2021 Winner in Romantic SuspenseNational Excellence in Romance Fiction
First Coast Romance Writers
2020 Carolyn Readers’ Choice Awards – Finalist in Romantic SuspenseCarolyn Readers’ Choice Awards
2020 RONE Awards – 2nd Runner up in Steamy ContemporaryIn'Dtale Magazine RONE Awards
A Contemporary Adventure Romance
Lindsey Coulson likes to scale mountains. With her sister, Alison, she has made a name for herself climbing the tallest and most treacherous peaks in the world. But when Alison dies on a K2 expedition—the second highest mountain on earth—Lindsey stops climbing. Unable to shed her heartache, it becomes clear she must return to the wilderness and only one place will do—K2, the Savage Mountain. And to get there, she’ll need handsome, enigmatic Tyler Galloway.
Ty Galloway welcomes Lindsey to his small crew with one hitch—to help with funding he wants to write about her for a magazine feature. In climbing circles, Lindsey and her sister had been famous for their mountain exploits, and her comeback story would be compelling. But he didn’t account for how captivating the woman herself would be. Tackling K2 will test Ty’s limits, but Lindsey Coulson will test his heart.
“… danger, angst, and drama come to life brilliantly, with characters keenly portrayed and fully developed. A must read for any lover of adventure laced with spicy romance!” ~ FS Brown, InD’tale Magazine, a Crowned Heart review
“Cold Horizon will grab you right out of the gate and keep you turning pages as fast as you can to keep up with the action and adventure and suspense! A spectacular story of determination, courage, and love.” ~ Ann Charles, USA Today Bestselling Author
“What a roller coaster ride! I highly recommend this book.” ~ Dixie Lee Brown, author of the Hearts of Valor series
“If you’re a fan of believable and emotionally gripping romance novels then this is one for you!” ~ Nen & Jen, bloggers
2021 National Excellence in Romance Fiction Winner
2020 Carolyn Readers’ Choice Awards Finalist
2020 RONE Awards – Second Runner Up Steamy Contemporary
Each Pathway novel can be read as a stand-alone, but don’t miss the other books.
Book 1: Deep Blue (Dr. Grace Mann and Alec Galloway)
Book 2: Cold Horizon (Lindsey Coulson and Tyler Galloway)
Book 3: Ancient Winds (Dr. Tristan Magee and Brynn Galloway)
After reading the novels, enjoy these short stories in The Pathway Short Adventure Series:
Short 1: Deep Blue Australia
Short 2: Deep Blue Réunion Island
Short 3: Deep Blue Cocos Island
Short 4: Cold Horizon Telluride
Blue Sage (Dr. Audrey Driggs and Braden Delaney)
Release date: June 11, 2019
Publisher: K. McCaffrey LLC
Print pages: 318
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
K2—Karakoram Mountain Range, Pakistan
27,230 feet—Between Camp Four and the summit
Thick, heavy snowflakes swirled in the beam from Lindsey’s headlamp. It was 8 p.m. and the weather was complete shit. Her elation at reaching the summit of K2 earlier in the day had dissipated as she struggled to get Elena Rossi off the mountain. How ironic that summitting was the easy part. Descending was always the true test of any climb.
Although Elena spoke English, she had reverted to her native Italian hours ago, and Lindsey had given up talking to her. At least they weren’t alone. Ed “Ditch” Dittrich had helped belay Elena down some of the worst sections of the Traverse, the area above the Bottleneck, constituting the most dangerous area on K2. Lindsey was nearing her last reserves, and she suspected Ditch was, too.
Where was Ty?
He had lagged behind on their summit bid, having helped one of their other teammates, Billy Packer, back to Camp Four when the man couldn’t go on. But then Ty had done an extraordinary push back to the summit. She and Ditch had passed him hours ago as they were descending, and he was closing in. Their exchange had been brief, and for one wild moment she had considered going back up with him.
But they were in the Death Zone, that area above 26,000 feet where all life was slowly dying, including them; exerting unnecessary energy was folly to the highest degree. So she and Ditch had resumed their descent while Galloway had pushed upward. He had no radio, so Lindsey didn’t know if he’d made it or not.
