Murder on Everest Prologue

I thought I would share the prologue of Murder On Everest with those of you that haven't read the book.  Take a look!  I bet you can't stop there!    

The wind whipped my face. I wiped my goggles with my gloves and stared directly into the blizzard, searching for shadows or any sign of life.

We’d left Camp Five at midnight—more than seventeen hours earlier—and I was beyond exhaustion. My lungs were raw. Every breath I drew burned like cold fire. I fought a nagging cough that threatened to consume me. For two hours, I’d not climbed and my body temperature had fallen precipitously. Little feeling remained in my feet and hands and I was in danger of frostbite. I could sense my internal organs starting to shut down and a deadly lethargy engulfed me. I didn’t have long.

The snow was so thick that I could scarcely see more than two feet before me. The wind howled with a ferocity I’d never experienced. To stand erect, I had to lean into the gale. If the wind suddenly stopped,
I’d have toppled over.

I reached across my right shoulder and turned the knob of my oxygen bottle. At 28,700 feet, I was breathing air with one-third the oxygen of sea level. The richer mix poured into my mask as I inhaled
for a long minute, feeling better, stronger.

After a luxurious few seconds, I forced myself to turn the flow off and pulled the mask aside since it seemed to suffocate me without the oxygen. I doubted that I had enough left to reach Camp Five, where the Sherpas had stored vital spare tanks. But if I had any chance of escaping the Death Zone, I had to preserve all of the oxygen that remained.

I glanced ahead, but could see nothing except the blinding white of the storm against the darkening backdrop of the dying day. I couldn’t be certain any of the climbers and Sherpas between here and the Summit had heard the distress call. My own radio was dead.

No one was coming, I told myself. And if somehow they did, no one would see Derek and me there against the outcrop, some distance from the main route to the Hillary Step. I turned my back to the wind and trudged to the wall of stone and the forlorn figure lying there.

I knelt, leaned forward, and shouted into Derek’s ear. “I can’t see anyone!” I gasped, sucked three breaths of air, and shouted again.

“Can you stand up?”

Derek Sodoc had sat down against the rock four hours earlier. His right hand and forearm were extended awkwardly to the side, frozen solid since he’d lost his glove even before I stumbled upon him. He hadn’t uttered a word in half an hour, but earlier had reported that he could neither feel nor move his legs.

I took the thin air into my lungs and coughed violently, my sides hurting so badly that I thought I’d broken a rib before regaining control. I shouted again. “Can you stand up? I can’t lift you!”

Derek said nothing. He sat, partially lying against the outcrop, as unmoving as the Sphinx. I gripped his jacket awkwardly with my gloved hands and tugged, but I was so weak myself—so near death—
I had no chance of raising the man to his feet. I paused to breathe, drawing the thin air across my burning throat, feeling again as if I was suffocating. I leaned down and placed my face almost against
Derek’s ear. “You must help me! No one is coming! There’s no time left. Stand up!”

The effort nearly did me in. Losing my balance, I tumbled to the snow and ice, the wind howling to a crescendo. I lay there drawing unsatisfying gulps of air. I closed my eyes. It felt good resting here.
Just a few minutes. I began to drift.

But part of me knew better. This was one of the ways that you died on Everest. If you lay down in the Death Zone and stayed down, life drained from you until you ceased to exist.

With every reserve of willpower and strength, I forced myself to my feet. I looked at my watch, turning it toward the fading light: 5:32. It would be dark in less than half an hour.

I faced the storm again and struggled across twenty feet. Again I stared into the blizzard, but could see nothing, just a furious white, and could hear nothing but the roaring wind. I knew that if I walked
much farther, I’d go straight over a precipice or into a crevasse. More than one climber—brain depleted of oxygen, functioning with the intellectual capacity of a five-year-old child, exhausted, and numb— had simply walked over a cliff to their death.

I saw nothing. No shapes. No climbers. No one to help.

In the growing twilight, I was now seeing phantasms, dark dancing shapes in the blizzard. At first, I’d thought they were figures coming toward me out of the storm, but soon recognized them for what
they were. I’d heard of the phenomenon, but had never previously experienced it. It was unsettling and just one more sign of how close I was to death.

I turned my back to the storm and slowly made my way to Derek. Bracing with my right hand on the rock, I leaned down, drawing five or six gasping breaths as I did. “I have to leave, Derek. I have to leave you.”

I could just barely make out my friend’s eyes through the ice that had formed like a death mask on his cheeks and eyelids. There was no movement. They were black, deep as a still well. I wondered if he
was dead already.

I drew three more gasping breaths, leaned nearly against Derek’s ear, and shouted, “If you cannot stand, I have to leave you! Stand up, Derek! Stand up!” Again, I pulled at his jacket. Again there was no reply, no offer of help, nothing.

I slowly straightened. I looked at my watch. 5:41. If I didn’t leave now, I faced executing the Hillary Step back to Camp Five in the dark—and climbers attempting it alone, at night, died. That was
where Bruce Herrod had been found in 1997, dangling from a rope after he’d attempted the descent in the dark.

I looked back at Derek, who was almost certainly dead. I leaned down, drew several burning breaths, hacked violently, and shouted over the howling wind. “I’m going! I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

As I began to straighten, something caught my forearm. I looked down. Derek had grabbed me, placing a hand across the top of my arm. His eyelids fluttered and his frozen lips moved. His eyes were bottomless, black as coal. I leaned down and pressed my ear to Derek’s mouth. I could barely make out the words.

“Don’t … leave … me.”

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