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A moment of panic

A moment of panic


I was gripped into the ice wall by just the front two spikes of my crampons that were tied as tight as I could get them to go on the outside of my red plastic boots.

At this moment I really regretted not buying my own top of the range shiny new crampons. It was so unlike me; I almost always go for the gear with the best reviews from all of the gear nerds who like to refer to numbers and weight to give their review a little bit more gut than the last nerd. At least if I’d bought new crampons, there was nothing more I could’ve done if I did happen to hurtle down the side of the 6100 metres mountain. Instead I’d decided to save my money and rent out some rusty, worn out and half blunt crampons that were loose at the best of times.

It was freezing. I mean bloody freezing. I’d been freezing before, I’d spent plenty of time in the Arctic before. Arctic Lucy I’m often called. But that’s a different kind of cold to the one when you’re at the top of a mountain, after climbing for 8 hours and unable to breathe.

My body was shivering uncontrollably as the morning sun began to rise which made the crampon-gripping situation even worse. We'd set off at midnight and had climbed all night. Now the ice was warming up with the sun's rays. I could feel myself grinding down the only contact I had to the mountain wall but there was nothing I could do. My feet would move and with it, move some ice below and to the side of the spikes. I was standing up right, about ten metres from the summit. These ten metres didn’t feel comprehensible to me. I was saying goodbye to loved ones in my head. I looked beneath me; hundreds of feet below were rocks sticking out from the snow blanket. Not even the most skilled mountaineer could save themselves with an ice axe arrest here. So I had no hope.

Either side of me were my teammates whom I had come up with. I was roped to Juan but he was half the size of me, spoke very little English and had even worse gear than me. Perhaps I’d fall and he’d attempt to dig himself into the ice to save us.. Then he’d be pulled off and overtake me as I fell, then we’d fall in a chaotic mess down the mountain to our deaths. ‘Think positive’ I thought. ‘You’re Lucy, you can do this like you’ve done everything that’s been thrown your way.’ But what if I couldn’t do it? This thought rarely entered my mind, which some may think of as an empowering attitude, a ‘This Girl Can’ motivational way to live one's life.

At this point, my mind was half on ‘can’ and half on ‘you’re not superwoman.’ My legs and arms were just about to give way when a feeling of desperation to live came over me. I might not be Superwoman, but I might as well try. So I held on.

I used the little energy I had took one foot cautiously out of the hard ice and took one big kick into the ice. The spikes penetrated the wall and stuck firmly. I was secure.

We were stood still chilling our asses off due to a mountaineering traffic jam. Little to our knowledge, there had been a French team who’d camped a little further up from us and they’d left earlier in the night to get ahead. I couldn’t tell if they were pros or just simply tired from the exhausting climb but they were acting like jerks I thought. The wall that we stood on… Well, clung to. Could only manage one person. The French had already summited so needed to pass us in order to get down. They could’ve waited on the summit but instead they had fled down as if there was a clock on the matter. They spoke abruptly and sounded frustrated as they looked at us in the way of their escape. No one tried to pass any word, instead the French were soon coming towards us. My concern was that they’d use us as human steps. One French man had managed to climb above Juan and now I was in the way.

Juan put out his hand as if we were just in the street crossing over a man hole. Juan gestured down. I know now what he wanted me to do. I looked at the French man and he gestured the same thing. They wanted me to take steps down this vertical wall so that he had enough space to climb above. My legs were so weak. Usually I’d be able to rely on my arms to take my weight but even they were numb. I looked at them both. I was probably pale as a ghost with water in my eyes and jaw clenching because then they came up with another solution. The French man took hold of my rucksack as Juan put his arm out again. I was being passed over like a bag of luggage in an airport. My life was in their hands I thought. I didn’t mind this actually; there was nothing more I could do. Why not allow a man whom I’d never met and the other who I wouldn’t even trust to water my house plant. Surely they didn’t want me to die. That would be hassle. So I released my ice axe from the snow then one foot, I felt the rucksack go up as my weight went down on it. Juan violently took hold of the arm strap and dragged me towards him, until I could get my axe into the snow and ice next to him. The French man released his grip as I dug my feet in place as quickly as I could with the energy I had miraculously found in the depths of my body. I looked up and saw the summit so close, gleaming in the early morning sunlight.

Then came the next fear, I had to get down after I’d got to the top. Shit.