In the ensuing hours, she had kept alive the hope that Ty would catch them, since their pace had slowed considerably while aiding Elena, whom they had found asleep on the snowfield leading to the summit.
It wasn’t the first time Lindsey had been on a mountain with Elena and forced to deal with the woman’s weak climbing skills, and it had crossed her mind more than once to leave her where she lay. But just when Lindsey was reaching her limit, Ditch would step in. Despite being almost twice Lindsey’s age—and harboring his own resentment over a past relationship with Elena—he had proven why Ty relied on the man as a guide and mentor on this expedition. Ditch was steady, patient, and a world-class climber.
Lindsey stopped on the steep mountainside, anchored to the mountain with an ice axe in each hand and her boots, clad in spiky crampons, kicked into the icy terrain. In the glow of her headlamp, she spied the start of a fixed line.
She released a sigh of relief. They had reached the Bottleneck, so called because it was a narrow couloir, at times clogged with climbers. It was a dangerous three hundred-foot stretch of steep, slick, and unforgiving ice. It was also shadowed by a large serac from above, curved over them like the prow of a giant ship, and every climber passed as quickly as possible beneath it since pieces had been known to break off and come crashing down. This wasn’t a place to dawdle.
But once they made it through this section, they would arrive at the relative safety of the shoulder where Camp Four was pitched.
She knew the fixed rope didn’t traverse the entire Bottleneck—the Poles had placed it yesterday on the way to their summit bid and had only one hundred feet of rope on hand—but it was better than nothing. And they needed all the help they could get with Elena.
The wind blasted Lindsey, threatening to rip her off the mountain and throw her into the abyss far below.
It was blisteringly obvious that K2 wasn’t going to give up her summit without a fight. Descending the Bottleneck in this shitstorm of low visibility was bad enough but having to guide an impaired Elena down was enough to give Lindsey sharp pangs of panic.
Had Alison been in this same spot, gripped with the same bone-deep fear?
Her sister had died on this mountain two years ago, likely not far from where Lindsey currently stood.
This won’t be my fate.
Two climbers materialized behind them in the darkness. For a moment, Lindsey thought it was Tyler, but that elation was dashed when the first one spoke with a German accent. Frieder.
They came to Ditch first, but to her surprise didn’t stop and instead climbed around him and Elena.
When they tried to do the same to Lindsey, she blocked them.
“Can you help us get Elena through the Bottleneck?” she asked.
Frieder stopped and said nothing, then finally shook his head and uttered one word, “Nein.”
To Lindsey’s shock, he said nothing more and climbed past her, hooking himself to the fixed rope.
What the hell?
When the second German, Volker, moved to do the same, she planted her axe in front of his face. “We need help with Elena.”
Volker shook his head. “We are spent.”
“So are we. If we leave her here, she’ll die.”
“Then she should not be here. Not our responsibility.”
“Bullshit,” Lindsey said. “It’ll go faster with four of us.”
Volker ignored her and climbed up a few feet to get past her. Then he went to the fixed rope, clipped on, and the swirling snow swallowed him up.
Stunned, Lindsey remained where she was, trying to quell her anger.
A loud snap filled the air, and then a rumble.
“Hold on!” she yelled, facing the mountain and tucking her head, praying her helmet would fend off any blocks of ice.
She closed her eyes and held her breath, waiting as the roar grew. A cloud of snow and ice slammed into her, and she held tight to her ice axes to keep from being blown off the mountain.
But the avalanche hadn’t hit them.
Trembling, she didn’t move.
“Lindsey,” Ditch said. “Where are the Germans?”
Her headlamp revealed the fixed rope to be still intact. Maybe the two shithead Germans were okay. She almost didn’t care.
She swung her light back toward Ditch and Elena, trying to answer, but the words wouldn’t come. Ditch had retrieved his radio. “David, come in.”
