They canceled school due to the treacherous ice and sleet. In the morning, I listened as the flurries and flecks of hail clicked against the windows. The sky sprayed showers of icy mist that blanketed the streets.
On my phone, my eyes were frozen to an article about how 2,000-year-old ice had already melted in thirty years on Mount Everest. The South Col glacier may disappear in our current century, scientists believe. The melting had been accelerated by sublimation, when ice and snow skip the liquid-water stage and evolve into air. As the earth gets warmer from solar radiation, glaciers will sweat and disintegrate before our eyes. I considered the ice stuck in the screen on my windows and on the asphalt outside, the sunlight seared through a papery cloud.
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I suspected, before most of us, Ed Roberson knew of sublimation, of this eventual melting. In his poem, “To See the Earth Before the End of the World,” Roberson writes how the beauty of ice “disappears / into its polar white / and melts / and the ground beneath it, into vapor / into air.” While Roberson was sprouting nature poems, I was most likely the only kid in the hood playing the CD-ROM version of an Everest game on my computer.
I’d select a white climber, whose vectored body I’d maneuver up the peaks, scaling the mountain, deciding when and where to stop to fight fatigue. Snow drifted across the screen as I’d ascend. The higher I went, the more the graphics would malfunction, prompting my climber to glitch and, in some moments, miserably walk in place. I wasn’t the best climber. I’d often ignore my climber’s dwindling water and oxygen supply. Though, while I played, I’d imagine myself climbing: pushing my body to its utmost limits, frostbite eating away at my flesh, slogging for days before reaching the summit. Reaching the proverbial mountaintop.
I’d been raised in the eastern portion of Virginia. Far from the mountains that protruded out west. So when I was invited to join my YMCA youth group on a skiing trip to a resort called Massanutten, I quickly packed like we’d be traversing the Himalayas; slipping on my long johns, stepping into bulky snow boots and donning one of my mother’s old winter coats. To my surprise, I did enjoy snowboarding on the novice slopes—slicing clean through the snow.
It didn’t occur to me then that I was one of the only Black kids on the mountain that day. It didn’t occur to me until recently that the day before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered “I Have Been to the Mountaintop,” in which he claims, “I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” Still, after all these years, we, as a people, continue climbing. The world, warming, is still cold.
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It also hadn’t occurred to me then that none of the climber’s faces on that Everest game resembled mine. I want to play a version that includes Sophia Danenberg, the first African-American to summit Mount Everest. Danenberg, a self-proclaimed explorer in her youth, said all she wanted was to journey back down once she’d conquered the mountain. But the S herpa insisted she’d take a photo before descending. I was glad she’d accepted.
As I studied her picture, I couldn’t help but recognize that her pecan-shaded skin, curly black hair, and her warm smile that could melt snow resembled that of my mother. Like my mother had made it to the top of the world, had witnessed the promised land. That’s when I texted my mother, asking if she would ever climb Mount Everest. She promptly responded, “Yes, if my health allowed it.” And I’d join her, posing at the pinnacle, the weight of the world beyond us, our heads entering the blue ether.
I had to correct my friend who, the other day, deemed Everest guides to be shamans. They are accurately known as Sherpas, I told him. Sherpas, indigenous to Nepal, refer to Mount Everest as Chomolungma, Mother Goddess of the World. Sherpas are superhuman, some claim. Scaling angelic heights with ease.
Kami Rita Sherpa, who is perhaps the most famous of Sherpas, is said to have climbed Everest an unprecedented twenty-four times in twenty-five years. According to longtime Sherpa Ang Tharkay, in his memoir, Sherpa: The Memoir of Ang Tharkay, Sherpas are ideal climbers because of their “broad shoulders and solid kidneys.” I Googled “Sherpa kidneys” and was met with images of the Paragonix SherpaPak™ Cardiac Transport System, used to transport hearts and kidneys. I couldn’t help but think of that as a metaphor—Sherpas guiding the hearts of many to life-changing elevations.
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Finally, through Googling, I found that a Sherpa’s ability to excel at climbing high altitudes is a matter of mitochondrial adaptation. Because Sherpas have always inhabited areas located 8,000 meters above sea level, the mitochondria of Sherpas are more equipped to withstand lower oxygen availability, while also engineering more energy, which is known as anaerobic metabolism.
Similar factors can be attributed to why Kenyan runners perform at high levels, given that many Kenyan athletes train at altitudes surpassing 8,000 meters above sea level. I have seen this in action, gazing in awe out of my window during the Boston Marathon as a group of Kenyans sprinted by. They didn’t appear to be running, so much as gliding.
This type of energy, I believe, was most likely used when Sherpa villagers planned to exterminate the Yeti. Yetis, according to lore, frequently tormented and attacked villagers. So village elders devised a plan: the villagers congregated in an alpine field. They brought a large kettle of chāng, which is maize beer, and weapons consisting of swords, daggers, and sticks. The villagers, privy to the Yetis secretly spectating, put on a show.
They got drunk and battled all day, though the fray was fabricated. No villagers were actually harmed. And as evening fell, the villagers dropped their weapons and left large quantities of beer behind before heading home. Soon after the villagers departed, the Yetis drank what was left of the beer and began fighting. Most of the Yetis died, I’ve read. But a few escaped and withdrew to caves high up in the ridges where they could never be found.
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When it snows, the Boston Yeti can be found trekking through the city. The other week, John Campopiano—the man in the Yeti suit—was pictured in the streets of Boston, holding a sign reading “Good is Coming.” I’d wondered who would experience this “good,” what the “good” was, and when this “good” was to arrive, exactly. We could all use some good these days. Even the Yetis. I’d waited eagerly for the Boston Yeti to settle its hairy body on the snow, flakes clinging to its fur, and commence sculpting abominable snowman angels, confirming my childhood belief that angels only appeared when it snowed.
I then thought about Angel’s Rest, a trail and lookout point positioned on Pearis Mountain in western Virginia. My girlfriend and I hiked it once. The 4.6-mile trail was only a 1,650 ft. climb, but it seemed greater. Given its steepness, and the fact that I could be prone to hyperbole, it seemed as if we were ascending to another plane of existence.
At the trail’s summit, an outcropping of rocks overlooked a shimmering emerald valley. We took a selfie and sent it to my mother, captioned, “wish you were here.” The sky hovered directly above us—we could have reached up and collected samples of clouds. More so, I remembered being deafened by the silence. The noise of absolutely nothing. In other words, an atmospheric hum, a godly hush.