For two days, Mortenson and Darsney drifted in and out of the
facsimile of sleep that high altitude inflicts on even those most exhausted. As
the wind probed at their tents, it was accompanied by the sound of metal cook
kit plates, engraved with the names of the forty-eight mountaineers who'd lost
their lives to the Savage Mountain, clanging eerily on the Art Gilkey Memorial,
named for a climber who died during a 1953 American expedition.
When they woke, they found a note from Pratt and Mazur, who'd
headed back up to their high camp. They invited their teammates to join them for
a summit attempt when they recovered. But recovery was beyond them. The rescue,
coming so quickly on the heels of their resupply climb, had ripped away what
reserves they had.
When they finally emerged from their tent, both found it a
struggle simply to walk. Fine had been saved at a great price. The ordeal would
eventually cost him all his toes. And the rescue cost Mortenson and Darsney
whatever attempt they could muster at the summit they had worked so hard to
reach. Mazur and Pratt would announce to the world that they'd stood on the
summit a week later and return home to glory in their achievement. But the
number of metal plates chiming in the wind would multiply, as four of the
sixteen climbers who summited that season died during their descent.
Mortenson was anxious that his name not be added to the
memorial. So was Darsney. They decided to make the trek together back toward
civilization, if they could. Lost, reliving the rescue, alone in his thin wool
blanket in the hours before dawn, Greg Mortenson struggled to find a comfortable
position. At his height, he couldn't lie flat without his head poking out into
the unforgiving air. He had lost thirty pounds during his days on K2, and no
matter which way he turned, uncushioned bone seemed to press into the cold rock
beneath him. Drifting in and out of consciousness to a groaning soundtrack of
the glacier's mysterious inner machinery, he made his peace with his failure to
honor Christa. It was his body that had failed, he decided, not his spirit, and
every body had its limits. He, for the first time in his life, had found the
absolute limit of his.
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