In addition to Ty, Lindsey, and Ditch, their team had consisted of David Shaw and Billy Packer. Since Shaw had summited the day before with the Poles, a move that had irritated Lindsey, he had nonetheless stepped up to care for Packer at Camp Four until the rest of them could return to help.
“I’m here,” Shaw replied.
“We think part of the serac broke off. Frieder and Volker might have gotten hit. Over.”
“Copy that. I’ll go out and look for them, but it’s a white-out. Be careful. Over.”
Ditch stowed the radio. “Is the fixed rope still there?” he asked Lindsey.
“It looks like it,” she answered, her teeth chattering.
“You stay here with Elena,” he said. “I’ll go check.”
Unable to move, all Lindsey could do was watch as he moved above her and soon disappeared into the snowstorm, just as the Germans had.
Ditch had hooked Elena to an ice screw before he had left them, so she was secure for the moment, allowing Lindsey to remain where she was and regroup.
She was shakier than she wanted to be.
The snow conditions were becoming untenable. It was too dark. A piece of the serac had just broken off, possibly killing Frieder and Volker. And if the two German men weren’t dead, how would anyone find them? Was there anyone left at Camp Four besides David and Packer?
And now, as she waited for Ditch to return, she faced the fact that she might have to bivouac with Elena right here. Spending the night hanging off the side of K2 was a terrible idea, and one she wanted to avoid. Climbers joked that bivouac was French for “mistake.” And Elena had certainly made a mistake as she’d tried to reach the summit earlier today, instead of turning around. Now, Lindsey was paying the price for the woman’s piss-poor decision-making.
Knowing she needed to stop complaining, Lindsey switched to problem-solving mode, trying to corral her errant thoughts into something useful. Hours—no, it had been days—of oxygen deprivation was fast destroying her cognitive skills.
She had a bivy sac, but it was only meant for one person. There was no way she could secure it on this near vertical face, so they would need to ascend. But what if they got lost?
What about Ty? Was he still behind her? And wasn’t the other American team also downclimbing from the summit? If she waited long enough, surely they would meet up with her and could help get Elena down. But it was already so late. They could be hunkered down, bivouacking despite the lunacy of sitting still and waiting out the storm. Waiting for sunrise.
Or they could be lost themselves.
She really needed to get her and Elena down.
She gathered her courage and yanked an axe free and swung it into the icy slope with a loud thwunk, then kicked in a step with the sharp cramponed-toe of her right foot. Repeating this process, she carefully shuffled over to the start of the fixed rope. She gave a yank on the cord. To her horror, it released and flew back toward her.
Sucker punched, she gasped for air that wasn’t there.
Please, God, no!
Where the hell was Ditch? Was he somewhere down below? Hurt, or dead?
If she left Elena, Lindsey knew she would never find the woman again. Not in this weather. Not in Elena’s compromised state.
Elena would be Alison all over again, incoherent and lost, roaming the high reaches of K2 until death arrived and mercifully ended her suffering. And if she abandoned Ditch now, wouldn’t it be a replay of when she had left Jim Shoop—family friend and her mentor—on Kangchenjunga? Her actions had led to his death. Hadn’t they?
No, a voice echoed back to her. A familiar voice.
Lindsey swung her headlamp into the snowflakes whipping wildly around her. “Al?” she said, using her sister’s nickname.
But there was nothing but wind and snow and darkness. Lindsey steadied herself.
She had to get Elena off this mountain.
She had rope in her pack—only a thin, fifty-foot length of nylon—but it would have to do. She went to work securing it between her and Elena, shortening the length, and then she did something unorthodox—she attached the longest part of the rope to the frayed end of what remained of the fixed rope. How would she deal with this when she and Elena had moved across the Bottleneck? She would cut it.
All of this was incredibly risky, but if Elena fell, Lindsey wasn’t certain she could hold them both. Being connected to that ice screw might save their lives.
Yes, yes, it seemed plausible.
“Elena!” Lindsey yelled. “You’d better answer me in fucking English!”
The woman’s response was barely audible, but at least she was still conscious. “What?”
