provide evidence for
But I can
attest that nothing I saw early on the afternoon of May 10 suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down.
succeed in passing through, around, or over
Negotiating the serrated ridge presents no great technical hurdles, but the route is dreadfully exposed.
the highest point of something
Four hundred vertical feet above, where the summit was still washed in bright sunlight under an immaculate cobalt sky, my compadres dallied to memorialize their arrival at the
apex of the planet, unfurling flags and snapping photos, using up precious ticks of the clock.
an increase by natural growth or addition
The actual particulars of the event are unclear, obscured by the
accretion of myth.
a surveying instrument for measuring angles
Designated Peak XV by surveyors in the field who’d first measured the angle of its rise with a twenty-four-inch
theodolite three years earlier, the mountain in question jutted from the spine of the Himalaya in the forbidden kingdom of Nepal.
pleasing to the ear
As it happened, Tibetans who lived to the north of the great mountain already had a more
mellifluous name for it, Jomolungma, which translates to “goddess, mother of the world,” and Nepalis who resided to the south reportedly called the peak Deva-dhunga, “Seat of God.”
marked with stripes
Demarcating the Nepal-Tibet border, towering more than 12,000 feet above the valleys at its base, Everest looms as a three-sided pyramid of gleaming ice and dark,
in a manner incapable of being disentangled or untied
Mallory, whose name is
inextricably linked to Everest, was the driving force behind the first three expeditions to the peak.
one who professes great sensitivity to the beauty of art
A product of upper-tier English society, he was also an
aesthete and idealist with decidedly romantic sensibilities.
a movement upward
Three days later, word of the
ascent reached Queen Elizabeth on the eve of her coronation, and the Times of London broke the news on the morning of June 2 in its early edition.
relating to or affecting the internal organs
Hillary and Tenzing climbed Everest a month before I was conceived, so I didn’t share in the collective sense of pride and wonder that swept the world—an event that an older friend says was comparable, in its
visceral impact, to the first manned landing on the moon.
the top or extreme point of something
Hombein and Unsoeld arrived on the
summit at 6:15 p.m., just as the sun was setting, and were forced to spend the night in the open above 28,000 feet—at the time, the highest bivouac in history.
cause to seem less serious; play down
By then it had become fashionable among alpine cognoscenti to
denigrate Everest as a “slag heap”—a peak lacking sufficient technical challenges or aesthetic appeal to be a worthy objective for a “serious” climber, which I desperately aspired to be.
an organized group of people undertaking a journey
What the Nepalese ministers didn’t take into consideration, however, was that China charged only $15,000 to allow a team of any size to climb the mountain from Tibet and placed no limit on the number of
expeditions each season.
a person who has suddenly risen to a higher economic status
Traditionalists were offended that the world’s highest summit was being sold to rich
parvenus—some of whom, if denied the services of guides, would probably have difficulty making it to the top of a peak as modest as Mount Rainier.
run away, often taking something or somebody along
In 1995, the leader of a commercial expedition
absconded with tens of thousands of dollars of his clients’ money before the trip even got off the ground.
capable of being broken
Near the southern tip of South America, where the wind sweeps the land like “the broom of God”—“la escoba de Dios,” as the locals say—I’d scaled a frightening, mile-high spike of vertical and overhanging granite called Cerro Torre; buffeted by hundred-knot winds, plastered with
frangible atmospheric rime, it was once (though no longer) thought to be the world’s hardest mountain.
the time of maturity when power and vigor are greatest
I was forty-one now, well past my climbing
prime, with a graying beard, bad gums, and fifteen extra pounds around my midriff.
an artificial cloud created by an aircraft
As I gazed across the sky at this
contrail, it occurred to me that the top of Everest was precisely the same height as the pressurized jet bearing me through the heavens.
Hall had booked us at the Garuda Hotel, a friendly, funky establishment in the heart of Thamel, Kathmandu’s
frenetic tourist district, on a narrow avenue choked with cycle rickshas and street hustlers.
having a sweet nature befitting an angel
There was something
cherubic about his face, yet he looked older than his thirty-five years—perhaps it was the sharply etched creases at the corners of his eyes, or the air of authority he projected.
a person skilled in telling anecdotes
Gregarious by nature, Hall proved to be a skillful
raconteur with a caustic Kiwi wit.
accomplishing something by scheming or trickery
With Everest, the most difficult of the septet, already taken care of, Hall and Ball
wangled backing from a big electrical utility, Power Build, and were on their way.
