In a novel as riveting, irresistible, and heartbreaking as Into Thin Air, teen climbing prodigies Rose and Tate attempt to summit--and survive--Mount Everest.
Rose Keller and Tate Russo have been climbing for years, training in harsh weather and traveling all over the world. The goal that kept them going? Summiting Mount Everest, the highest point on earth. Accompanied by Tate's dad, the two will finally make the ultimate climb at the end of their senior year. But neither Rose nor Tate are fully in the game--not only is there a simmering romance between them, but Rose can't get her mind off her mother's illness, while Tate constantly fails to live up to his ambitious father's standards.
Everyone on their expedition has something to prove, it seems. And not everyone is making the best decisions while short on oxygen and exhausted, body and mind. The farther up the mountain they go, the more their climbing plans unravel and the more isolated each team member becomes. Rose and Tate will have to dig deep within themselves to determine what--or who--they value above all else.
Release date: October 13, 2020
Publisher: Charlesbridge Teen
Print pages: 320
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Above All Else
Dana Alison Levy
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.
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!
Chapter One: Rose
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 China 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.
This whole trip started with her. We have all climbed together for years, since Tate and I were little kids: RoseAndTate, best friends and climbing partners. But Mami was the one who made this trip happen, who pushed Everest from dream to reality, though the dream really started with Tate. He’s always been the most intense of all of us about climbing, and Everest is the ultimate goal. Not that it was hard to convince Jordan, Tate’s father. Jordan’s pretty intense when it comes to bagging peaks. He’s pretty intense in general. Tate is more chill than his dad, except about climbing. Ever-ready, ever-energized, up-for-any-mountain, that’s Tate. Of course he was all about Everest. Especially since it got us out of our last few months of senior year. School’s not exactly Tate’s favorite place. Anyway, now we’re heading off, and it’s RoseAndTate, and Jordan, but no Mami.
Once we’re done checking in, we shuffle ourselves out of the way of the crowds to say goodbye. Tate’s mom, Sarah, is holding on to him like she might never let go, and Tate shoots me a half-panicked look over her shoulder. I shrug back, not sure how I’m supposed to help with her kraken-like grip.
“Sarah, we’ll be fine,” Jordan says, rubbing her back. “We are not the kind of mountaineers who are going to make the ultimate sacrifice. There’s too much to come home to. We will see you in Kathmandu in June, and if we’ve summited Everest, great. If not, so be it, but either way, we’ll be there.”
“I know! I know that,” Sarah mumbles into Tate’s shoulder. “But I can’t help thinking—”
Jordan’s voice quiets. “It was a fluke, what happened before. I promise, Sare. I’ll keep him safe.”
I turn and hug Dad. He looks baffled, as always, that this is something I want, but he hugs me hard and tells me he’s proud of me. He has grown used to me and Mami heading off to points unknown, but I don’t think it’s ever easy for him. And this is the longest I’ll have been gone: almost three months. Without Mami. But if he worries, he doesn’t tell me. Instead he just says again and again how proud he is, how much he loves me.
Next to me, Tate is still wrapped in his mother’s arms. “I love you so much, Mama,” I hear him whisper.
She squeezes him once, even tighter, then lets go fast.
“Be. Careful,” she says, holding his chin and staring into his eyes as if she can burn the message into his brain. The whole family is white, but only Sarah has the kind of pale skin where you can see every freckle stand out. She’s flushed and pink, her eyes a shiny telltale red that means she’s trying not to cry.
“Yes!” Jordan says, clearly relieved that the emotional part of the goodbye is over. “Let’s break your ‘Master of Disaster’ track record, shall we? You’ll need to really focus.”
“I will! Jeez. I’m going to be climbing Mount Everest,” Tate says. “I don’t think my mind’s going to wander.”
Sarah interrupts. “I don’t just mean climbing! Be careful on the streets in Nepal with those crazy drivers, and on the trek up to Base Camp—my God! Be careful of the yak trains! I read about those giant groups of yaks that come barreling down the paths, loaded up with gear. You have to squeeze yourself against the inside, against the rock, or they can knock you right off the side of the mountain. Rose! Tell him!” She turns to me.
I nod solemnly. “I’m on it, Sarah. Trust me. It’s not going to be like in La Paz—”
“I WAS TWELVE!” Tate pretend shouts, and we all laugh.
It’s best that we laugh, instead of thinking of what could happen. Like Dad, Sarah has never understood our climbs, but unlike Dad, she’s never really been okay with it. Whenever we first get back from a trip, she clutches Tate like he’s going to disappear. Now he’s eighteen and off on the trip of a lifetime, so she’s doing the best she can to suck it up. But I can see the fear in her eyes.
Mami is still smiling big and wide, her dark eyes crinkled up. She looks so happy for us, but what is it like for her, to watch the rest of us head off to live her dream? She swears up and down she can’t wait to meet us in Kathmandu when it’s all over, that she’s fine. And I try so hard to believe it. But my capital-D Dread, so enormous and gut-churning and constant, isn’t easy to dismiss. It waits until I’m relaxing in my room, or half-asleep in my bed. Then it tries to swallow me whole.
I push it away and hold up my phone. “Let’s get a group shot, okay? Mami, I promise you, I’m going to send so many photos and videos and texts that you’ll practically be there with us!”