“You’ve got to climb. I’ll go first, and you follow. Face in. Make sure you kick your steps and get a solid purchase. Do you understand?”
Elena nodded, her bundled-up form illuminated in the glow from Lindsey’s headlamp.
With everything secure, she inched her way horizontally out onto the steep face of the Bottleneck, sensing the large serac of ice above them. The very same serac that had already calved a large chunk.
Her heart pounded, and her muscles screamed for oxygen. The visibility was terrible. What if she went in the wrong direction?
Have faith. Just go.
“Lindsey!” A distant voice crept from the shadows.
Thinking she’d imagined it, she kept moving. At this altitude, climbers had been known to hallucinate. Lindsey vowed she wouldn’t succumb. The voice she’d heard earlier, the one that had sounded so eerily like Alison’s, was just a figment of her imagination.
Galloway? She carefully looked behind her, but only Elena was there, creeping along behind her.
For a moment, her thoughts wandered. Was it the abominable snowman? The yeti, come to lure her to her death by pretending to be Tyler Galloway, a man she was pretty certain had snagged her heart despite her best efforts to treat him like every other guy she’d dated.
A figure slowly grew in shape behind Elena.
“Lindsey! It’s me! It’s Tyler!”
Relief swamped her. It was him.
A loud crack split the air.
“No!” Ty yelled, reaching for her, but he was too far away.
And then the thundering hooves of a thousand horses came crashing onto Lindsey.
* * *
Four weeks earlier …
K2 Base Camp—17,000 feet
“I didn’t sign up for this shit.” Billy Packer shook his head and walked away from the group of climbers standing at the edge of the glacier. “And what the hell is that smell?”
Lindsey stared at the body that had been discovered early that morning. The remnants of a yellow down suit covered a woman’s torso, her hands and feet missing. She was also missing her head. Lindsey couldn’t move as dread filled her.
Alison never had a yellow climbing suit.
But Lindsey hadn’t climbed with her sister on that last fateful expedition that had claimed her life on this mountain. Maybe she had bought a new suit.
“I think it’s Marie Broucet,” said Frieder Berg, his English tinged with a German accent. “She disappeared two years ago. Volker,” he said to one of the other men, “get your camera. We take photos then email to Gertie and see if she can notify family.”
As the men dispersed, a woman touched Lindsey’s arm. “It’s not Alison,” Brynn Galloway said quietly, her dark brown hair clipped away from her face, and her blue-green eyes—so similar to her brother’s—filled with compassion.
Lindsey nodded, relief mixed with regret. A part of her hoped to find her sister, to lay her to rest properly, but a part also lived with the ignorant notion that without a body perhaps Alison still lived, somewhere, somehow. It made no sense, but the wish still lived deep inside. But Broucet had disappeared the same summer that Alison had. Her sister was somewhere on this mountain that cleansed it slopes regularly with avalanches, pushing perished climbers to the bottom where glacier movements ground bodies apart. This one aspect she had never shared with her mother, though Lainie Kincaid-Coulson was hardly uninformed about the cost of mountain climbing and the often gruesome aftermath.
It was a clear day and the perpetrator, K2, stood like a sentinel on Lindsey’s left side. The locals had a more poetic name for the monolith: Chogori. But K2 was the moniker used in the climbing community, one that defined its remoteness and its savage simplicity with little fanfare. She craned her head to view the black rock dusted with snow, a perfect peak in shape, rising like a pyramid from the depths of the earth. Its relentless presence was both an omen and a siren’s call, ever beckoning to the climbers who would dare its heights. Climb and you will find peace, it seemed to whisper. Perhaps it was true. If you survived, you could put the yearning to rest; if you died, the yearning was put to rest for you.
“Would you like some tea?” Brynn asked.
Lindsey nodded numbly and followed the woman along the broken trail back to the tents. The American expedition, led by Tyler, was situated off to the left. Ty, Brynn, and David had arrived two weeks prior. In addition to each individual tent, they had erected a mess tent with a cook stove and utensils, a table and stools, a laptop with internet connection, and a radio. They had hired a Balti porter to cook during the six weeks the expedition planned to stay at K2.
