Towards the ceiling of the world

by Ashley Reynolds (United Kingdom)

A decision that pushed me to the edge Nepal


A good night’s sleep at this elevation is challenging. The air is thin, and my head throbs slowly but forcefully. I sip some water from a nearby bottle. Unknowingly, the contents had frozen and a sharp shard of ice navigates past my lips, striking the back of my throat. Amid the searing pain and the howling wind outside of the thin, wooden walls of this isolated mountain teahouse, I decide to get up. I lost sight of Mount Everest a few days ago, but if I overcome the Cho La Pass today, I will be within reach of the famous peak. I pack my cumbersome bag, take in a bowl of pungent garlic soup - a natural panacea for altitude sickness - and begin the uphill trek with my guide, Mingmar. Two hours pass as I trudge through the Moon-like surface of light-grey rock and sand in the valley, scrambling up to a prominent plateau to face a vast boulder field, the final obstacle before the Pass. The boulders stand two-metres high, and close together. Jump, land and balance. Again, and again. I stare at my feet and the rock in front of me, keeping mind of Mingmar’s bright orange coat in my periphery. I’m tiring. Oxygen is at around ten percent, and even slight motions cause shortness of breath. My plyometric movement has me hunched over, but it is difficult to stop and feel steady on the rounded boulders. I must continue my jumping rhythm. Then disaster. My dusty boot fails to grip the angle of the boulder beneath me. My right leg extends and my left leg tucks under my hips, bracing for impact. My right heel strikes the earth first. My ankle buckles, and a sharp pain shoots up my leg, darting past my shin and knee and I forget where it stops because my attention arrows back to the excruciating pain at the point of impact. Mingmar reads my grimace, but his basic English prevents full understanding of my agony. He rummages through his bag and locates a bandage, alleviating the pain enough so that I can place my weight on two feet again. “Here Pass. Now, hard bit” Mingmar chuckles. I peel my eyes away from my feet, and stare up at the intimidating rock face in front of us. Battling fatigue and injury, I start to lose belief that I can tackle the Pass. I could turn back. I could get back to a hotel in a few days, take a warm shower and sleep. But that is not why I am here, and as with every day so far, I summon willpower that I did not know existed and put one foot in front of the other. Each step taking me closer to Everest. Towards the ceiling of the world.