Short story: The Hill, by Ella Hewison

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It had been a family tradition to climb the Hill.

Every year, while the turkey was cooking and my mother was having a bit of peace and a glass of wine, my father led us up the Hill. And each year we would come down again, cheeks glowing, full of pride about our achievement and quite ready for our Christmas dinner.

Well, not quite all of us. I never quite made it, half-way up it seemed such a long way back and going further would make it even longer, so I just sat down and waited for the others.

Now, I am not a novice when it comes to climbing. I imagine I am quite well known on the streets of Khatmandu. I regularly visit Everest base camp and advance base camp, I’ve traversed the treacherous North Col, am familiar with the North Face, know all about the Death Zone, the dangers of frostbite, etc, and have successfully climbed the First and Second Steps.

The terrors of the Khumbu Icefall are nothing to me, I’ve camped on the South Col, negotiated the Hillary Step, stood triumphant on the summit, and yet....and yet.....I still hadn’t climbed the Hill.

And so, last year, leaving the aged parents behind to cook the dinner and sample the wine, I set off in my walking boots, thick socks, woolly hat and gloves, not to mention my fleece and state of the art Arctic anorak. I wasn’t taking any chances.

To my surprise, there were quite a few people about. Dog walkers, families with children, old people, even a couple of kids with a kite were already on the Hill, and a few early birds had apparently made it to the summit and were on their way down.

‘Oh, well,’ I thought to myself, ‘they will be company for me and, if the worst happens, and I collapse from hypothermia or altitude sickness, one of them is sure to have a mobile phone and can ring the rescue services.’ And off I set with a good heart, full of Christmas bonhomie and an intrepid spirit.

Quite quickly, I reached my usual point of return. This is where I would normally stop and rest and then decide that I might as well descend to civilisation and – let’s face it – safety. My trouble, after all, was not just laziness, a disinclination to climb further, the futility of going up the hill just to come down again like Jack and Jill but something else I just could not help. This was an illness, a phobia, a fear of heights – what is it they sometimes call it? Vertigo, that was it. With relief, I turned round and almost bumped into a small child who was striding along ahead of his family, intent on making the summit before they did.

And this is when I took a deep breath and, no doubt risking frostbite and all the rest, continued up and up and up without once looking down. The child, all of six years old, beat me to it but I had actually reached the summit, and could stand triumphant, enjoying the view and, if you can forgive the cliché, be monarch of all I surveyed.

Back with the aged parents who had been joined by other family members, I had a much needed glass of whisky and, warmed by the log fire, I sat back and told them all about my big adventure. They were less than impressed.

‘So you made it?’ said my brother, ‘after all these years. All one thousand feet of it – the last of the great explorers conquers the Hill. What’s next, Helvellyn or Mont Blanc?’

And my sister laughed: ‘Maybe you’ll make it into the lift and summit the Eiffel Tower or what about the Boston Stump? There’s another target for you.’

They could scoff but I felt an inner peace and a vindication, a feeling that all the hours exploring the Everest routes, were not wasted. I felt a kinship with George Mallory who had climbed (or maybe had not quite climbed) Everest because it was there – the Hill was there and I had succeeded where the old me had failed.

And I looked again at my maps of the Himalayas and thought about all the different routes I could try, or maybe I should just return to the old Mallory and Irving way – the First and Second Steps were enticing me, and soon I could set off. Or maybe not quite yet – there was still the small matter of the Christmas dinner to address, but afterwards, who knows?