Lindsey had yet to see Galloway, as he and David had progressed to Camp One to lay fixed ropes and cache supplies. Brynn thought they would return the following day.
When Lindsey had spoken to David on the phone several months ago—the one and only time after Galloway had formally invited her to be a part of the team—he had assured her that Galloway was levelheaded and one of the best climbers he knew. Ty wouldn’t care that she was a woman. She hadn’t thought he would. Brynn’s presence at Base Camp now reinforced that notion, but David had thought it an important point to address.
It was yet another David Shaw irritation of many. What had Alison seen in the man? He was a strong climber, yes. He was handsome, but in a way that seemed to be only on the surface. Lindsey had always found him condescending with an ego that kept her radar on alert. And somehow, beneath it all, he just seemed desperate—for attention, for accolades, for being the best. Maybe that was the attraction for her sister. Alison and David had wanted the same thing: to make a name for themselves in climbing, to create a career around something they both loved. Alison’s single-minded drive and ambition had found a compatible partner in David.
Lindsey couldn’t deny that some of her bitterness toward David was simply that he had survived this mountain when Alison hadn’t. It was so damned unfair. She knew mountains didn’t pick favorites, that skill went hand in hand with luck, but that didn’t make her feel more forgiving that David had lived, while her sister hadn’t.
Two additional climbers rounded out the team—Billy Packer and Ed Dittrich. Lindsey hadn’t climbed with either, but after the sixteen-hour bus trip from Islamabad to Skardu, followed by ten days of trekking from Skardu to Base Camp, she knew they were of the good sort.
Packer was a small, wiry man with long, crimpy black hair. His size had little to do with his strength. He was a fast climber who acclimated well to the thin air. This was his first crack at K2, although he had scrambled up many others including Everest, Lhotse, Cho Oyu, and most notably, Annapurna, a year prior to Lindsey’s summit of the peak. It was the only one she’d made without Alison, who had turned back exhausted at 7000 meters. Packer’s personality had blazed on the bus ride as loudly as the Pakistani music that had played continuously. He was funny, outgoing, and often inappropriate, cussing up a storm as the vehicle drove up and down precarious switchbacks through high mountain passes with the driver constantly blowing his horn. He’d taken to Lindsey immediately, eventually toning down the charm when he realized she wasn’t interested in a quickie.
Ditch was older, much taller, and balding. Lindsey guessed he was in his fifties, and he had an extensive climbing résumé. He was known for being a careful and methodical climber, and had turned away from many summits due to bad weather—Everest, Gasherbrum II, and Nanga Parbat being the most notable. He’d done considerable climbing in Italy, Kyrgyzstan, and Chamonix, as well as lesser known mountains in the Himalaya. This would be his third attempt at K2. Besides him, only David had been here before; the rest of them were K2 virgins.
The dozens of Pakistani porters who had accompanied them during the trek, including the Pakistani Liaison Officer, Captain Jez, had departed shortly after arrival yesterday leaving the bulk of the unpacking to her, Packer, Brynn, and Ditch. It had taken the better part of the day to get everything organized, despite it being a small portion of the supplies. Brynn, Galloway, and David had already brought more than two-thirds of the gear with them.
Lindsey entered the mess tent behind Brynn.
“Habibe, some tea?” Brynn asked the cook. The young black-haired Balti smiled. He looked to be about twenty years old and had a limited use of English. He proceeded to heat water.
Lindsey sat across from Brynn and asked, “Are you planning to climb K2?” The addition of Brynn to the team had come at the last minute. With all the organizing the day before, they really hadn’t had a chance to talk yet.
Brynn shook her head, her eyes the same color as Ty’s. “No. I’m just here for a summer vacation.”
Lindsey smiled. “I take it you’re not a beach girl.”
“Ty’s been climbing a long time. When he invited me, I couldn’t pass it up. It’s an opportunity to see a mountain most people never do.”
