Story and photos by David Morton
This isn’t easy. In fact, it’s pretty hard.
I’m in a role I’m no good at, a role I feel totally uncomfortable with. Yesterday, as Melissa and I made our way towards Camp 4, I made the decision to pull the plug. We were moving well. The conditions were difficult with loose snow, but nothing to turn us around. The weather was marginal with lots of new snow, yet we had a fairly good forecast for the following morning. Melissa and I have nine summits of Mt. Everest between us. This was totally familiar, almost straightforward. We were using oxygen, something that would logically temper the burn of our bodies still in recovery from Makalu. So what happened?
It’s kind of hard to answer, though there are some things that seem to have contributed. Basically, I wasn’t feeling right up there. It was such a rare position for me in the mountains—I can only remember a few times feeling that way in the past dozen years, and none in this environment, that it kind of threw me for a loop. “It wasn’t feeling right”…
Isn’t that just some phrase used when you’re in over your head or you can’t seem to bring yourself to say exactly what is wrong? I’m not sure, but it was where my head was at the time. More specifically, my thoughts had turned to imagining a scenario in which we had to deal with atypical adversity on summit day. A storm with a little more punch than normal, a minor or major injury up high, a difficult but manageable altitude issue … any of these were giving me pause. I typically feel totally ready to deal with whatever comes our way up high and know I’ll have the reserve strength to address the issue. I didn’t feel that way yesterday. I sensed I didn’t have the reserves I like to have mentally and physically.
This was a totally different scenario than on Makalu. There I felt 100 percent mentally engaged, and that gave me confidence and strength. It was a more simple decision based on time. Yesterday, it felt more ambiguous.
It’s hard to disappoint. I know Melissa was motivated to be back on Everest. It’s difficult to be the one who had the most influence in knocking down that opportunity. But if you climb with someone long enough, you end up in these positions. I just usually seem to be in the other role, and this one doesn’t feel good. I guess I’m getting some practice.
In looking back, I sense that a bit more rest and recovery was needed between our two major objectives. Melissa and I knew this would be the ideal plan going in, but when our weather and itinerary changed, we thought we could do a condensed rest at Everest base camp. I was still suffering from a bit of an upper respiratory issue. These are theories to try and make sense of it and learn something. Who knows what factors really contributed?
The season has been a bit of a heartbreaker for us in certain respects. In other respects, we put ourselves in a challenging position and excelled. There’s no question that our climbing partnership and friendship has been through more than last season on Everest, and that’s good. That may mean we’ll need some time for other endeavors, but in the future, I think we’ll be a stronger and wiser team on whatever the next objective may be, and there’s sure to be another out there.
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