The team were four. Three friends and their guide. The goal? Climb the insurmountable: a glacial drift so spontaneous in its appearance that hushed rumors passed speculating dark arts and mischievous doings behind its sudden rise. In just 12 hours it had appeared. In those short 12 hours it had already entered local lore, feared and respected by the village. The allure of this challenge is one no true adventurer could resist. Like an unmastered wave, a cavern unexplored, or rapids unridden, the peak called to them.
The guide didn’t bother with air tanks, but the three friends knew not to trust their bodies alone. They weren’t accustomed to exertion at these altitudes. The morning of their departure they packed their packs, hugged those dear to them, and per local tradition raised one flag each in the town center symbolizing their part in the elation and pride of the community.
The village cheered their heroes off as the snow billowed in frightful gusts.
With snow up to their waists, the team trudged upward and onward. The peak rose unmeasurably tall before them. Every single step brought them further from Earth and closer to heaven. The wind howled relentlessly. The cold gripped them to their core.
The village at the base of the terrible peak waited with baited breath for the return of the adventurers. The pubs were full but the steins empty as the patrons respectfully waited for their ambassadors to return with stories of victory and tales of great feats.
The steins remained empty that night.
As morning dawned without word from the exploration, the locals saw that the peak had risen to twice its previous height. It’s shadow cast long across the village. The sun fell and rose again. and again. Still no sign of the team.
With the solemn village people surrounding, the loved ones of those lost grimly lowered the flags in the town center to half mast. One pair of empty shoes, as per local tradition, was laid at the base of each flag.
Months passed. The flags were taken down, the shoes placed in the catacombs of the church. And then one day, a picture found its way around. There stood the four. Beaming at the summit.
No one knows where the picture came from, how it was developed, or who took it. And while the village was too wise to let hope return, the ale ran out before the kerosene that night.
The team, though fallen, had triumphed.