K2 was climbed less frequently than Everest. Not only was it a more difficult mountain, it required an arduous and dangerous hike just to reach Base Camp. The infrastructure that existed in the Himalaya—villages, porters, trekking companies, and the like—didn’t exist in the Karakoram. And the starting point was Islamabad, an unsettling destination these days, unless an expedition was mounted from the other side. That required permission from the Chinese government, an almost impossible and headache-filled task. Most climbers opted to enter on the Pakistan side.
“Do you climb?” Lindsey asked.
“A little. Nothing like this.”
“Maybe we can do some spelunking around here, if you like.”
Brynn’s gaze brightened, signaling her adventurous side. Lindsey hadn’t expected to find a female to befriend on this expedition, and she was heartened not to be the lone girl on the team.
“It’s awfully nice of you to come on a two-month campout,” Lindsey said.
“Yeah, well, I like to keep an eye on Tyler. It goes back to an incident when we were kids.”
“Our uncle has a ranch near Telluride, Colorado, and when my brothers and I were young, we would spend part of our summers there. My dad called it boot camp, but Uncle Simon and Aunt Jen were pretty chill. They let us run around the wilderness like little rugrats. One day, when I was five years old and Ty was six, Uncle Simon was having a picnic. There were lots of people around, which I suppose is why Ty and I left all the noise and commotion and headed to a nearby meadow. We liked to play a game called explorers, where you pick a tree and walk off in different directions then return and report on anything interesting you found. Alec taught it to us, but he wasn’t there this time. Ty walked off and didn’t come back.”
“That must’ve been frightening,” Lindsey said.
“At first, I thought he was messing with me, so I sat down, angry, and waited for him. When Uncle Simon found me, a few hours had passed. I hadn’t been afraid until I saw the look on his face, then I knew something bad must have happened. The police were called and a search party was sent out, but they didn’t find him.”
“Your parents must have been beside themselves.”
“They were in California, so my Uncle Simon had to call and tell them. I remember wanting to talk to my mom, but she couldn’t come to the phone. She was too distraught. My dad reassured me that it wasn’t my fault, but of course I felt otherwise. Within hours, they flew to Telluride by private jet and joined in the search.”
“But he was eventually found?”
“Eighteen hours later, he was picked up by a passerby on a dirt road who called the sheriff. He ended up walking about twenty miles in all. When he’d realized he was lost, he had been certain he could find his way back, so he took off walking.”
Lindsey was stunned. “And he was only six years old when this happened?”
Brynn nodded. “He was a very confident child. After he was found, he was for the most part okay, but I remember that my mother could hardly pull off his shoes because his feet were so swollen and sore. But after a week they healed, and he was back traipsing around.”
“And he still is.”
A ghost of a smile flashed across Brynn’s face. “He was called the ‘Lost Boy of San Miguel’ by the locals. I guess I still feel the need to keep an eye on him.”
“Both my brothers are adventure junkies,” Brynn said.
“I saw Alec’s film about great whites.”
“It’s amazing, isn’t it? He certainly met his match in Grace.”
“How do your parents handle all this?”
Brynn laughed. “My dad was a big wave surfer and my mom was a climber. We grew up either in the ocean or on a mountain. You can’t be a Galloway and sit on your ass.”
“Aside from getting lost, it sounds like a great life.”
Habibe set two plastic mugs before them filled with steaming sweet tea. Lindsey savored a swallow of the liquid as it warmed her throat and stomach.
“Wasn’t your father a famous climber?” Brynn asked.
“You must’ve spent as much time outdoors as I did,” she said.
“I think the drive for that came later. I was in high school the first time I went climbing.”
“Well, I’ll try not to be in anyone’s way. I plan to take care of Base Camp for you guys.” Brynn took a sip of tea. “Are you looking forward to going up?”
“Yes.” It was the truth. Lindsey itched to push herself again, to hook herself to a mountain, to test her mettle while it tried everything to shake her off.
“Do you ever get scared?”
