Unfinished Business: How Did I Get Here?

ABC Open has published my 500 word story, a reimagining of our climb up Mt Kenya: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/48hv8oi 

Mr Grumpy on the mountain top

There are people who claim that men are naturally risk takers, or perhaps just dumb and stubborn. Is it testosterone surges or the assured confidence of male privilege? Or perhaps it is just a myth?

An old friend, who was once was a member of a women’s nude parachuting team, said, “You would not believe the contortions the body can go into.” One day she drifted off course, landing in a park full of praise-singing evangelists. “That was an embarrassment,” she said. “For me and the people in the park. They didn’t know if I was an angel or Beelzebub.”

I don’t know why I was thinking of my nude parachuting friend just beneath the summit of Africa’s second highest peak. Unlike her, I was on course but frozen – both figuratively and literally – while attempting to traverse a glacier. And no amount of testosterone was going to help me.

Gripped with fear I can move neither forwards or backwards, while the dawn wind is whipping through my protective gear. The glacier falls away below and my thoughts go to the travel guide, who forewarned, “Errant hikers have slid down glacial faces and over the edge never to be seen again.”

It hadn’t started this way. Bristling with confidence I was carrying a flask of tequila intending on a tequila sunrise from the peak while waving the scarf of my favourite footy team.

We ascend in darkness, timed to summit with the sunrise. It is a tough scramble over shale, rock, ice and snow. When the first rays of dawn appear and the mists lift I see my position as precarious. One false step and I become a snowboard setting a new downhill speed record.

I’m sobbing and screaming at my partner, “How could you have made me do this? I am never going to get out of here!”

I am immovable and panicked. Doomed. A storm has iced in chains we are meant to grip, and the glacier waits like a greedy water slide.

My saviour is an Austrian woman who bounds over the glacier like a child in a sandpit. Whipping out her pick she hacks a step in the ice.

“You vill put your foot in here, ja,” she instructs. Oh how I love that accent as she leads me up the mountain, one ice-pick footstep at a time.

There is a photo showing a group of climbers celebrating reaching the peak. The grumpy old man sitting on the sidelines is me.

As she got me up, so too does my saviour lead me back down to base camp. We rest before a relaxing downhill walk through magnificent valleys bearing trout-filled lakes, crystal clear tarns and giant lobelias. Tame hyraxes watch from rocks, warmed by the afternoon sun.

The sense of achievement has the blood rushing through my veins, if not the head. On the flight home, I turn to my hiking companions and say, “Hey, that was neat. You know the seven summits challenge? One mountain on each continent. We make a good team, what do you say we give it a go?” I couldn’t understand why they wanted to throw me out of the plane without a parachute.

Now, my abode is on the Kimberley coast whose tidal flats contrast to mountain peaks. The highest point is eighty-three metres above the sea. We climb it to survey the surrounds. My partner, a South African, says “Back home we’ve got mine dumps bigger than this.”

“C’mon,” I say. “We’ve still got unfinished business. Two peaks down and five to go.”