It would appear that an inordinate number of Englishmen and assorted Continentals, to say nothing of Sherpas, have been shuttling up and down the world's highest mountains recently. To a man, they have been ambushed at the bottom by literary agents and motion picture producers-fierce tribes which apparently abound in the foothills of the Himalayas.
While noteworthy, much of this activity can be viewed with an air of amused tolerance. You see, I'm something of a mountaineer myself—part of a local group of enthusiasts who, although we may not have got to the "roof of the world," have surely rattled some shingles in our suburban neck of the woods.
Our expedition was got together rather hastily. I was sipping a tall sling one torrid night during the monsoon season when the telephone rang. It was George Meagre.
"Hello," he said. "I'm in trouble."
September 25, 1955
"Well?" I said.
"My television aerial is down."
These were ominous words indeed. George owns a monstrous old pile of masonry. His aerial stands atop the loftiest pinnacle of the roof. True, the previous owner had in some way scaled this wind-swept crag to make the original installation but in Meagre's time it had remained unassailed. Some months before, indeed, he had very nearly lost his life in an attempt to clean the leaves out of a downspout that lay well below the summit.
Nonetheless, George is not one to pay an outsider for a little repair job, and we formulated our plans that same night. We discussed and rejected several possible additions to the climbing party, finally settling on Harris Teal who was well known for intrepid work in retrieving his kid's box kite from various high points around town.
The rains stopped on the following morning, and Teal and I arrived at the foot of Meagre's soaring edifice toward noon. Meagre had already established Base Camp No. 1 in the kitchen near the refrigerator, and one of the native bearers (Mrs. Meagre) had been dispatched to obtain adequate supplies of beer and dill pickles.
As to the route of our trek, Meagre had the idea that an easy ascent could be made up the staircase and thence onto the roof through an attic window. The shrewder Teal, however, was quick to point out that the window passage gave access to the treacherous south face, so steep as to afford only the most precarious footing. He favored the east face. This, he pointed out, had a longer but more gradual slope whose lower end could be readily laddered from the ground. I concurred.
Meagre was selected to make the climb to the eaves while Teal and I, nearly overcome by thirst, returned to Base Camp No. 1 for supplies. Meagre, meanwhile, reconnoitered the base of the slope.
When we returned he reported from the top of his ladder 1) that he had discovered two old tennis balls and a wren's nest in the roof gutter and 2) that the shingles had a slippery quality which convinced him that he should go no farther. Meagre's nerve had failed him.
Signaling our fainthearted comrade to remain where he was, Teal and I held a hasty conference. I suggested to Teal that he was admirably fitted to take over where Meagre had left off. Teal then showed his true colors by declining the assignment himself while, in the same breath, urging me to assault the slope.
Clearly, compromise was necessary to preserve the morale of the expedition, so Teal and I decided to give Meagre a chance to save face. A rope would bolster his courage. We fetched one forthwith from the garage, making only the briefest of stops at Base Camp No. 1 en route.
Meagre was then directed to stand by at the eaves while we threw the rope around the chimney with the aid of a small rock attached to its end. The rock narrowly missed Meagre on the way down, causing him to make remarks not in keeping with Hillarian tradition. We overlooked this, coolly observing that, thanks to us, he was now out of danger. He could make his way up the roof by going hand over hand along the rope to the chimney, whence a traverse to the site of the fallen TV aerial was an easy matter.
Meagre snorted rudely but seemed to have got hold of himself. In spite of his attitude, Teal and I were able to muster a cheer as he disappeared into the swirling mists at the 30-foot level.
For the next hour or so we had to swallow our disappointment at not making the ascent, contenting ourselves with frequent trips to the base camp where we engaged in light banter with Mrs. Meagre, Mrs. Teal and others who had dropped in from neighboring base camps. Once we even threw Meagre an extra pair of pliers when he carelessly allowed his own to slide into a crevasse.
It seemed like ages before we caught sight of him making his way down the mountain. He was overtired and emotionally unstable, if not a little super-cooled around the gills. As a matter of fact, though the weather was tolerably warm, he resembled nothing so much as the Abominable Snowman.
His only remarks were to the effect that the least we could do would be to retrieve the empty beer cans which twinkled here and there on the surrounding lowlands.
One of the native bearers told us later that Meagre spent the rest of the day sulking. It's a pity that his fit of depression—possibly induced by lack of oxygen or oversensitivity to scattered beer cans—should have marred an otherwise perfect climb.