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The Death Zone – Chapter 11.7

James and Brig woke up early to continue their assault on the Tibetan Plateau. Brig had slept poorly as the Kiwi turned out to be a world-class snorer. Brig had tried to quiet the big man several times during the night, even inserting a dirty sock into his mouth, but nothing had worked.

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“Dude!” Brig cried as they prepared to leave their room. “Do you know what a moose is?”

“ ‘course I know what a moose is. What’re you gettin’ at?”

“You know the sound they make during mating season? That’s what you sounded like last night.”

 “It worries me you know what a moose sounds like when it’s mating,” James taunted. “My bum is feeling a bit sore this morning.”

“From now on, separate rooms,” Brig demanded.

It wasn’t as cold as it had been the day before, but it was still well below freezing. Fresh snow covered the no longer so friendly Friendship Highway. Yesterday’s sun had surrendered the sky to dark storm clouds. There were no longer any other vehicles on the road as the predicted storm had arrived. James knew it was crazy to be out driving in this storm, but also knew it was hopeless to try to convince Brig to wait. James had promised Brig that he would get him to Everest, and his pride wouldn’t let him do otherwise.

By 11 a.m. the pair had reached Changwuxiang, a town at the crossroads of the G318 (Friendship Highway), and the G219 National Road. It had taken them roughly five hours to traverse a stretch of road that in the summer when the roads were dry took James a little over two hours. The light snow from the morning had turned into a blizzard, and James tried again to persuade Brig to bivouac until the storm had passed. James explained that if they got stuck, out on the road in this storm, it would, at best, be very uncomfortable, and at worst, they would freeze to death.

Brig pulled out the nearly destroyed copy of “Into Thin Air” from his pack, searching for a specific passage as James pulled the jeep off to the side of the road. Fortunately, the passage he was looking for was still intact. He held the book out for James to see.

“’Into Thin Air,’ by James Krakauer. Have you heard of this book?”

“I’ve read it,” James asserted, pulling a set of tire chains out from under the back seats of the Jeep.

“Do you remember the story about Beck Weathers?” James nodded that he did. “Page 263. ‘Hey Pete, he called to Athans, Check this out. Somebody’s coming into camp. The person’s bare right hand, naked to the frigid wind and grotesquely frostbitten, was outstretched in a kind of odd, frozen salute.’ Yadda, yadda, yadda, ‘As the mummy lurched into camp, Burleson realized it was none other than Beck Weathers, somehow risen from the dead.’” Brig turned a few pages and continued, “The storm had blown both sleeping bags from his body, leaving him exposed to the sub-zero wind, and with his frozen hands he’d been powerless to pull the bags back over himself or zip the tent closed.”

James stopped, laid the lug wrench he was holding down, walked over and grabbed the book roughly away from Brig. James looked at the book, turned a few pages, and began, “Chapter 20. Page 271. Walt Unsworth said this. The guy that actually wrote the book on Everest. ‘The one great advantage which inexperience confers on the would-be mountaineer is that he is not bogged down by tradition or precedence. To him, all things appear simple, and he chooses straightforward solutions to the problems he faces. Often, of course, it defeats the success he is seeking, and sometimes it has tragic results,’” James emphasized the word tragic, “‘but the man himself doesn’t know this when he sets out on his adventure.’” Having made his point, James tossed the book back to Brig, resuming the task of putting the chains on the tires.

“Careful! Geez!” Brig demanded but was impressed by James’ ability to turn immediately to a section he obviously knew. “Oh, hey, you forgot to finish! Let me do it for you. ‘Maurice Wilson, Earl Denman, Klavs Becker-Larsen – none of them knew much about mountain climbing, or they would not have set out on their hopeless quests, yet, untrammelled by techniques, determination carried them a long way.’”

“Yeah well, Wilson died on his summit attempt, and the other two lived because they had the sense to turn back!” James countered.

“How do you know so much about Everest?” Brig was astonished.

“It’s my job! I’ve read just about everything there is to read about this area. Twice!”

“Respect, Bro. But here’s my point. Beck Weathers survived two nights at 29000 feet in sub-zero temperatures. I think we’ll be O.K., in the daytime, at 15000 feet.”

The point was moot. Both Brig and James knew they would continue, otherwise, why was James continuing to chain up the jeep? James and Brig pulled out of Changwuxiang, unaware that Tommy was gaining on them.

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