“Getting to the top of any given mountain was considered much less important than how one got there. Prestige was earned by tackling the most unforgiving routes with minimal equipment, in the boldest style imaginable.”
Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
Hurricane force winds blew ice in every direction, ravaging and stinging his face like a million winter wasps. The temperature had fallen to a life-stealing -30C, and even at only 17,000 feet, the air was so thin he was forced to stop and catch his breath after every four or five steps. His headlamp offered him little advantage in the blizzard that reduced visibility to next to nothing. He had been fighting this storm for what he guessed was an hour, but it could just as well have been three. In this environment, and with his objective so near, time became ethereal and inconsequential.
This was Mount Everest, what the Nepalese called “Sagarmartha” (Goddess of the Sky) and the Tibetans called “Chomolungma” (Holy Mother of the Universe). Over 290 people had lost their lives trying to climb the world’s highest peak, and this man intended to add his name to that list. He wondered if he would be the first to deliberately take his own life on this majestic, holy landmark.
The lonely figure stumbled upon a pile of stones that offered protection from the maelstrom. He was on China’s Zhufeng Road, which would dead end at Everest Base Camp (EBC). The road was often closed, as it was now, from November to February, as trekking in the area, let alone trying to summit Everest, became suicidal. He sat down, resting his back against the impromptu barricade. He was surprised, and a little disappointed, that he could still see the slight glow of light from what he assumed was the Rongbuk Monastery from which he had snuck away earlier that morning.
“This is the place!” he yelled into the storm, laughing to himself at his inside joke. Thousands of Mormons in Salt Lake City would have found it funny. The mingling of the freezing air he sucked back into his warm lungs caused him to double over in a coughing fit so intense that he worried that he might die before he had fully prepared. He forced himself to relax, focusing on his breathing. Eventually, the coughing ceased. “It wasn’t that funny.” he thought as he prepared himself for what came next. There were a few more things that needed doing before he would declare victory and check himself out.
He pulled his gloves off of his frozen hands with his teeth. Despite buying the best gloves money could buy, he barely felt his fingers as he unzipped his coat pocket and retrieved a Brigham Young International Hotel’s “Do Not Disturb” sign that he’d carried with him, intending to display the placard on his person, here, at his final resting spot. A few days ago he had found a length of string that he had fashioned into a noose and strung it through the plastic. The man thought the noose was a nice touch, as he tightened it slightly around his neck. He grew frustrated as the sign flapped uncontrollably in the relentless gale. He hadn’t counted on the wind. The opposite side of the sign read “Please Clean My Room,” which didn’t send the same subtle message he wanted his estranged father to receive after they found his body, and would likely confuse the person who would find him when climbing season began again in the spring. He rolled a medium-sized rock onto his lap which he used to pin the placard against his body. The wind still threatened to dislodge it, but he hoped that the sign would freeze, right side up, to his parka.
He put his gloves back on awkwardly. Initially, he had planned on positioning his arms and exposed hands in such a way that they would freeze, forever in the position of flipping a double bird, but now decided that that would be too crass…even for him. Besides, he had become too tired and too cold to care. He had read somewhere that as a person froze to death, they might engage in a behavior called “paradoxical undressing,” which is when, for some unknown reason, the “freezee” becomes irrationally hot, strips down to nothing, and attempts to burrow into the smallest place that they can find. This man felt none of that. On the contrary, he felt calm. Peaceful. Complete. Against all the odds, he had made it to Mount Everest, the rooftop of the world, his final resting place. He was ready.