They were almost there. Raul, the guide, had said it was only a hundred meters or so to the tallest point. Or so they thought he had said. Hearing wasn't an easy task, as the wind blew stronger in the altitudes Breathing was also difficult and the freezing cold made it even harder.
It was the first time any of them, except Raul, had attempted to hike such a tall mountain. It had been called Ritacuba Blanco and the name was fitting: the place was covered in a think layer of snow, that confused every sense and the mind.
Again, Raul, who was the first in the line to the top, yelled something but this time no one heard him. The wind appeared to be muting all of the members of the team on purpose, although that was obviously preposterous.
They walked another fifty meters and then they understood what Raul had said. Laura, the scientist from Pasto, fell in a crevasse and pulled everyone else into it. Luckily, Raul and Juan had their tools ready and held strongly on the white floor. Fast, the others helped Laura getting out and avoided the crevasse. Franco put a red flag by the gap on the floor, pierced the snow with all his strength.
They continued for a few minutes until they made it to the top. Raul warned them, breathing with difficulty, that they could only stay for a few minutes. As they had no oxygen tanks, staying more than necessary could mean dying there or on the way down.
There were six explorers, seven with Raul. They all sat on some rocks that overlooked the cliff, on which the tallest point was located.
Juan, as experienced as he was, took just one moment to see the scenery and then went back to Raul and started talking about the descent. It wasn't that he took it all for granted, not at all. Juan was just thinking of so many things at same time and seeing mountains from the top of another mountain didn't do anything for him. He had a wife and a baby girl to think of. At the cost of loosing what he loved most, he had to choose either a well paid job or loosing them both.
Laura, however, sat on a rock and filled her lungs with the purest air she might ever breath. It was true that oxygen was scarce, was somehow it felt cleaner and better than anything else. She loved how the mountains looked and how beautiful the world looked like this, just peaceful. It was different of what she had known her whole life, and the fact that this beautiful place existed not that far from home, was overwhelming to her.
Luis, an mature hiker with a thick beard, inhaled too but many more times, as if he defied the world. Only Raul knew that Luis was dying of cancer in the blood and this journey was a way of saying to life "you can't beat me up". The mountains and what he saw weren't as beautiful to him as the fact of having being able to do it all on his own, this last few months. He was going to die, true. But he wanted to imprint his mark on the world.
Veronica, a geology student, had come with a camera and started taking pictures as soon as they had reached the summit. She was a cheerful photographer, having documented her life and her family's life in huge amounts of pictures. Digital or analog, she didn't care. She only cared about keeping memories alive forever and this was her way of doing so. She had lost her father recently, and he had promised to go hiking with him. She wanted to take the most beautiful pictures to honor her father's memory.
Marcos and Tomás thought of each other as brothers. They admired the view, never kneeling or crouching or sitting but standing up to it, taking it all in as if it was a gift that one couldn't just let pass by. Both men, still young but already working through life, had decided to take this trip to defy their bodies and test, once more, the limits of their friendship. Marcos and Tomás were not real brothers, not relatives by blood. They had lived together from a young age as orphans, on the streets and under the care of others. But they never let each other go.
The six visitors came to the mountain, each one with a kind of mission. Some of them were successful, others not so much. But what was valuable wasn't the physical prowess as such. It was the fact that they had decided to take a challenge in order to honor something, to be true to themselves.
As they returned to the base camp, near a beautiful blue lake, their lives seemed to have improved, at least a little, even for a tiny space of time. They had learned no one defies a mountain out of courage or for the need of glory. All who do it, do it just for the urge, the need to define who they are.