Even the yaks are exhausted, and slump down, gradually moving out of sight below the ridge.
Sixty miles in every direction – nothing. Farther than you could see, if you could see.
Everyone gone. Into the night and the void. How can you lose anyone in such emptiness? But everything is out of proportion. Too big. Mara’s sandbox. Maya Devi, the devil of fate. She cloaks me in heaven’s hail, anoints me with winter, and covers me with flowers of ice. Each new path is as infinite as the old one.
Avalanches roar down in the distance, until the hard chill sets in.
A month out to the nearest Sherpa village, in any direction, from the Hunku, about as far from anywhere you can get.
Time to take a stand.
No firewood, nothing left but a few chapattis, some tsampa, and a lot of dirt. Which gives the tsampa body.
Alone, without a tent. Temperatures go down to forty below at night. Unless there’s wind.
Giant boulders are the earth here, anchored by dirty red fern. The only level ground is a rare flat erratic. The rest is scree, giant pyramids of pebbles which slide downhill for half a mile, me riding on top of them, framed by cliffs, lord of the hail.
Look at the dim moonlit back of Ama Dablam, up at the Makalu west ridge, straight down at the Imja Khola, down the thirty-mile stone corridors of the Hunku which buttress the wall I’m on. A world white as Christmas. But beneath the heavy fall of flakes, among the swirling crystals of the night, in this frightening beauty, it may be a pathetic fallacy that I’m being stalked. I may be internalizing the landscape. Frankenstein on the icebergs, pursued by my own image.
Precambrian hair rises, on my neck, on my arms. Horripilation. Why would it do that, except out of some long lost sense of danger? The hair knows what the brain denies.
Charos is watching, waiting. The demon of fierce brightness. The skeleton of chaos. Every climber feels it at some point. Yami is here, Enmi dai-O. Resembling the frost. Kalantaka, ender of death. Goddess of harmony. She who pulls souls from corpses.
My ears hear everything. The shift of the slope, the crack of the wind, the howl of the ice. The divine breath. And something more. Some raw limbo, or meido, some monstrous drone underneath the growl of the glaciers. Some Mastema added to the organ pipe of air rushing through the couloirs. I’m sitting on top of an immense wind cave. Its gendarmes, séracs, saddles, needles pipe the stars straight at me. Self-centered even at death. Without naama, without style, we are all doomed. I’m sitting on sound, on the grounded throb of the bourdon, reeds transmigrating past my head. Or I’m hallucinating. I’m being watched by an organ. Not a Flenthrop, a pristine Baroque two manual seraph, something Bach would have played. but one of those six keyboard monsters in the music halls, thousands of stops, two rows of pedals, fifty pistons, trumpets jutting out over the abyss, groaning and lurching like a Yeti, cantilevered out over the two-thousand foot drop at my boots.
Yetis might be samsarins, messengers between the land and the soul, like those Tibetan paintings with a Yeti in each corner, watching out for the villages from fissures in the Himalayan faces, faces in the crevasses. Yetis might even be sach khand by day, salvation. But at night, their faces frozen in ancient masks, their bodies painted into the scallops of the snow, the shadows of the high walls, they are Di-Yu, earth hell, the fun fur mottled by moonlight into rock, humanoid limbs now a leopard-like chiaroscuro, waiting to eat. The loping hell. The Familiar Ones.
Or looking out at the icebound nightmare, frontal lobes gradually shutting down in this Boreal wasteland, is any Shiva in fact only in the eye of the shuddering inventor? Like the monsters of the id, am I the creator of my own stone guest? If I could see myself, who would I be? Who are any of us, but mirrors of our surroundings, cobbled together from schoolyards, steaming forests, underground warrens shot through with racing metal giants, from high pinnacles from which our shadows drip along the ice for hundreds of miles? When frozen prophets, driven out from the suburbs, when all they have for solace is the numb stippled sea, the long white floe of rime and drift, why would they not take on the glazed stare and pinching grip of these endless wastes?
Who really plays the last few notes? What demons emerge from under our carefully laundered velvet cloaks when we lose control of our quivering lives? What would I, alabaster flesh, blanch lip, gnarled and sleeted hand, seem to you, you on a postcard perfect Arun valley trek? The Beast of Makalu. The shaking Yeti of the snow globe. I am my own destroyer, son of the sun, dog of rigid hell.