nilas - thin elastic crust of gray-colored ice formed on a calm sea; characterized by a matte surface, and easily bent by waves and thrust into a pattern of interlocking fingers
Sometimes Pete thought that all you needed to know about Joe were the seven years he spent training for the priesthood in a Jesuit seminary. "I've still got a lot of catching up to do," Joe says, with his wicked, half-hidden grin.
The first time Joe meets Pete"s mother Rose, he blows a projector fuse in her house, dripping melting plastic over her dining room table. They're preparing for Changabang. It's Joe's second attempt: his previous partner returned injured with frostbite. On her face he sees the question, "What will you do to my son?" Even then, he's not sure.
They meet in the Alps, retreating from snowfall. Joe wrote, "I sensed a kindred spirit". He courted Pete with unclimbed faces and shadowy lines. Pete was diffident, diplomatic. Faced with reality, he's uncompromising. Joe records their first climb: he was the one who was uncertain. It's Pete whose climbing was authoritative. They argued, reached the summit in tense silence, made a desperate retreat together. Six weeks of forced confinement united them.
A girl complained resentfully to Joe, "The thing about you two is you don't need to talk to each other."
Pete offered Joe room in his house. Joe accepted.
It's the seventies. Days of risk-taking on the rock are followed by devil-may-care revelry careening between Llanberis, Derbyshire, Glen Coe: parties, grass and bottled beer and greasy breakfasts. Joe wrapped in a sleeping bag on the floor, a mummified caterpillar. He's physically affectionate, Joe, saying with touch what he cannot with words.
He doesn't touch Pete, but he watches.
Joe wraps his sandwiches in Playboy center-spreads, has a girl in London, another in Derbyshire. In parties, at bars, he jockeys for Pete's attention, his stories more outrageous with each telling.
He is not a safe choice.
Pete watches back.
The situation is unreal, a delicate tiptoe on the verge of insecurity. Madness. Don't look down.
Joe says, low voiced, "I still wanted to touch you, all that evening. Was that wrong?" He sounds uncertain, Joe who is usually so direct. "I didn't mean this to happen."
He has his hands thrust into the pockets of his sheepskin coat, his head bent. Fun is closely linked to fear: the first move is always the worst.
Pete writes, later, "Here there could be no victors or conquered... "
Joe snorts, relieved laughter. "Right. We might as well try for a bit."
In a bar, Joe says, "If I hadn't been a mountaineer I would have been a spy. All that tension, imagine the adrenaline! And so many secrets!" His eyes slip sideways. Pete buries his face in his beer.
Their folly is private.
Pete says to Hilary, "I'm not honest. I lie and show off."
Unpacking Joe's luggage, returned from Everest, Maria will find a packet of letters from a woman in London. She burns them and weeps. Hilary remembers dancing with Pete in Chamonix, after the snow, themselves alone.
Pete will say, "Ever heard of double standards, Tasker?" and laugh.
Joe says, "If I think about this..." His hands, so resolute on rock and ice, pluck at the edge of the sleeping bag. It's cold enough at 20,000 feet for their breath to freeze on the tent fabric. In the morning it will flake away, crackling paper-thin crystal shards.
"Don"t think," Pete says. He has decided Meetings with Appropriate Men is not light reading on a mountain.
"Sometimes I wonder why I can't be content with an ordinary life." Joe sounds disgruntled.
Pete writes to Hilary, later, "What is important is that you are alive and so am I."
Joe's house is warm and muddled, layered Indian rugs, a log fire burning, an improbably complex stereo. Yet he packs neatly, in increments. Toothpaste, pitons, Walkman, boots, crampons, padded and bagged. His relationships are as cleanly divided as his climbing gear. Women, friends: layers like tissue paper. Joe does not deal in platitudes.
Pete says, "The next time I go on a two-man expedition, it's going to be a two person one. I've had enough of tough guy talk and cold toes. I'm going to find a nice young lady and go to the tropics."
"You do that," Joe says.
Joe writes, "I wonder whether our penances and frequent deprival of physical pleasure did indeed benefit our souls and make us better people."
Exasperated, he'll say to Pete, "I'm not looking for a wife, for Christ's sake."
"I know," Pete says. It's not long after that he meets Hilary: Joe, Maria. Pete wrote, "Although I could not blindly forget, I had to leave most of my past behind." He thinks of mountains as magnificently indifferent: he feels older, more vulnerable. He writes, "Either risks were easier to take, or I was less aware of the dangers."
They leave for Everest.
Pete: "I was in the shadow, and sunlight streaming from the ridge drew me upwards, gasping with excitement and straining against the invisible reins of thin air."
"What time d'you think we should turn back?" Joe asks. He grumbles, "There's never enough time."
But he writes, "There exists range after range of elusive, difficult objectives. Irresistibly one is drawn back. If not to Everest, to other summits. The pain is forgotten and the dream remains."
Pete, diligent, keeps a diary: Joe, notes.
Chris Bonnington wrote, "The fifteenth May dawned clear, but windy. Pete and Joe fussed around with final preparations."
"See you in a few days."
"We'll catch you tonight at six."
The North-East Ridge of Everest soars, a vast flying buttress, up from Raphu La. It's a pinnacled, serrated edge. They're four days out from Advance Base, two days from the summit, low on food and fuel. At six o"clock, the radio malfunctions. At nine, they can still be seen, two small figures.
Then they're gone.
"I look at myself and I don't know how I got here," Joe says.
"Wish I was home. I need to get on with my book," Joe says.
In 1992 a Kazakh/Japanese expedition also reached the end of the Pinnacles, and on their way to join the original route they passed a body in the snow at the side of the second Pinnacle, just beyond where Adrian [Gordon] and I had last sighted Pete and Joe in 1982. They photographed the body, and from the clothing we could tell that it was undoubtedly Peter Boardman. He was lying in the snow, almost as if he had fallen asleep
Chris Bonnington, 1992.
and Clarke, Charles: Everest, the Unclimbed Ridge (1984)