Essay: Hard Decisions in the Yellow Band Andy Politz - Basecamp Sat, May 19, 2001 3:30AM
Lightning was illuminating the southern horizon in the predawn darkness. Mature cumulus clouds were building, the effect of warming equatorial air driving up and over the Indian sub-continent. At over 27,000', I can almost smell the hot, musty air that I know is down there in the rain clouds. The perfect hot sultry environment for a Bogart/Bacall movie. It is time for us to head home soon as we are tired. We've been gone for more that three months. We've all lost weight and want to eat delicious foods to put the pounds back on. The snows will be here soon. Our Chinese visas will expire by the end of the month. We miss our friends and loved ones. We want to get this trip over with.
We know this approaching weather phenomenon as the Monsoon. The name does not refer to the rains that fall heavily through the summer months here. Rather, a monsoon refers to the winds. It is the wind that carries warm moist air masses, which become the torrential rains commonly, but mistakenly, called the monsoon. It is the soon to be falling snow we are hurrying against, that will call a halt to our expedition to search across the North Face of Mount Everest and attempts to climb it.
Moving over steep terrain high on a really big mountain is one of life's spectacular situations. At some point, with the summit slopes seemingly within a comfortable grasp, the top radiates a magnetic appeal. My eyes continually are turning up there. My soul becomes alive in a way I rarely experience. The weariness of my muscles is replaced by exuberance inside, with our team high in the thin cold air.
What is it that makes us feel so alive?
The spectacular feeling, I believe, comes from being at risk. It does not have to be death defying, as in Hemmingway's assessment of activity, "The only true sports are bull fighting, auto racing and mountain climbing; the rest are merely games." The feeling of aliveness can come from various styles of fear: humiliation or rejection, or of making a mistake, to name but three. The loss to each of us is when we resist taking that step into the unknown. In crossing the threshold, we come alive in a way that is unique. We can be guaranteed our passions will require more of us than we would hope they would. We come out of the experience more competent, sure of ourselves and with a better sense of self.
As we turned away, downhill, from the summit of Mount Everest, it was a relief to take the easy path. After all, we had another summit team hot on our heals and we could always see ourselves as preparing the way for them. Really though, all three of us knew there would be heavy dissatisfaction when we reached comfortable Advanced Base Camp and after a good night's sleep. It would rise like an oil spill to the surface, as failure.
Now, you have to realize I am particularly experienced at failure. When I was in high school, I spent a month each winter climbing in North Conway, New Hampshire. I turned around so often I was given the nickname of BAFO- Back off Andy From Ohio. The reasons were rarely of a life threatening nature. Usually, my motivation to bail was based in having the opportunity to exit the fray. Even then, I knew that after a good meal and some sleep, I 'd be thinking differently.
Failure, at something we really are passionate about, is the finest way to get the best out of our potential abilities. It is the only way to drive ourselves to become better educated, stronger and more skilled. Failure sinks in heaviest with returning comfort. By the next morning I had already spent several hours of the previous night awake turning over our priorities.
The important element of this trip for me is the search. We have one area left unsearched. I can not bear to walk away with it untouched. Four of us leave tomorrow (20 May) morning for our final efforts. Tap and Jason will be gunning for the summit, while Dave and I will finish up the search, although with a bit more snow than we'd like.
We're all dying to get back to family and friends. We know that to go through the whole process again is going to be harder than staying here for another week and a half. We'll be home soon.