We were five hundred meters away from the summit. I gasped for air. There was little oxygen, more emptiness. “We can’t make it”, said Thomas, our team leader. “The weather is unsettling, we should get back to the camp”, he said with a profound breadth.
Four months and a fortnight ago, I met Thomas at American Alpine Institute. He was planning to climb K2 with a bunch of friends, all mountaineers and some more with same interest. Thomas was over six feet and built like a bear, perfect to hike the most dangerous peak in the world. Not many have attempted it, very few survived. As I filled up the form, he came to me and said, “Your resume here is quite remarkable”. “Thank you”, I said not knowing if he was really impressed or was pulling my leg. After three weeks of constant physical and mental tests, and even more deliberations, a team of twelve was selected for this perilous mission.
For eight weeks, we trained day in, day out. Each dawn brought with it a new setting with new challenges. “This is how they train the astronauts”, Thomas bellowed in his thick south accent, mocking the lot of us. At dust, we were left with no energy nor will. Then for six weeks, we were taught to combat the effects of high altitude, low pressure and not enough oxygen. A week before our mission starts, we were asked to spend the most of it with our friends and family. A second thought crept in my head, “Should I be doing this?” I somehow silenced the inner turmoil.
And now after coming so close to our trophy, we had to turn back. The Gods were not on our side. After a day of rappelling down the steep slope of the mountain, we reached our camp. Everyone was relieved that we made it back unharmed, but for Thomas, the pain of failure was unmask-able. Sad tears rolled down his cheeks, froze just before landing on his cold hands.
We all laid back in our camps. After an hour of turning on my sides, I came out. “What are you doing? It’s freezing out there”, whispered Hugh, a fellow hiker and my tent partner. “I just want to lie here for a while”, I replied. I had never seen sky so dark and yet it shimmered with myriad stars. I could feel the bitter breeze even under three layers of gears. As I was adjusting my gloves, I missed a shooting star falling across the horizon-less sky. I could’ve wished for our mission to succeed, but it was too late. I lied there till the sky changed its colour. I had never seen a more beautiful yellow in my life. We all packed our tents and started our descent to the nearest army base camp. I looked back at the summit one last time. It was more beautiful than all those pictures taken during the previous failed missions. It looked even more tempting but remain untouched, for now.