Below Another Sky

One climber broke his back. One wandered in a daze. One tried, and failed, to save a friend. They all left behind a moment and a place that would haunt a dead mountaineer's daughter for decades. A pilgrimage in search of a lost father.

Dec 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

SO MANY TIMES on this trip with Asia, I have had this sensation of the past melting into the present. The sight of Asia hiking in front of me can carry me back in time just as a certain smell can carry you to a memory long forgotten. And there he is, hiking in front of me on a day long ago.

She has her mother's dark hair, Japanese eyes, and high cheekbones, but she owns her father's long legs and his fair skin. She wears a Tibetan necklace of turquoise and coral that was given to her by a friend for good luck on our journey, and she carries her father's Tibetan prayer beads. The day before we left, my 16-year-old daughter cut Asia's hair short, and the two of them sat on our veranda and giggled as the long locks of black hair fell to the tile floor.

When we began this trip together, I worried about Asia: about her asthma, her vulnerability to cold, even her bug phobia. And at first there was a kind of cautious formality between us. But I still knew that all the pieces of this journey would, when fitted together, create for her a clear picture of the life and times of her father. And I knew that our adventures would be the ones that Jonathan would be having with her if he were here.

Lying in bed at the Konka Gompa monastery, I decide to test my convictions.

"Asia?" I say.


"What's the most important thing you're getting from your father's journals?"

"His ability to always improve himself, I think," she replies. "And maybe to realize it's a job that never ends." Then she pauses for a moment before going on. "But to really be honest, I think you're taking more from these journals than I am, because you knew him. I'll never know him the same way."

"I guess I have a picture of him in my mind as I read along."

"I'm getting more out of seeing what you get from them, because you're real to me. Your stories, too—I'm learning from those in a way that's different than reading my father's."

I thank her and think of those stories, the ones she now says have meaning for her—leaning against my summit partner on top of K2, for example, or sitting at the base of a nearly unknown massif of mountains in Bhutan and burning the map we had worked hard to create.

"Good night, Rick," Asia says as she turns off her headlamp.

I blow out the candle, and in the darkness I hear the rush of the river in the valley below. I take off my parka, shift into the sanctum of my sleeping bag, and fold the jacket under my head. Before I go to sleep, I have one final thought: If I were caught in the avalanche now, at age 50, would I have the wisdom to ride the cascading snow not in fear but in wonder? Like Alice falling down the hole, would I look to the sides, watching the world that I know speed by, wondering not in panic but in awe about the other world into which I am about to enter?


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