Above All Else by Dana Alison Levy



                     March 1



Dear Jordan Russo, Tate Russo, Rose Keller, and Paul Kirby,

            We are only one month away from your departure for Nepal!

            Climbing Mount Everest, or Sagarmatha, as it is called in the Nepali language, is a challenge few will attempt and even fewer will accomplish. We offer top technological equipment, sophisticated weather forecasting, expert guides, and comfortable Base Camp facilities to help you reach your goal.

            As you know, climbing Mount Everest is a commitment of several months. In order to survive the altitude at 29,035 feet, we require weeks to acclimatize to the lack of oxygen. The best way to do this is to move slowly up the mountain to Everest Base Camp, which sits at 17,600 feet.

            Base Camp will be our home for the next six to eight weeks, as we commit to a training regimen that involves climbing to progressively higher and higher camps and returning to sleep at lower camps. “Climb high, sleep low” is our guiding principle, allowing the body to adapt to the reduced oxygen over time.

            An expedition like this is a serious undertaking, and your safety is our priority. This climb is not for thrill seekers or daredevils but for those who hope to challenge themselves beyond what seems possible.

            Thank you for entrusting us with your dream.

            Sincerely,

            Finjo Sherpa

            Expedition Leader and Founder

            Mountain Adventure Expedition Company

            The only Nepali-owned organization to be rated in the top five Mount Everest outfitters by Lonely Planet!





                     Sagarmatha/Mount Everest South Col Route





Chapter One:


            Rose





                April 1

                San Francisco airport

                13 feet above sea level



            The check-in line at the airport is ridiculously long. Even with my lists and special secret passport-and-foreign-currency pouch (which Tate keeps insisting is a fanny pack, but it’s not), I’m still dithering around convinced I’ve lost my visa or something. It doesn’t help that Mami is behind me, chattering in an upbeat, delighted sort of way about everything from the weather forecast in Kathmandu to the charm of the Buddhist temples we’ll have to go see to the ice reports that are starting to be posted on the climbing blogs.

            She should be coming with us. She should be photographing the temples and traversing the ice herself. I push this thought away and grab Tate. “Selfie time! Official trip documentation starts now!”

            Tate obligingly puts bunny ears over my head and grins, then nudges me. “Yo. We’re finally up.”

            I blink and rush toward the counter. We’re already behind schedule, though in theory we still have plenty of time to make our flight. Or flights…two flights and thirty-two hours of travel await. San Francisco to Seoul, South Korea; Seoul to Kathmandu, Nepal. We’re off to a tiny, rectangular country wedged in between Tibet and India, home to the highest peaks in the world, including the grand prize, Everest.

            I hand over my paperwork to the bored check-in attendant and try to pay attention while she talks about our extra-luggage fees—it takes a metric ton of gear to climb, and that’s before I sorted out which protein bars to bring—but Mami’s still talking. She sounds so happy, like everything is going exactly according to plan, even though, in truth, nothing is. I’m heading off on this climb, this trip of a lifetime, and she’s not.