Add mountaineers to the groups of people who count science as their natural enemy. Imagine how much their lives would be if there was no gravity, no climate, no natural disasters? The process would be so much faster if they could moonwalk to the literal moon. Then again, the struggle is part of what makes each person’s journey worthwhile. Nobody brags about climbing a hill in the park with their kids.
What is a mountain, though, if not a hill with teeth? Mountaining-extraordinaire Sora Skylar had been climbing mountains since he was young, so he knew well the feeling of standing at the top of the mountain. Hence, as he was in love with the feeling, Sora wanted to remember the boxing match he had with the outside world. The nights he spent under the stars, the wind howling outside his tent; the freezing breath of the mouth scraped at his arm through his Suokeni jacket, the dandruff of clouds, a delicacy to the tongues of children in their parents’ backyards. On the frigid peaks of the Himalayas, however, it was a weapon to repel unworthy advancers who dared make their way to the peak of the Earth.
Everything had seemed so easy a couple of days ago. Well, as easy as planning to climb Mt. Everest could possibly be. The weather was clear, the air was thick and breathable, and Sora had not yet a reason to hate the people climbing the mountain. Heck, some even came up to him and excitedly asked questions about what it was like to be a mountainclimber.
That’s… a hell of a question to ask at the base of Everest. Sora thought to himself. If anything, it eased his mind knowing he wasn’t the most naive, overly-excited person on the mountain. It hurt him to think, though, that the two people that approached him, so young and enthusiastic, would probably only make it to the top if they were very lucky. So, though he liked them based off their limited interactions, he would have to mentally prepare to see them frozen somewhere up the mountain.
Even as a child of a family of mountaineers, Sora was barely holding on. He was no stranger to harsh environments, but once he reached a certain altitude, his head started feeling different. His brain and body were fighting for control of his next move. He wanted to keep going, but he also felt like there was a hydraulic press pushing down on the inside of his head. He was having trouble walking, let alone climbing. What he didn’t know (or did but didn’t want to say it) was that if he laid his head down, he didn’t think he’d be able to get back up.
It was bad enough the snow and oxygen were unrelenting, but time was now of the essence with the sky quickly turning black. Ironically, Sora had read stories in the past of people pushing beyond their reasonable breaking point. They decided to break from the group and meet with the others at the summit.
“If you don’t see me when you get there, then you can assume I’m dead” was often the sentiment bounced back and forth. It was a joke, but it also wasn’t. It was, however, best viewed as an incentive to make sure these weren’t the last words thrown back and forth. Unfortunately, the wrath of the mountain doesn’t care for the wishes of those who climb its crevasses. In fact, if it had the power of speech, it doubtless would have commanded they kept their boots and gear to themselves.
Despite Sora knowing the bone-shaking might of the mountain, he acted as though he was an exception to those wtih barely a lick of training. Normally, he would be, but the frigid kiss of the Himalayas, the air that drained him of his training reduced that of a first-time tourist who accidentally found Everest in a brochure and thought climbing it would be 'fun.'
“It’s getting dark out. We need to find somewhere to rest.” Sora’s Sherpa, Lamdron, strongly recommended.
“We’re almost to the top of the mountain, it’d be a waste to stop now!” Sora screamed through the snow.
“The top of the mountain isn’t going anywhere! Wait until morning when everyone's asleep!”
Sora did his best to protest, but the limits of the mind always win over the resolve of the body. As though it were clockwork, Sora was stumbling over his own two feet. His head felt like it was crushing itself, squeezing his eyes from its sockets.
To lighten Sora's burden, Lamdron set up camp for the night. Even with the world spinning, Sora tried to help, to prove he wasn't the same as every other tourist that desecrated the mountain with their presence. Fortunately, Lamdron's focus was on Sora's wellbeing, not his pride. Perhaps, for his own sake, it would have been smarter to listen to someone whose name roughly translated to "light of path."
"Please rest. You still need to go the other way."
Sora struggled for a short bit, but in his condition, his lack of rest, and the blanket on him that felt like he was under the entire weight of the Himalayas, he wasn’t going anywhere.
Once the fire in his spirit was extinguished like a flame (which can also appropriately be snuffed with a blanket), his temper was tempered, his fight was quelled. If Lamdron (and Sora’s past experience) was to be believed, he’d need every ounce of that strength for the climb up, let alone the way back down.
For seemingly the first time since he started climbing this mountain, Sora’s senses weren’t dulled by emotion or the high altitude. His eyes were no longer cast forward, but rather up and slightly to the right), where his guardian angel was perched.
“Hey, I don’t think I’ve said this yet, but I wanna thank you for your help climbing. I do stuff on my own as much as possible, but I figured out pretty quickly that I can’t do much of anything of my own by myself. Besides, my parents told me about the people of the mountains, angels placed on their perch by a divine landmark."
