Into The Land of Snows by Ellis Nelson
YA metaphysical, contemporary novel
Cover Art by Winterheart Design
Sixteen year old Blake travels to Base Camp on Mt. Everest to spend time with his physician father. When a deadly avalanche occurs, Dad is forced to rethink things and sends Blake away. Now accompanied by a Sherpa guide, and in possession of a mysterious camera, Blake undertakes a journey that will challenge everything he believes. In the magical Himalayas, he will be forever changed by what he experiences.
“Don’t worry. I’ll get you to your father,” the pilot said. He gave Blake a sharp rap on the back. Blake climbed on board the chopper, struggling with his gear. All his efforts to change his mother’s mind about the trip had failed completely. He fell into the nearest seat and dropped his pack at his feet. Several men climbed in and buckled up next to him.
The helicopter rose and headed northeast, the chopper blades slicing through the frigid air. Blake McCormack settled into his seat, trying to make himself comfortable. More out of habit than anything else, he ran a hand through his wild, dark hair tipped with burgundy accents. He unzipped his jacket just enough to adjust the Egyptian ankh that scratched at his chest. A quick sideways glance at the man next to him made him wonder what these men might be thinking. Surely, a sixteen year old heading to Base Camp on Everest was unusual.
Three climbers with their own packs crammed in around Blake. Their excitement filled the small cabin even in the silence forced by the deafening noise of the helicopter. Blake pushed his fear down and puffed out his chest. He watched as a small Sherpa village vanished from the landscape behind him. Exiting the U-shaped, western-facing valley, the sacred mountain, Khumbila, rose in the north. Ahead lay the vast Himalayas.
Blake glanced out the window. “Wow!” he said, but no one heard him over the roar of the chopper.
As the mountains rose in the distance, Blake forced himself to think about his situation. Here he was, headed for the highest mountain in the world at the request of his father. Not a request, really. It had been a demand. Months had passed after the divorce and not a word had come from his father. And it was Dad who wanted the divorce, not Mom. All this was Dad’s fault.
A gust pushed the helicopter sideways and Blake instantly snapped back to the present. He dug deep into the pockets of his down jacket and retrieved the two Diamox tablets given to him before takeoff. The medicine would act to minimize the effects of acute mountain sickness. That was what he’d been told, at least. One of the climbers across from him smiled and nodded as Blake threw the pills into his mouth and swallowed. Silently, he prayed they’d be effective.
How many times had he heard his father recount stories about climbers with altitude sickness? Dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting—he replayed the symptoms in his head, a technique that came to him naturally, as a doctor’s son. Come on, Diamox, do your thing!
Already on the road ten days, Blake yawned with exhaustion from traveling. The journey had brought him from his home in Ohio to the foothills of the Himalayas with most of that time spent on planes. Landing in Katmandu had been a trip. Even the guidebooks hadn’t prepared him for that. Talk about stepping back in time. A few days in the city and he was headed for Everest in a rugged SUV. It jarred and bounced Blake along for another couple of days until finally he faced the last leg of the arduous trip by helicopter. Anxious to get somewhere, he squeezed both gloved hands just to make sure he could still feel them. The higher the chopper rose, the more frigid the cabin became, and he shivered in spite of the blinding sunshine that poured through the windows.
“Look!” the largest of the climbers screamed. He thrust a hand toward a window. Blake only registered his meaning when the thickly padded finger thumped the glass.
Everyone turned to see what the man was pointing to. Blake craned his neck to look around the man next to him. On the ground, a dark shape sprang across a snow covered landscape only to disappear behind a rock face.
It was over before anyone could truly comprehend the event.
“What was that?” Blake screamed at the top of his lungs.
Two of the climbers shook their heads. The other shrugged and leaned in toward him. “Bear?” he shouted in to Blake’s ear.
Soon they were high enough to get a good look at the sprawling mountain range. One of the climbers pointed out a window. Blake gasped. Even in March, jagged snow-covered peaks sliced into the sky. Roughly hewn rocks stabbed through, making the mountains blue-gray. The valleys below held puffy cumulous clouds. Blake wondered when he’d see Mount Everest. A few minutes passed as everyone stared out the window, transported into a dream-like landscape of stark beauty.
They passed over two small villages where families tended potato plots amongst the barren terrain. Still ascending, they flew toward the Buddhist gompa of Tengboche. The stone monastery projected its presence over the whole valley while nestled in a high altitude forest.
One of the climbers poked at the window again. The others nodded and broke into broad grins. Blake knew their exhilaration meant they had spotted Everest. Excited and scared, Blake peered out into the bright day. He squinted against the blinding sunshine, and his jaw dropped. Far off and higher than he ever would have imagined, cotton candy puffs wrapped around the peak with the famous white fang hidden behind those clouds. In his mind’s eye, he could see the summit.
Blake rummaged through his pack and retrieved his camera. He snapped a few quick shots, knowing they probably wouldn’t be very good. But it would serve as his record of actually being there.
The force of the climbing helicopter pinned Blake in his seat. As the chopper rose, the engines strained. He balled his fists up and forced himself to take deep, rhythmic breaths. Relaxing, he told himself it would be okay. This would be the adventure of a lifetime, and he’d be able to tell people about the time he went to Everest. Even tough Slade, his best friend, wouldn’t be impressed.
Instead of heading over the formidable mountains, the chopper cut west to follow a well-worn trekking trail. Two rivers crossed and separated, and in the valley a few scattered buildings sat amid a picture-postcard landscape. A long, dark line snaked its way from the village. Blake recognized this to be a yak train, but only because he had read about them.
The helicopter swept due north for its approach to Base Camp. More climbing, forever climbing. Blake wondered if they’d ever be high enough. The isolation and desolation as they grew closer to the peaks resonated in his soul. How could he be so thrilled and so scared at the same time?
Over rustic lodges and a blue glacier lined with ice seracs, Blake took in the harsh terrain. From photographs in books he knew that the climbers would face an even more hostile environment during their climb. The chopper descended suddenly, and around him the men started to pick up their packs.
The helicopter set down gently and the men unbuckled and hopped out. Last out, Blake managed to jump down just as the pilot killed the motor. No one was there to meet the chopper and he hesitated, uncertain what he should do. He had thought that his father would, at least, be there to greet him. But of course not. He had better things to do, just as always. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the three climbers starting up a steep, rocky slope.
Throwing his pack over his shoulder, Blake ran after them. He fought the incline and finally called out.
“Hey, do any of you know Dr. McCormack?”
The smallest of the men turned around and said, “Sure. He’s our team doc. He’s at the camp just above us.” Although the man was not as tall as the others, he was powerfully built. Close-cut blond hair and his direct approach gave him a military air.
The man’s eyes narrowed and he asked, “Are you climbing?”
“No. I’m just going to see my dad,” Blake responded. He suddenly felt very small amongst these rugged men.
“Ah, you’re the doc’s kid. Glad to hear that. You had me scared. I’m Nic, and this is Brian, and Jacques,” he said, pointing to his companions.
Blake felt dwarfed standing next to Brian. The intimidating 6’4” frame towered over him. His curly, brown mass of hair that looked like it had never seen a comb softened the impact of Brian’s physical size. He nodded and flashed a cock-eyed smile.
“Hi, I’m Blake.”
“Bonjour,” Jacques said. He extended his hand.
Blake shook hands as Jacques swiped a thick mane of long, blond hair from his eyes. Underneath, stylish European sunglasses hid much of his face.
“Well, Blake, let’s get you to your dad,” Nic said.