BURMA

Words by Mark Jenkins

The wind slams into meand I desperately grip my ice axes to keep from being ripped off the mountain face. I push my head against the snow, calm myself, and look down. Beneath my crampons is a 5,000-foot drop. It’s like looking down from the open door of an airplane. I am roped to my two companions, with nothing attaching us to the mountain. A fall here would send all three of us plummeting to our death.

When the wind subsides, I pound an aluminum stake into the snow and clip the rope to it. It wouldn’t hold if I were to fall but gives me enough psychological comfort to continue. I concentrate, methodically swinging my ice tools and kicking my crampons. At a rock rampart I place an anchor and belay my partners, Cory Richards and Renan Ozturk, across the chasm.

“Nice lead, dude!” Cory shouts above the roar of the wind when he arrives. He climbs onward, slanting left, searching for a passage up through the granite and snow. When Renan reaches me, there is no room on my ledge, so he traverses out to his own perch. Cory carefully tiptoes the teeth of his crampons along a thin ledge above us and disappears from sight.

Renan and I wait, hunched against the wind. We stomp our feet and painfully slap our gloved hands. We are too far apart to talk. We just stand there, together but alone, on the side of the snow-plastered cliff more than three miles in the sky. After a half hour we begin to freeze. After an hour we can no longer feel our fingers or toes. “I can’t take it anymore,” Renan yells through his frozen beard. “My feet are gone. I have to start moving.” 

Read the entire story by National Geographic Magazine