The brave old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down.
— Nursery Rhyme
Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, sometimes you’re in the middle. I could hang out on the suspension bridge at Multnomah falls all day. Being suspended on Vasquez rock was a less comfortable proposition altogether.
I was both reassured and unnerved by the piton I found hammered into the rock next to me. Someone had thought it kindly to secure a permanent anchor for a rope. I had no rope.
George Mallory—the “because it’s there” guy—disappeared on the shoulder of Mt. Everest in 1924. He came to mind while I rested on Vazquez’s shoulder.
Mallory stayed disappeared for 75 years. His fate—What happened to him? Where? Had he got all the way up?—constitutes the essential mystery among Himalayan mountaineers.
When Sir Edmund Hillary reached the summit in 1953, the first thing he did was to look (in vain) for Mallory’s body.
PIECE OF CAKE
I decided that it would be no harder getting down from the apex of Vazquez than from my perch. I continued upward on all fours. At the top I found two teenage girls comfortably stretched out, their feet dangling over the side.
“You made it,” one of them said.
“Have you thought about getting down?” I said.
“Piece of cake.”
“I’m a lot older than you,” I said.
I leaned over the side and looked down. It was only 100 feet or so to the road below, but 100 feet was enough to do the job. I considered taking a picture, but was afraid I’d drop the new iPhone.
In 1999, an Everest expedition sponsored in part by the BBC and Nova returned to the spot on the north face where Mallory and his companion, Andrew Irvine, had been last seen. 800 feet from the top they found a frozen body displaying signs of a fall. In the diamond purity of the jet-stream it was preserved intact.
I saw the documentary on television. The men who found the body were filmed as they inspected it. At first they thought it was Irvine. Then one man looked at the name tags on the clothes.
“Wait, this is George Mallory,” he said.
“Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” said his partner.
The question of whether Irvine and Mallory fell before or after visiting the summit has never been resolved. Mallory’s son, John Mallory, said this: “To me the only way you achieve a summit is to come back alive. The job is only half done if you don’t get down again.”
If you climb a mountain for the first time and die on the descent, is it really a complete first ascent of the mountain? I am rather inclined to think personally that maybe it is quite important, the getting down, and the complete climb of a mountain is reaching the summit and getting safely to the bottom again.
— Sir Edmund Hillary
So there it was. My ascent of Vazquez rock would mean nothing unless I got down again. I decided to strike a balance between Mallory and Hillary. I went down on my butt.
Somewhere in the middle of The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder climb a mountain. At the top, Kerouac panics.
“Don’t worry,” Snyder tells him. “You can’t fall off a mountain.”
DEGREE OF AWESOME
After my descent I found Nick and Avi lollygagging on another part of the rock.
“Dada,” said Nick. “You got down!”
I had been seen far and wide on my perch.
“Nothing to it.”
“Wolf, that was seriously awesome of you,” Avi said.
“What do you think, Nick?”
“Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” he said.
This is the second part of a two part post. Part 1: What goes up
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
The Man Who Skied Down Everest. Fly in space without a rocket.
Nova: Lost on Everest. Finding Mallory.
A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for, no? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
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