The Khumba Snowfield stretched out before the climbers, a broad plain of white that glinted in the illumination of the full moon. At the far side, the black cliffs of Pyanapa towered, unreadable, but there lay the narrow path that wound up and over the escarpment to the Kanchenchunga Pass. Tirseng stepped out onto the snow, felt it hold solid beneath his feet, and motione dthe others to follow. They were roped 25 feet apart at the Sherpa's insistence: In some places the solid sheet of snow was no more than a half-inch thick shell over a deep crevass. They moved in total silence, except for the slight crunch of the crust beneath their boots. Annette watched her breath crystallize into ice in the air in front of her, and breathed in the total silence around her. The figure of Tirseng was clearly cut against the moonlit snow in front of her, a shadow thrown back from him. She turned to see Curioso whose parka was cinched tightly across his face.. he might have been anyone, a specter tied to her by a length of cord. She felt a tear fall across her cheek, and realized that she was, this night, truly alive. The night, the placed possessed an enchantment that gave her life meaning, a significance that even the uncertainty and danger could not erase. She saw Tirseng pause, turn and look at her. "Are you alright, Annette?" He looked about him. "The way is beautiful," he said. As he stepped forward, she heard a sound like the crack of a pistol, and all three stopped instantly. Tirseng turned and laughed quietly. "It is only the ice" he said.
They had travelled another quarter mile, when the sound came again, more like a muffled explosion this time, and simultaneously she felt the rope tighten, pulling her forward. She sat upon the snow, staring forward to where Tirseng had been. "Annette!" Curioso called, "take your ice ax and sink the point under the crust, then place your feet against the broadside of the blade. I need some slack to secure this end." She fought off the urge to panic. "But where is Tirseng?" she gasped.
"In the crevass," said Curioso. "We've got to pull him out. Dead or alive."