På Toppen av Norge

Sept. 12, 2022

At the bottom of the mountain the dirt is dry and pebbly, strewn with rocks that have tumbled from Glittertind over hundreds or thousands of years. I climb over these rocks, my new hiking shoes rubbing sores into my ankles, my palms gripping gritty boulders and coming away red and grooved.

I listen to the wind softly whistle around my ears, my bangs flying around my forehead like blonde flags announcing the majestic presence of my head. My classmates are joking that if we get lost on this mountain we’d be the 21st century Donner Party, and one of the Norwegians pipes in that his family was part of the Donner Party, though he isn’t 100% sure what it was.

“Did they survive?” my friend asks, and the Norwegian confirms.

“Oh man, your relatives totally ate someone dude.”

As we clamber higher and higher, dusty rocks begin to be speckled with ice and snow. Despite the air getting cooler, my exertions have only made me warmer, and the wool sweater scratching at my neck is not helping.

The group has been shrinking since we started, the more nimble climbers leaving trundling, sluggish crawlers like me far behind. Farther up the mountain, they look like black flies on a hill of sugar.

And suddenly everything’s white, and the land is mounds and mounds of blinding white all around me. I look behind and the base camp is a sliver of brown, and those boulders are now grains of sand. There is snow all around me, but I am sweating so much I strip down into shorts.

Our only path is the small groove left for us by our classmates’ trek, otherwise the snow on the mountain is as undisturbed and as smooth as whipped cream spooned carefully onto an ice cream cake. The mountain ranges around me look like white, rumpled throw blankets, artfully tossed onto the couch of the Earth.

I try to keep my head down, focus on my feet and not the summit, which still is winding far and ahead of us. In front of me, my friend Ola’s shadow begins to split into magenta, yellow, and cyan. My eyesight feels fuzzy as I watch the colors bleed like ink onto the bright white of the snow, dancing along the ridges of the mountain.

“Hey Ola,” I yell to her, though the mountain is eerily quiet. “Your shadow looks crazy!”

“You’re going snowblind, idiot,” she snaps back at me. “Put your glasses on.”

I slide my sunglasses on, the prior technicolor array sliding back together like a shuffled deck of cards, her shadow returning to a normal slate gray and my eyes refocusing.

When we reach the summit, we wave to our friends already starting to head back down. I flop down exhausted next to my principal.

“Per Egil,” I gasp. “Per Egil, I ran out of water halfway through. Do you have anything for me to drink?” He wordlessly hands me his thermos. I chug it hastily, needing something, anything to replace the salt mummifying my mouth.

Hot, thick liquid hits my tongue, making me gag. It is melted crayons, it is the color mauve, it is battery acid mixed with black currant; it is “Saft,” and it’s all I have.

After gulping down thick, thick purple sludge, my mouth feels saltier than ever. The air is so dry at 8,000 feet I know that if I stick my tongue out it’ll shrivel into a small pink raisin and I’ll swallow it accidentally. My principal slaps my back heartily.

“Vær så god. You should head down now, everyone has already left,” he says, and I look around and realize he’s right, I am the last person standing here.

And for a moment, I am the tallest person in Norway.