“You’ll have all the sights, none of the smells, so none of Rosie’s high-altitude crop dusters! What could be better?” Tate says, and we laugh. Mami laughs loudest of all.
She grabs me in one last hug. “I am so excited for you,” she says, her voice strong. “You, my love, are the most thoughtful, deliberate climber I’ve ever had the privilege of climbing with.” She looks at me with such intensity that I’m surprised flames don’t crackle out from her eyes. “Savor every moment, Rosalita. I hope it is magical.”
There’s no judgment in her voice, no resentment. But I can’t help thinking about every time I bitched about training or complained about missing too much school. I wanted this, but never as much as Mami. I can’t help thinking that she should be doing this, not me.
I look more like my dad—a seriously tall, skinny white guy with blue eyes—than Mami, who is pretty short for a climber and has darker skin and deep, brown eyes. We’re different enough that when I was a baby, people thought she was the nanny. But looking into her face is like looking into my own. Our connection is so strong it’s like a rope strung between us. After staring into my eyes, she squeezes me once more, then lets go.
She turns and gives Jordan a quick hug, then swats him. “Jordan! Scram! The last thing I want to hear is a phone call once we get home and back into bed that you’ve missed the plane. Remember that time in Chile—”
“Again, I was TWELVE!” Tate says, and Mami laughs and hugs him.
“I know, I know. I’m teasing. You’re an excellent climber, Tate. Just remember to take care of yourself the way you take care of Rose and you’ll be fine.” She pauses. “Take such care. We need you, my friend. Okay?”
Tate nods and hugs her tight, dwarfing her until she disappears in his arms.
We have one more round of hugs, and there’s an attempt to actually head to security, but then we’re delayed by a frantic realization that someone (Tate) forgot his e-reader in his mother’s purse, followed by a round of hugs, and then we’re off.
Twenty hours into our trip, I think Tate and I are the only ones awake. Jordan popped an Ambien the minute our second flight took off, and by the snores coming out of her, so did the woman in front of me. I keep turning around and around in my seat as though there were even the remotest chance of getting comfortable.
“Will you stop!” Tate whacks me on the arm. “It’s like sitting next to a rotisserie chicken!”
I sigh. “Sorry! Sorry, sorry, sorry. I’m so tired. But I can’t sleep.”
He cracks his neck, then winces at the popping sound. “No, I’m sorry. I’m just edgy. Can’t sleep, can’t read, can’t watch any more TV . . .”
“There are BBC channels. You can watch the baking show,” I point out, my voice muffled. I’ve dropped the tray table and have face-planted on it, my head resting on a sweatshirt. “Will you draw pictures on my back?”
This is what we do in the tiny tents on climbing expeditions, where we get into our sleeping bags as soon as the cold bites. Depending on the climb and who else from our larger group is with us, I share a tent with either Tate or Mami. He snores way less than Mami, though I swear in high altitude it’s like a contest to see which of our farts are worse. As an only child, I’ve always been fairly private, but sharing tents with Tate gives me some taste of what it might be like to have a brother. Even as we grew up, and the boy-girl thing could have been weird, we somehow managed to keep our friendship normal. Not that our friends at school totally believed it. Anyway, we have a deal: one night I tickle his arm until he falls asleep, the next he draws pictures on my back.
“’Course,” he says, and starts to draw. I’m supposed to guess the pictures, but it’s too hard to pay attention when I’m half-asleep and hypnotized by his light touch. The Dread falls asleep too. At least while he’s drawing. This time he doesn’t ask me to guess. He draws shapes that might be mountains, or waves, or rocket ships . . . with Tate, it could be anything.
“So, you okay? Saying goodbye to your mom and all?” he says finally.
I shrug and he adds an accidental zigzag to whatever he’s drawing. “It sucked. But . . . I mean, she’s counting on me to go and totally live the experience, and I will. I’m not kidding that I’ll send so many photos and stuff that she’ll have a, I don’t know, virtual reality version of the trip. So that makes it easier.” I sigh. “I can’t believe we’re actually on our way. Do you realize we’re done with high school? Hello, ‘independent study!’ But it’s over. All our friends, and all that work . . . Honors Calculus, History . . . done.” I sigh into my sweatshirt. “It feels weird, don’t you think? We’re going to miss all the fun senior spring stuff. ”
He laughs softly. “Yeah, I’m not real nostalgic for high school. Maybe in twenty years. I’ll take a trip to Nepal over sitting in those crappy chairs for six hours a day, anytime.” He sighs. “You have no idea how pumped I am to be out of that place.”
I snort. “It’s not exactly a vacation. You know we’ll be trying to stay alive in the death zone on Everest, right?”
His hands stop moving for a second, then start up again. “Yeah. I remember.”
I sigh. “But I guess it’s easy for you. You’re the toughest of all of us. Who barely gets jet lag? Who’s the least sick from altitude? Who’s the only one who made it up Engelhorn without puking? Also, was that a boat?” I ask, trying to stay awake.
“Shhh, no. It was an owl. Go to sleep; I’ll keep drawing.” Tate’s fingers brush the skin of my neck for a minute, then they’re gone.
I’m so tired. “Are you sure? I can stay up.” My voice isn’t very convincing.
“Go to sleep. I got this,” Tate says, and I do.
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