An extract from Helen Mort’s ‘A Line Above the Sky: A story of mountains and motherhood’, published by Ebury.
It is never the right time. September, October, the valleys holding the clouds close like nursed resentments. The trees shudder, premonitions of storm. There will never be a settled day. You could wait for one all your life, palms pressed to the fogged-up windowpane, rucksack spilling its contents on the floor, the kettle singing its high, shrill song in the background.
There is no such thing as bad weather. Repeat it like a mantra. You must pack for anything. Warm layers. Waterproofs and dry socks. A head torch and spare batteries in case darkness folds over the hills faster than you imagined. A modest food supply. Prayers. Hopes. Humility. There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothes. Packing is a comfort. There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable thoughts.
Your muscles ache. As you walk, your left knee rebukes you for the poor care you’ve taken of it. Crows scatter from the nearest branches, flinging the ink of themselves across the morning’s used page. There is no such thing as a fresh start. It will never be the right moment. You must make good progress. Leave now while you still can.
High above eastern Nepal, Ama Dablam is a mother wearing a glittering necklace. This is no Romantic metaphor: it is the mountain’s true name. From the trail towards Everest base camp, it dominates the eastern sky, shadows clinging to it, snow cleaving to its steepness. It is a dazzling triptych. The long ridges on each side are the arms of a mother (ama) protecting her child and the hanging glacier is like a double pendant (dablam) worn by Sherpa women. It soars dramatically, proud among the high reaches of the Himalaya. As I was giving birth to my son in December 2018, my friend, ex-boyfriend and climbing partner, Andrew, was scaling it, slow and methodical. When the contractions gripped my whole body, it was him I thought of unaccountably, him struggling through the thickness of snow and the thinness of air, climbing steadily towards a cold dawn, light breaking, a sudden blush over Cho Oyu and Numbur, all the jagged peaks of the Western Himalaya. I saw him pause on the South-West Ridge, sheerness on either side of him, a gold and rusted band of sky behind. I saw him glance down to left and right, appraising the swoop of the land, then fix his eyes on the slope ahead, the distance yet to cover. No going back.
‘A Line Above the Sky’ is out now in hardback. Buy a copy here (£15.79).
Read Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s review of the book here.