It saddened and embarrassed Hall to be publicly
castigated by this demigod, this ur-climber who had been one of his childhood heroes.
a confused disturbance far greater than its cause merits
Then, five months after the Hillary
brouhaha flared, Hall was rocked by an even greater blow: in October 1993, Gary Ball died of cerebral edema—swelling of the brain brought on by high altitude—during an attempt on 26,795-foot Dhaulagiri, the world’s sixth-tallest mountain.
in a serious and solemn manner
In a New Zealand television interview following the expedition, Hall
somberly described how he took their favorite climbing rope and lowered Ball’s body into the depths of the glacier.
someone or something that is abnormally large and powerful
The flight engineer latched the door and handed out wads of cotton to stuff in our ears, and the
behemoth chopper lumbered into the air with a head-splitting roar.
a characteristic language of a particular group
The American trekker, unable to comprehend that this brown-skinned woman of the hills was addressing him in perfectly enunciated King’s English, continued to employ his comical pidgin
argot: “Men-u. Good, good. Yes, yes, we like see men-u.”
the study of the characteristics of human populations
People unfamiliar with the
demography of the Himalaya often assume that all Nepalese are Sherpas, when in fact there are no more than 20,000 Sherpas in all of Nepal, a nation the size of North Carolina that has some 20 million residents and more than fifty distinct ethnic groups.
a small number or amount
Upon the recommendation of A. M. Kellas, a Scottish physician who’d climbed and traveled extensively with Sherpas, the 1921 Everest expedition hired a large corps of them as load bearers and camp helpers, a practice that’s been followed by all but a
smattering of expeditions in the seventy-five years since.
the highest point of something
I stared at the peak for perhaps thirty minutes, trying to apprehend what it would be like to be standing on that gale-swept
experiencing or displaying extreme joy or bliss
Afterward he smiled
beatifically and offered us tea.
widely known and esteemed
Unsure how to act in the company of a divine presence, this living reincarnation of an ancient and
illustrious lama, I was terrified of unwittingly giving offense or committing some irredeemable faux pas.
proceed somewhere despite the risk of possible dangers
Ziemer emphasized that this alarming death rate hadn’t been skewed upward by mountaineering accidents; the victims had been “just ordinary trekkers who never
ventured beyond the established trails.”
having or appearing to have only one color
From this point forward our world would be a barren,
monochromatic expanse of rock and wind-blown ice.
an instrument that measures the height above ground
altimeter on my wristwatch read 17,600 feet.
often improvised or impromptu
ad hoc village that would serve as our home for the next six weeks sat at the head of a natural amphitheater delineated by forbidding mountain walls.
a long steep slope at the edge of a plateau or ridge
escarpments above camp were draped with hanging glaciers, from which calved immense ice avalanches that thundered down at all hours of the day and night.
an unaccompanied partsong for several voices
Retiring to my tent at night, I was serenaded by a
madrigal of creaks and percussive cracks, a reminder that I was lying on a moving river of ice.
temperamentally seeking and enjoying the company of others
Raw and emotional, disinclined toward introspection, he had the kind of gregarious, magnetic personality that instantly won him friends for life; hundreds of individuals—including some he’d met just once or twice—considered him a bosom buddy.
the state or quality of being widely honored and acclaimed
During the 1980s Fischer made a number of impressive ascents that earned him a modicum of local
renown, but celebrity in the world climbing community eluded him.
traveling especially on foot
Fischer’s assurances notwithstanding, his
peripatetic alpine career was rough on his family.
an unvarying or habitual method or procedure
But things were finally starting to look more promising, thanks to Fischer’s growing celebrity and to the efforts of his business partner-cum-office manager, Karen Dickinson, whose organizational skills and levelheadedness compensated for Fischer’s seat-of-the-pants, what-me-worry
produce by the organic processes necessary for life
My appetite vanished and my digestive system, which required abundant oxygen to
metabolize food, failed to make use of much of what I forced myself to eat
a source of materials to nourish the body
my body began consuming itself for