In 1997 physicist Francis Slakey set out to climb the highest mountain on every continent and surf every ocean – he dubbed it the first "global surf-and-turf." In his recently published memoir, To the Last Breath: A Journey of Going to Extremes, he describes the geophysics of waves, the body’s physiological breakdown at high-altitude, and the technology of climbing, as well as the people he encounters and the challenges he endures on his 12-year journey. Below is an excerpt, a moment on his climb of Mt. Everest:
As I move slowly down the mountain I see three figures ahead of me, barely visible in the blizzard. They stand no more than thirty feet away, but their movements are obscured in the swirling snow. With the wind howling, I can’t hear a word they are saying although it is clear they are trying to communicate. Then, suddenly, inexplicably, one of them sits down. The other two stand above him, hovering. They speak for a few more moments, turn, and then continue on down the mountain and out of sight.
At this altitude, in this weather, sitting can mean only one thing. Whoever just sat down has decided to die. The climbers who are walking away have chosen to let that happen.
How could those two climbers walk away? Over the next few hours, my understanding of that moment would turn inside out.