place or from the people. For 24 hours a day, week after week, you are trapped together. There is no external stimulus, no newspapers or television, to provide neutral topics of conversation. There is no one outside the group to talk to, with whom to let off steam. 

The situation becomes worse when all this is happening around crumbling dreams. In popular mythology Everest is far more than just a mountain. It is a universal symbol of challenge, of achievement. This annoys mountaineers, who know there are challenges far harder that get much less recognition. It also annoys them because mountaineers are a cliquish lot, who want to keep the hills to themselves in the belief they have found a special benediction in the wilderness that the general public doesn’t know about. 

But the public know about Everest. The British, George Mallory, Edmund Hillary, all made sure of that. At one time only the dedicated mountaineer, or the eccentric adventurer had access to challenges of its ilk. Now the world has changed. The mountain wildernesses have become more accessible. Many more people are interested in gaining personal experience of them. The nineties have seen an explosion in the number of people attempting Everest, and thus the number that reach the summit. However, despite all the allegations of rich novices getting themselves killed, the percentage of deaths remains the same. In my three years on the mountain, most of those killed were experienced climbers.

People climb Everest for very different reasons, with diverse expectations of it. 

Everest as the symbol becomes laden with hopes, expectations, desires. Everest as reality is a large heap of snow-covered rock that happens to stand higher than anything else on earth. There are those who climb Everest because they like climbing, because they like being in the earth’s wilderness, and because, after all, it is the highest climb in the world. For them, and I would count myself among them, an ascent of Everest is about the journey. It is about each new day, and what it brings both externally and personally. It is about each new view, each new kind of challenge, each new dawn. What the mountain brings is not always easy, but there is more to be learnt from challenging difficulty than from living in ease. To reach the summit is a great and wonderful bonus, but it is not the point of the exercise. 

Then there are those who want to have climbed Everest, to bask in the glory they believe it will bring them. They believe that to have climbed it will prove something about their own self worth. They have a dream of the mountain and its significance that has no place for day after day of bad weather, boring food, altitude sickness, smelly socks, dirty underwear. They love the idea of risk and are prepared to be stopped by spectacular difficulty, but have never thought that they might just grind to a halt because they have come to hate the reality of their dream. 

Our crew at base camp was not managing too well with the stresses of the mountain. Safely away from the actuality of the mountain, they began to bark themselves up. They decided that there was not enough oxygen for all the team to go for the summit. We had deliberately misled them, sabotaging their dream of glory. I got a radio call from Trevor asking if there would be oxygen for them above 8,000 metres. 

I told Ian, who lost his temper completely. He walked down the trail until he could reach them on a handheld radio and pointed out that they had yet to show the ability to get up to an altitude where oxygen was necessary. He told them to get off their backsides at base camp and get back up the mountain if they had such pretensions of climbing it.

Ian, who has a ‘put up or shut up’ attitude to life, has no space for dealing with other people’s uncertainties. He was simmering with fury, outraged that people whom he felt had contributed little and put in a poor showing as climbers, should have such criticisms of him and his organisation. The others were insulted by his abrasive attitude, and his undisguised contempt, and headed back up the trail, spoiling for a fight.

It took them two days to get up to ABC. Everyone collapsed into the mess tent. It didn’t take much longer than one cup of coffee for the argument to resume. At first tempers simply flared and there was general trading of insults. Once things cooled down grudging apologies were exchanged. Ian went through the number of oxygen bottles, where they were, how they were to be used. We had enough for the entire team to go for the summit together. However, the Sherpas had placed them in the normal places, most at the top camp, contingency bottles at camp 2. The team still had to face up to climbing up to there. 

The fight was resolved but the underlying tension was not. The wind continued to howl. Andre climbed back to the north col and spent a frightening night at camp 1 imagining the tent being torn away from around him. He returned to ABC with much of the stuffing knocked out of him and said he had had enough. He was homesick for his two young children, and for the world, which he was used to. 

Everyone else sulked at ABC, and listened to the wind scream round the upper slopes of the mountain. Ian, angry and hurt by the whole affair, announced to me that he was going to leave the expedition. I was deeply demoralised by everything that had happened and now felt personally betrayed by Ian’s decision. We ended up having a bitter fight.

I retreated from him to cry on Jan’s shoulder. Jan, who had no personal summit ambitions and therefore less ego at stake in the whole matter, provided a safe harbour for me. He had a head old enough and wise enough to be able to see beyond our immediate troubles. He had known Ian for long enough to know that the storm would pass.

