There are two very worn and tired souls waking to a new day in Nepal. These two souls are also triumphant. In just 6 1/2 hours, Natasha and Ben summited Island Peak (Imja-Tse), a 20,305 foot snow-covered giant, climbing far beyond what either may have once imagined. It is the beauty of what can be imagined and what lies in our dreams that made this summit day possible. Both reported this day and its accomplishment to be the most difficult of their lives. They had to cross two aluminum ladders stretching across what seem like bottomless crevasses, jumping over others. In addition, they had to use a jumar, a clamp that is attached to a fixed rope which automatically tightens when weight is applied and relaxes when it is removed, to climb a 500 foot vertical head wall. Natasha had taken some climbing courses using ascenders, but for Ben, this was a new experience. Each of these physical tests done at altitudes far beyond the 14,000 foot peaks they know. Each step requiring enormous effort and fortitude at such high altitudes.
The day began with a rock gully, scrambling as they moved up. Following a ridge line, they traversed onto the nose of the glacier on Island Peak. Glaciers are integral to the Himalayan landscape. Glaciers can be said, in a way, to be alive, slow moving masses or rivers of ice formed by the accumulation and compaction of snow on mountains. Glaciers can also be said to be a physical presence of the past of a mountain. As fallen snow accumulates over many years, it compresses into large, thickened masses of ice. Glaciers form when snow remains in one location long enough to transform into ice. The team roped up because of the danger of the deep cuts or crevasses, as they crossed the snow-ice slope at about a 45-degree angle where the guides made fixed ropes. From here, they followed the summit ridge to the top, where they spent about 30 minutes before descending 2 hours back to Chukung.
If a marathon is transformative, one can only imagine how these 2 athletes have been changed by this achievement. Ben talks of "watershed" moments. Change that is "a point in time that marks an important, often historical change." The top of Island Peak, Nepal, no doubt will be one such moment for each of them. Now they will recover and prepare to trek to the foot of Mt. Everest, her Base Camp, where Ben will prepare to run a full marathon, as Natasha moves on Dingboche, the starting point of the Everest Half-Marathon. Before their next test of endurance, they have miles to trek in the shadow of the world's highest mountains. They will be embraced by mountains like Tawo-che, Chola-Tse, Lobu-che, Pumori, Chomolungma (Mt. Everest), Lho-tse Shar, Nupt-tse and Ama Dablam.
As they rest, we hope they rest with perfect dreams that are now their triumphant reality. Tomorrow, we will share the story of Ben Ratliff.