“Oh, thank you. That’s very nice.” the guide said with a smile. Though, perhaps by virtue of either mishearing him or by the mountain air stripping him of his sense, Sora saw fit to ramble about his family, where he came from, what he wanted to do.
“Yeah, my parents are the reason I’m up here to begin with. It didn’t matter what else I liked, I always found my way back to rockclimbing. That’s the Skylar in me, though. It’s like a brand, a badge of honor as much as it is a curse. My gramps would always tell me how much he loved the mountains, how he’d always wanted to climb the world’s peak. When he died, his wish became my parents', and whenever gramps was brought up, they’d calm me down by promising that we’d go together when I was older. That… that didn’t end up happening. It’s been 15 years since he passed, and it’s down to just me. If I don’t reach the top of that mountain, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
Sora didn’t even know if Lamdron understood him, but to an extent, Lamdron wasn't even the one he was talking to at that point. Even if he didn't know it, Sora was talking to God, or his parents, or whatever's waiting at the Great Beyond. Maybe he was delirious, or maybe he just didn't want to leave anything unsaid.
While Lamdron didn't understand everything, he understood enough. He understood Sora was thankful for the ones that got him to this point, but also that he had a lot weighing on his mind, for one reason or another. Lamdron didn't have the words for his climbing 'partner,' so he did all he could do with the English and the empathy at his disposal.
"There, there." he said as he patted Sora on the shoulder.
The sun was low in the sky when the prospective climber finally passed out. Though, when morning came, he was about as well rested as someone who passed out on the couch and didn’t even realize they fell asleep. Hence, why when Sora woke up the next morning, there was little wonder as to why he felt disoriented.
“Where are we? Did we make it to the top?!” Sora asked as he kicked his feet out of the blanket. Looking around, he realized he was in the same place he was when he passed out.
“No, we’re still in the same place.” Lamdron reassured.
“Yeah, I kinda figured that out a bit too late. Thank you.”
Sora and Lamdron packed up their tent and took to the top of the mountain. Sora had a strange satisfaction that he was in a shape where he could help clean up. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking, but Sora felt as if he had a new set of legs under him.
The advent of a good night’s sleep made the rest of the now-short journey to the summit relatively simple. Perhaps it was because the adrenaline of the moment refueled his system, perhaps it was the fear of what would happen if he laid down again that kept him moving. Either way, every step brought him closer to his dream. With every step, he felt the cold whispers of the mountain. Maybe it was just the thin air, but he could have sworn he heard the voices of his family beckon him forward. Their cold but warm hands rested softly on his worn shoulder. Even when he stumbled, he felt them balance him out. Sora wasn’t spiritual or anything of the sort, but he would have sworn that he felt them on the wind’s breath.
Climbing, scaling that sacred final passage that was the spinal cord of the Himalayas, Sora trembled with every step. The weight of the air suffocated him, but even moreso did the nerves of accomplishing what his family wasn’t able to because of him for decades.
Is it going to be everything I imagined? Sora asked himself, mixing this with his excited thoughts of satisfying his family’s dreams as well as his own curiosity. His anxious breath almost coaxed him to accelerate his pace, but he remembered what happened last time he pushed past his breaking point. If he did the same here, he knew he wasn’t getting back up. Based on altitude, this was true both literally and metaphorically. So, with careful steps, Sora treaded the icy passage like he was on the last layer of Hell, climbing the body of Satan to reach Paradiso. Technically Purgatorio stood between Inferno and Paradisio in Dante's classic, but it's best to ignore that part for the sake of the metaphor. Appropriately, it’s speculated that one must go through Hell before they can reach Heaven’s warmth.
As the passage to the top ended and the peak of the world was underneath his feet, he looked back and gave a thumbs up to Lamdron.
Turning around, he crawled to the peak and grabbed a fistful of chilled white powder. He fell to his knees, sprawled out, and started laughing uncontrollably. All this time, he had been suppressing his emotions, burying the thought of what would happen when he reached the top, focusing more on the destination moreso than the journey. Now that he had done everything he could’ve imagined, a thought slowly crept into his mind: what now?
He cast his sights to the sky, but there was no higher perch to look to. He had done everything he wanted, everything his parents wanted, and now... there was nothing but a void. It was like after his parents didn't need to hold his hand anymore, his purpose vanished.
Seeing that people were starting to gather, Sora carved his family into the snow at the top. "Skylar," but the A looked like a mountain. He knew someone would probably come along and scrape it off, but for this moment in time, he was happy. Someone would have to see his family's name to erase, them, though, and that was victory enough for him. For now. As for the future, it was uncertain whether this was a happy end or a sad beginning, but for the rest of his family, Sora knew for sure what the answer was.