We were headed for the summit, the 4 of us marching with suitably determined pace through the Western CWM, when we met up with my other 4 team members heading down the hill.
They were just returning from the summit, the brothers Ruairidh and Foo, and Tore and Angus.
It hadn’t been easy they said, but then again, should getting to the top of the world be easy? And it showed on their faces. Lined and burnt, mask creases, bloodshot eyes. And in their stance, leaning sideways with weariness.
Yet i still well remember the smile shining through, the smile that transcends all else on returning from the top of Everest.
And when Stephen Venables came back from the summit, the first British person to summit without oxygen, not to mention on a new route as well, underneath the ice, there was still that hint of happiness when we first met up with him as well.
Everest is a rare thing, wished for, dreamed for, strived for – and it is absolute. You have either done it or you haven’t. Perhaps that is one of its great appeals. It is both finite and limited. And as much as it is occasionally castigated, mostly by those who haven’t climbed it and say they would never want to, it is a very significant life accomplishment, irrevocable, which is not often these days.
And there is no hiding, that inside, there is a happiness at summiting, at attaining the top of the world that is truly unique. As Steve Bell, the founder of Jagged-Globe said to me, there is BE And AE, Before Everest and after Everest.
And as simple as it is, those who have been up the top will always have that moment of internal happiness, manifested now in their Everest smile.