Base Camp, Mount Everest
They’d traveled the globe with very different intentions but tonight they shared an agenda. He’d joined the Mile High Club years ago and had renewed his membership on the flight here from Heathrow. Though his sights were set on conquering the tallest mountain on the planet his focus, in the moment, was on this beauty. “You’ve got the face of an angel,” he told her. She grinned, intrigued, telling him, “and you a devilish one.”
The beer and Jäeger at the party in the mess tent had washed away the numbing elevation headaches of 18,000 feet above sea level and helped ward off the cold as they headed to the intimacy of his faded yellow tent. After removing their gloves, bulky jackets, thin layers of hi-tech shirts and thermal underwear, he crawled into his sleeping bag and held it open inviting her to follow. “Come on luv, it’ll be much warmer in here once we get moving,” he said with that grin but he quickly realized her focus had shifted from sex to something much different. “This would be the most magnificent place in the world if it weren’t for the debris left from here to the summit,” she said with a subtle French accent. “Come on,” he asked again.
She had zipped the tent’s entry closed but now slid her jacket back on and crawled over to it, dropping the zipper far just enough to look toward the peaks that stood high into the night sky. The moon lit them beautifully as the peaks pointed to the blanket of stars above. She sat back onto her legs, zipped the opening closed again, and shook her head.
“You climbers just have to stop crapping on her,” she whispered and at his request said it again loudly as she turned toward him. They had already touched on this topic earlier in the evening when they first met while climbers who had made it to the summit celebrated among those who were preparing for the climb and those who were drowning their sorrows in beer and whiskey, licking their wounds after failing to make it to the top.
“I told you before, all the sherpas will clean this up before they leave luv,” he said, “They always do.” She looked at him and her attention began to shift back to what they’d been headed for when they left the gathering. It was getting late. The winds had died down as quickly as they had come. The sun would be rising soon and the sherpa’s would be unzipping the entry flap to deliver hot tea and prepare to proceed another 2,000 feet higher to Camp One.
“Listen, Eve, I promise you that I will not leave until every bit of trash and debris is cleaned up as far as we can see it, I swear,” he offered. “It’s cold, come on in and let’s at least cuddle.” She was shivering now and his warmth in the sleeping bag, and whatever might come of it, seemed too inviting to pass up. The beer allowed her to slide her focus back from the debris to the condom he handed her as she slid into the orange bag. After they had finished, as Eve lay there half asleep, but watched as her British lover crawled from the warmth and unzipped the tent so he could get rid of the beer he’d had a few hours before. She heard him utter something but didn’t understand. “What was that?” His voice rose as he removed the used condom and threw it into the night air. He had gotten what he wanted and there was no need for good behavior or putting on a proper front anymore. “I said, I’ll leave it to you to go find this one since you’re so worried about the damn debris!” As he turned towards her, the sleepy look on his face changed to one of pure terror. In an instant it was over. Don’t worry; the sherpas will dispose of you too. Adieux.
An hour later, the young man was in such a panic that he tripped and hit his head as he ran into the team’s command center. He had seen death before on the mountain but not like this.
“There’s a body. Someone has killed Mr. Bartlett!” he shouted hysterically as the others in the tent helped him up. Ross Thompson, owner and team leader of High Times & Climbs Expeditions from Christ Church, New Zealand, grabbed his satellite phone and headed out. It had been a beautiful morning on the mountain until now. No wind, the temperature hovering at a balmy 55 degrees. Peeling back the flap of the faded yellow tent, Thompson – a man of few words – said it simply, “Well, you don’t see that every day.”
The sight of frozen remains up on the mountain was always unsettling to climbers. Approximately 200 bodies had been left strewn across Everest, either within deep crevasses where they had fallen to their deaths and couldn’t be recovered, or lying where they had died against rocks and boulders or out in the open. Quite often, snow buried the remains for a time, but as temperatures rose, they became exposed again. Tradition demanded that if you died on the mountain while climbing, you remained there. A life taken by a tremendous fall or other climb-related trauma was mourned but accepted as part of the risk. A death like this one was altogether different, though. The mountain hadn’t claimed this man; another human being had struck him down.
In a nearby tent, a weathered yellow one much like the scene of the crime, another visitor to the mountain was dealing with a piercing headache of his own. Another sherpa delivered tea and the stunning news to the American who had come to Everest’s Base Camp on a whim. He’d paid handsomely to make a quick trek up, too fast of a journey it turned out, and was now paying a heavy price.
“What was I thinking?’ he kept asking himself. “I know better.”
He’d suffered through a long night dealing with elevation sickness caused by the extremely thin air, and the large quantity of beer and alcohol he’d ingested to kill the pain had left him in a fog with an excruciating headache, shortness of breath, and a desire for someone to induce a coma to put him out of his misery. But when Matt’s head had cleared enough to comprehend what the sherpa told him, he laced up his boots and headed out, tea in hand. “Best not touch anything,” Thompson heard someone call out from the crowd of onlookers.