The most anticipated part of any expedition. However many months of preparation, weeks of getting in position, there is one day that it all comes down to: Summit Day.
From the time you crawl into your sleeping bag the night before, nerves kick in. Sleep will only come to those with nerves of steel, or a cocky confidence. Suffice to say, not me. I typically shift around restlessly, anxiety induced questions piercing my conscious. I am constantly assessing my own strength, wondering whether it will be enough for the challenges that lie ahead. This is probably my biggest weakness. I turn into a head case as soon as the pressure is cranked up a few notches. I try to meditate on the fact that I have prepared to the best of my ability, and that I am with people that I trust. This seldom provides anything save cold comfort.
Finally, the alarm goes off. It is go time. Kind of. At extreme altitudes, it can take up to an hour just to boil a pot of water. Getting ready to go out can be a 2 hour endeavor. Snow melting commences, instant oatmeal is forced into unwilling and unwanting stomachs. Getting dressed feels a bit like playing twister with an elephant; a two person tent is about 2.5 by 6 ft. With gear, stove, and two people it quickly feels like a contortion challenge. Finally, we put on our boots, a task that usually leaves me breathless. Gazing forlornly at the warm security of my sleeping bag, I step out into the cold, don crampons, ice ax, and pack, and head out into the unknown.
The wind immediately sends a deep chill through my bones, howls in my ears. My entire world is confined to the beam of my headlamp. There is a summit out there somewhere that I will attempt to stand on today, but that feels as far away as the moon. Step after excruciatingly slow step we begin, not thinking, legs just moving as we settle into the monotonous rhythm of the day. And I am at peace. Pushing into the unknown, months of preparation coming to fruition, the inexplicable inner contentment I get from this sets in. Knowing that struggle lies ahead, but also satisfied by my current reality: step after step.