While I was sitting in the kitchen tent, Lhakpa came in and sat down next to me. Although the Sherpas always stayed well clear of team differences, they were no fools. They knew what was going on.

‘Is everything okay with the members,’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ I replied, unconvincingly.

‘Why do members always fight in the mountains?’ he asked eventually. We weren’t the only expedition he’d been on where fights had erupted. It was a good question. Perhaps we simply lacked the stoicism of the Sherpas in the face of discomfort. Our city breeding had made us soft in many subtle ways.

Ian calmed down, I cheered up and we made up our differences. We had a deep and long-term commitment to this Everest expedition and to other future projects. It would take more than one fight to destroy that. However, for the moment the mountain seemed in no mood to be climbed. The days spent at the high altitude of ABC were mentally and physically draining to all us. We decided, as a group, to move back down to base camp. There we would regroup and consider the future. 

The strange thing about the mountain is the relativity of its comforts. On arrival from Kathmandu, base camp seemed a bleak place - cold, spartan, uninviting. Coming back down from ABC, it looked like a holiday camp - warm, comfortable, luxurious.

Still, Andre was keen to go home. Martin, having had enough of long and lonely days at base camp, was eager to join him. Ian organised a Land Cruiser to take them back to Kathmandu.

Trevor was suddenly faced with decision time. What meant more to him - to see the expedition through, to perhaps try once more on the mountain, or to return to the luxuries of home? Trevor has a deep love of mountains, and of the world’s wild places. He had also grown up in a society where opportunities were not easily come by. He was not about to walk away from this one. He chose to stay.

As I watched the Land Cruiser bump its way across the stones of base camp, I felt a great relief. At last they had left. With all the doubt and the debate now at an end, with the negative energy safely on its way to Kathmandu, we could once again simply revel in being in the mountains.

While still on Aconcagua Andre had told me that he wanted to push his own limits. He spent much of his time counselling people who were at the limits of what they could endure in life. Yet he had no personal experience of what that must be like. He had thought Everest might provide such an experience. 

In the end he had found that the challenges he sought were in the heart of his home and his congregation, not on the slopes of Everest. And there lay the achievements that meant most to him. He was disappointed by what had become of his dream but realistic enough to realise that perhaps he had put too much onto the dream.

Those of us who remained all went into the mess tent to tuck into milk coffee, omelettes and tough toast. The summit was there for the climbing and we needed to get back onto the mountain slopes. Jan agreed, with a little reluctance, to stay at base camp as our radio anchor. The following morning, 18 May, we headed back up to ABC. Our base camp was a turmoil of excitement as we left. Our radio base station was more powerful than that of the Indians. One of their climbers had left top camp early that morning in a summit bid. They had been in our mess tent all night, monitoring the radio. On the two previous days Russians had tried for the summit and had failed. Now several teams had members on the move. The tension was high. This might be the first successful summit of the season. 

Now there was no mucking about with a transit camp. We walked up to ABC in one long day. The first news we heard on arrival was that 22 climbers had reached the summit from the north that day, including one of the Indians. Those teams with members in the 22 were jubilant. Everyone else was both encouraged and uncertain. We needed to get up the mountain and make the most of the weather. 

‘We climb tomorrow?’ asked Pemba. 

I kept quiet and let the men squash that idea.

‘No, we rest tomorrow, go to camp 1 the day after,’ Ian replied.

The Sherpas grumbled to themselves. They were anxious to do some real climbing, to get up there with the other teams. They made sure to relate to us in detail all the people and teams who had reached the summit. Ian felt that the weather was likely to improve the closer we got to the end of May, and was tempted to wait a few more days. However, the Sherpas wanted to move. The upward momentum pulled us with it. 

Some of the successful summiteers made ABC in the late afternoon of the next day. They made their way through ABC to a ripple of applause from the different camps. For a moment all the teams, whatever their language, whatever their style of climbing, were united in a common joy at the success of some of their fellows. For the Indians that summit made the world of difference. For a short while the citizens of Bombay forgot about cricket and revelled in their Everest triumph. A prominent businessman stepped forward and paid off all the team members’ overdrafts. We watched their celebration and hoped that in a week or so we would have something of the same for ourselves. During that day another wave of climbers reached the top. We needed to get moving.

Another climber with itchy feet was a Tibetan student, Ci Luo. He had had to finish his exams and so had arrived too late to join the Chinese expedition, which was already packing up to go home. Through the Tibetan Mountaineering Association and Russell, we were asked if he could join up with us. He needed no looking after. He just didn’t want to climb alone. Ci Luo spoke no English but he had an engaging smile. We happily accepted his company and began to pack up for a summit bid.

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