A group of expeditioners formed a team to attempt a summit of the formidable Everest. They anticipated the journey would be arduous so they spent years training and stock piling the best gear to aid them with their ascent. During this time of preparation they, through excited conversations with friends and acquaintances, added many to their numbers. By the time of departure their group numbered over fifty.
As they set out the air was thick with excitement. Taking the traditional southern route, the climb began in the small town of Namche Bazaar, Napal. Yaks and dzopkyos were loaded heavily with supplies. Sherpas and porters were hired. The travelers would spend the next 8 days making their way to the Everest Base Camp at a 17,700 feet. By all accounts the trek, even in its early phase, was far more difficult than they were ready for. Even many of the most physically fit members had a difficult time adjusting to the thin air.
On that 8th day they finally made it to the Khumbu Glacier which is followed for the final part of the trail to the Base Camp. The icy path was treacherous for the crew, each footstep was placed firmly to ensure safe passage. After this obstacle they reached the location where they would rest and acclimate for two weeks.
Tents were pitched, a makeshift kitchen was setup, and the sojourners settled in. When the winds weren’t whipping too hard they would gather into small groups discussing the journey so far and planning for the next section of the journey. There were a few core members of the team that were widely recognized as the leaders. They talked at length with each other about methods for keeping the others following the straight and narrow. Each afternoon the leaders would call the group together as a whole to go over safety strategies and outline their plans.
Over the first week at base camp other climbers also arrived, setting up their makeshift settlements nearby. A few of the leaders would go to chat with the newcomers, always reporting back to their own group that the others were inexperienced, ill-prepared, and had little business being on such a dangerous mountain. Occasionally they would try to convince some of the other groups to come and follow them up the mountain. Their sales pitches claimed that the only way they would be guaranteed a safe summit was if they learned from them and obeyed their instructions. Some actually did agree to abandon their own teams to study at the feet of the leaders and to follow them to the mountain top.
Each time a new convert was brought into the group the training sessions would begin again. Though the delays disappointed the original crew, the leaders explained that it was for everybody’s safety that the recruits received a full and robust training.
The two-week acclimation period passed, then another week, then another. With each passing day the instructional lessons became more detailed, more rigid, and more strict. What was a 1 hour informal gathering had now turned into a 2 1/2 hour class taught daily. Each now had a title and corresponding theme. One was called “7 Practices of a Highly Effective Climber”, another “Mountaineers in the Hands of an Angry Mountain”.
Eventually some of the members of the crew became disheartened at the postponements and the increasing fanaticism of the leaders. The mountain grew colder, windier, and more frightening with each passing day. A group of 5 asked a couple of the sherpas to escort them back off the mountain so they could return home. As they began to hike away from the camp and down the glacier they could hear mocking from the distance…something about being quitters, being weak, being lost. From that point on the classes would also contain a section on the failures of back-sliding down the mountain, of sliding down the slippery slope.
There was one young woman in the group, named Amy, who had dreamed of this journey since she was a small child. The walls of her room as a teenager were filled with posters of Everest. As an adult her coffee table had been littered with mountaineering magazines for years. She had taken smaller journeys across many of North America’s most famous peaks. When she heard of this expedition Amy had convinced her fiance, Brian, to take this trip with her. Brian had not dreamed of this trip since childhood, but Amy’s enthusiasm proved quite contagious.
Now she was forced to sit impatiently on the side of the mountain, so close…and so far away. To Amy, the classes being taught each day were little more than pep talks and repetition of lessons she had learned years earlier. She began skipping the lectures, instead venturing to nearby camps to express her vexation. She dared not speak her doubts and frustrations among her own team lest they shame her for being on the verge of the slippery slope.
Eventually the quicksand of this base camp became overwhelming for Amy. She had been thinking about turning back, going back home to return later. There was one particular group she had been venting to for the past couple days. When she told them that she was thinking about leaving they offered to let her join their expedition. Upon hearing the invitation Amy glowed.
She quickly rushed back to Brian and told him they finally had a way to continue on their journey. Brian was hesitant. He wanted to join Amy and this new team, but the training was echoing through his thoughts. The other groups are “unsafe”, “unreliable”…how could he put himself and Amy at such risk? And of course he knew the shaming would be imminent. He certainly didn’t want to be a back-slider.
There was one thing, though, that he felt more strongly than any of those fears. He wanted Amy to be happy. Brian told Amy he would love to join her and the new climbing team she had found. As they packed their gear some concerned companions came by to convince them that they should not leave. They expressed that they were worried for their safety. Brian and Amy thanked them for their concern but also conveyed that they were going to continue the climb and didn’t believe they could do that with the original expedition.
As they finally began their long-awaited trek out of the base camp they could hear murmurs behind them. The words they had expected finally came as somebody mentioned the “slippery slope” Amy and Brian were on. They smiled at each other because now they knew that not all slippery slopes are a descent…some are a long, hard climb towards your dream.