One of the perks I am giving to people who become part of the Beyond the Smile story is a photo I took on 12 May 1996, on the South Col. It is a shot of the last 900 or so vertical meters of the South Col route, the original line of ascent. Many people have similar photos in their collection. This one is special. This one is tragic, this one is part of the history of the mountain. It is a reminder of the fragility, and preciousness, of the experience of life lived to the fullest.
In this picture, two expedition leaders are living the last moments of their lives. A poignant moment: Rob Hall, way up in the wind cloud, on the South Summit, is saying goodbye to his pregnant wife on the radio and deciding on the name of their unborn child. Climbers from base Camp up, on the same frequency, listen, helpless, tears blurring their vision.
Further down from the South Summit, but still out of reach, Scott Fischer is sitting, emptiness in his sunken eyes. What is he thinking? Feeling? He is at one with the mountain, in all senses, in all ways.
It is for us who are left behind that sadness becomes a companion.
As I use the Photoshop tool that removes dust motes from my original scanned slide, I see dots, which may or may not belong. Did I just erase Scott? We are such tiny parts of the universe. How am I to know if this fuzzy dot is dust, or a person? Does it matter? We are all still around, one way or the other, part of the whole, one with everything. If I did by mistake remove a man from his resting place, I am sorry, and I deeply regret the fact of the decisions that made that fateful day, where 8 people lost their life, happen. We all make the wrong decision, sometimes. Most of us are lucky and live to tell the tale. Some of us are not so lucky.
I salute you all, you who are at one with the mountain, I send you love and thanks for having touched my life, some more than others. I live to see the sun touch the trees with golden light in the morning, and I celebrate the life that is mine, and yours.
We are one.
As one woman at the Memorial Service at Everest Base Camp a few days later, I cant remember her name, she might have been on Scott’s trip, declaimed:
- Do not stand at my grave and weep,
- I am not there; I do not sleep.
- I am a thousand winds that blow,
- I am the diamond glints on snow…
- ( Poem by Mary Frye, Baltimore, 1932)