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

DURING THE NIGHT I wake to hear the sound of rain hitting the tent. I locate my headlamp and shine it on the travel alarm near my head: 4 a.m. Pointing the beam on the small bush at river's edge, I can see that it's now within an inch of jumping its bank and flooding our tent. I know in this weather I won't be able to find the grave. I go through my mental checklist—compass, headlamp, lunch, camera gear, film, reference photographs, binoculars—and fire up the stove and make tea. I hand Asia her mug, and she sits up in her bag and thanks me. Then the rain stops. There is enough filtered moonlight to reveal the tip of a glacier hanging like a tongue out of the mantle of clouds.

"The clouds are starting to thin," I say. "Maybe we can pull this off today."

"Please let us have just one good day," Asia says.

It's 6 a.m. by the time we are on our way. We parallel the river, following an old yak trail. If my memory is accurate, we will follow this river as it bends around a corner, and continue along it until it leads to the high meadow where we established our Base Camp.

The last time I walked this path, my arm was in a sling. Yvon was behind me, his breath shortened by the pain in his ribs, and Kim was farther back. He had two cracked vertebrae and two broken ribs, and we had trussed his torso with two foam pads and given him two ski poles to hike with. He moved in halting steps, his lips were tight, and his blue eyes, clouded with morphine, seemed to focus on the middle distance, even when you talked to him.

Soon the moraine squeezes against the river, and Asia and I are forced to hop boulder to slippery boulder. There's a lower-angled gully that appears to lead to the top of the moraine; we climb the loose glacial till and on top we can see a faint trail along the crest of the moraine that, judging by hoofprints in mats of damp dirt between rocks, has been made by the passage of blue sheep and perhaps of tahr, mountain goats I recall seeing here 19 years ago. Straight ahead three parallel buttresses descend out of the upper layer of clouds. One of them is vaguely familiar. I stop to set my pack down, and looking through the binoculars I compare what I see with the photographs. Asia catches up and looks over my shoulder.

"So which one do you think it is?" she asks.

"The glacier has receded," I say, pointing to the photograph. "See, it was here in 1980, and now it's way up there. I can see where the avalanche stopped, which means your father must be buried somewhere in those rocks to the left."


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