“I like to think I’m cautious, and hopefully that makes me a better climber.” She hadn’t been afraid, not initially, on Kangchenjunga. How stupid that had been to disregard her gut feeling, because it had made her ignore the subtle signs that always appeared when something was about to go wrong.
“I have to admit I was afraid just hiking in here to Base Camp,” Brynn said. “I doubt I could make it up the mountain.”
“You could. You just have to break it down into smaller steps.”
“Do you mind me asking why you didn’t come with Alison two years ago? Ty said you both always climbed together.”
Lindsey sipped her drink, which had quickly gone from hot to tepid. “I didn’t feel a desire for K2. It may sound strange, but when I anticipate climbing a mountain, I either feel something or I don’t. And I didn’t feel anything then. Maybe it had something to do with a climb from the previous year.” She paused and stared at the brown liquid in her cup.
Brynn remained attentively quiet.
“We were climbing Kangchenjunga,” Lindsey continued, “which is the third highest mountain. We’d had a terrible time with weather for weeks, but we thought we’d finally made it to the top. But we hadn’t. The problem on Kanch is that there are four false summits. Alison and I both made the decision to go up again to get it right, despite being fairly worn out at that point. Another climber, Jimmy Shoop, decided to go with us. Shoop was an old family friend—he’d been my dad’s best friend—and when Alison and I started high-altitude climbing he mentored us.” Lindsey’s throat closed suddenly and tears threatened. “The three of us decided to climb fast since we were already acclimated.”
Lindsey suddenly felt Shoop, as if he were beside her, laughing and telling stories of her father. The tears came; she couldn’t stop them. She impatiently brushed them aside.
“What happened?” Brynn asked quietly.
One reason Lindsey had been unafraid on Kanch during their summit bid was the fact that Jimmy had been with them. His presence had made her feel safe, the way a daughter should feel when climbing with her father. But Shoop wasn’t her dad. Nonetheless, he’d come to occupy a place in her mind and in her heart that had been empty for years, maybe for Lindsey’s entire life. Robbie Coulson simply hadn’t filled her with enough memories that a father should. And it was Shoop who had taught her and Alison how to climb the highest mountains in the world.
“I was stupid. I ignored the bad weather closing in. I ignored our slow pace. Near the top, I became separated from them, and I was forced to bivouac overnight.”
“I know enough from Ty that people don’t often survive that,” Brynn said.
“Jimmy didn’t.” Her words caught in her throat. “He must’ve been worse off than Al and I had realized. It was probably edema, a swelling of the brain or lungs. On my descent I found Alison, but Shoop was gone. During the night he’d stumbled away, disoriented, and likely fell. We never found him.”
During that long night, death had hovered around Lindsey, whispering in her ear sweet nothings and the promise of peace if she just took his hand and let him lead her away from the misery of the cold and the altitude. By morning, however, she’d shoved it back like an ex-lover who wouldn’t stop stalking her.
But when it had become clear that they’d lost Shoop, she was sorry she had lived and he hadn’t. Guilt continued to gnaw at her that she might have been able to help if she had gone to find him before it had been too late.
“I really didn’t feel up for K2 after that,” Lindsey added.
And now Alison was gone. The ever-present guilt over Shoop had shifted to her sister. If Lindsey had come to K2 two years ago, maybe Alison would still be alive.
“I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail with a friend instead,” Lindsey continued. “That’s where I was when the news came about Alison.”
She downed the last of her tea.
A commotion outside the tent diverted their attention. Several climbers carried what remained of Broucet’s body wrapped in a tent, headed toward the Gilkey Memorial. It was a trip Lindsey would soon make to honor Alison, but first she would wait for David. It was a concession for Al, not for him.
“Perhaps we should go, too,” Brynn suggested.
Lindsey silently agreed. They rose and headed toward the rock cairn that commemorated the lives that K2 had laid claim to. Every climber knew they could easily be in the same position. All it took was bad luck and questionable decision-making while in the throes of hypoxia. But most climbers—and for most of Lindsey’s climbing career this had included her—refused to believe it could ever happen to them.
Copyright © 2019 K. McCaffrey LLC
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