Brig met James in the hotel lobby at 2:00 p.m. Brig was moving better now. The oxygen had been excellent, but every step he took reminded him of the abuse his body had recently received. James laughed as Brig limped towards him. “My God mate. We’ll be lucky to get into the taxi by nightfall at the rate you’re moving. Need a hand?” James offered.
“I’m fine,” Brig said. “Lead the way.”
In the taxi they continued their friendly banter. James teased Brig about the tightness of his pants, asking if that was why his voice was so high-pitched. Brig asked James if all Tibetan women grew beards. Despite the ease of their conversation, Brig was still wary of James. After his experience with Tommy, he had become far less trusting of people. Growing up rich in Salt Lake City, he hadn’t developed the skeptic muscle that most people developed earlier in life, but those muscles were working overtime now.
“Can you see Everest from here?” Brig asked.
“Hell no. You’re still 450 kilometers away. When the clouds clear, you can see some peaks, but you need to travel to Shigatse, or even Lhatse, to get a good look at Everest. Most tourists will travel to Rongbuk Monastery and hoof it to Everest Base Camp from there. But it’s miserable there now. By the looks of you, you’d be blown off the mountain.”
“Yeah. Well, we’ll see.”
“Seriously. You can’t go up there. You’ll die. You could barely walk to the taxi.”
“Well. I’m not going up there today.”
“No, you’re not. You’ll need a few months of training before you’d be in good enough shape to make EBC.”
“Sometime between now and then, I’ll make it…probably closer to now.”
“I’ll wager a 1000 Kiwi that it’s closer to then.”
“I don’t know what 1000 Kiwi’s are worth, but you’re on.” Brig took the bet, knowing he would never collect or pay.
It was 7 p.m. by the time they returned to the Shangri-La. The taxi was packed with shopping bags full of clothes and climbing equipment. James gave Brig a hard time for wasting his money on climbing equipment he would never use, but Brig seemed to know what he wanted. James was also a mountaineer and Brig’s knowledge of mountaineering equipment impressed him. The doorman piled the bags onto a luggage trolley and assured Brig that he would take his purchases to his room immediately. Brig tipped the man handsomely before limping away.
He was using James’ shoulder now, the pain in his leg almost more than he could bear.
“Let’s grab a bite and a beer in the oxygen room.”
“No way. I’m wiped out. I’m just going to go up and get into bed.”
“C’mon. You owe me a drink. Besides, the oxygen will do you good. I promise. It’ll help you sleep better.”
Brig did owe James, and he could tell James wasn’t going to accept “no” for an answer. Brig would have to rally and push through the exhaustion. In times like these, Brig found motivation in the Beck Weather’s story, a man that had survived two nights near the summit of Everest, unprotected and in the death zone. If Beck Weathers could endure what he did, Brig could manage another hour in the oxygen room of this 5-star luxury hotel.
“If you don’t mind my asking, why are you carrying so much cash?” James asked as he and Brig enjoyed their beer. James was right; the oxygen room had replenished Brig’s energy.
“Not as much as I had this morning.”
“About that. What the hell are you doing? You clearly know what you’re buying, so you must also know that you’ll never use most of the equipment you bought. You’re not climbing. The highest you’ll get is base camp, and you’ll only need a good pair of boots and warm clothes for that. If you hadn’t noticed, it’s winter here in Tibet. You picked the worst time of the year to visit Everest. The best climbers in the world won’t even try to climb Everest in the winter.”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” Brig replied. “Do you really think I would travel all the way to Lhasa, not knowing it’s winter? I’ve been reading about Everest most of my life…I’m well aware of the dangers.” Brig knew he was saying too much, but he couldn’t help himself.
“You prick! You’re not trying to climb Everest, are you? You’re going up there to kill yourself, yeah?”
“Of course not!” Brig said unconvincingly. “I’ve dreamed of coming to Everest since I was a little boy. Now that I’m here, I want to push myself. I know I won’t get far, but I want to be able to say that I made an Everest summit attempt. Besides, what business is it of yours?”
“Bullshit! I can’t let you do that Brigham. That’s bad for my business.”
“Now that’s bullshit. People are attracted to Everest because it’s dangerous. Sir Hillary didn’t climb Everest just because he was in the neighborhood.” Brig was suddenly angry. He had been stupid to let James know so much about him. He realized too late that this was why he had been so tentative in befriending James. “I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”
“Brig, listen. I’ve got a proposal for you. Let me help you get to base camp. You’re going to need my help. But if we do this, you’ve got to promise me that you won’t…you know.”
“I don’t need to promise you anything. And I don’t need your help. There’s a stack of brochures in my room offering the services of hundreds of tour guides that will drive me right up to base camp.”
“Well, that’s not true. You may get to Rongbuk if the roads are clear. But this time of the year it’s a crapshoot. Even if you make it to Rongbuk, you’ll still have a two to three-hour trek to base camp, and three hours back, and that’s if you’re in decent shape. It’s not the shopping mall up there.”
“Thanks for the advice,” Brig said flatly. “How much do I owe you for today?”
“C’mon mate. Now you’re just being rude. You don’t owe me anything. But please. Think about my offer. I don’t know what you’ve been through, I don’t know what your story is, but it’s not too late to change it. Here’s my card. Call me.”
“Suit yourself. It was nice meeting you.” Brig took James’ card and walked away as energetically as he could given his condition.