Beneath Thin air

I promised to write a post on why I wrote ‘Thin air‘, and actually I just really want to tell you this. I didn’t write that story out of the blue. It is the result of some coincidental things. A few weeks ago I was in a bar, and suddenly they played Rammstein’s Ohne Dich (Without You) there. I liked the song (as far as I could hear it there), so I decided to search for it on YouTube. This song has a video clip in which the members of the band climb a mountain. While doings so, the lead singer falls badly. He’s still alive, but you can see his situation worse. In the end they reach the summit, where the lead singer dies while having an incredible view.

This video clip reminded me of an article I once read. We don’t have a newspaper, but when our neighbours go on a holiday, we get theirs. So it was just coincidence that I read this article on climbing the Mount Everest. Apparently some Belgian guys had summited without using oxygen. But this article was more on the corpses spread on the Everest, where they are used as landmarks.
This terrified me.
I just couldn’t get my head around this – all these people would go to the Mount Everest for fun, slalomming in between the dead bodies. That’s like having your birthday party at a cemetery! How can you stand the idea of all those dead people there? How can you ignore the fact that they once lived but died there? There was one story in particular that stuck with me, and after having seen the clip to Ohne Dich I decided to read more about it.

The story is about a woman now known as Sleeping Beauty, who is also used as a landmark on the Everest. Her real name is Francys Arsentiev. She was 40 years old when she died there, leaving behind a son. She was climbing together with her husband, Sergej Arsentiev, whom she had met on another climbing expedition. She wanted to be the first woman to summit without the use of oxygen, and she succeeded.
But that’s where everything went terribly wrong.
Because they didn’t bring oxygen, they advanced slowly and summited late. On their way back down they became separated. When Sergej reached the camp the next day, he saw that Francys hadn’t yet arrived. He realized she was dangerously high on the mountain, so he went to search her, carrying oxygen and medicine.
Meanwhile an Uzbek team found Francys and carried her down, as she was unable to move on her own. But because they gave their oxygen to her, they became too fatigued to continue, so they had to leave her behind again. When they made their way back down to the camp, they met Sergej, who was on his way to his wife in order to help her.

Ian Woodall and Cathy O’Dowd encountered her on the next morning. They said her face was waxy because of frostbite, making her look a lot younger, like a porcelain doll. She must have noticed there was someone around, as she started talking. Apparently she kept on repeating the same sentences over and over: “Don’t leave me!” “Why are you doing this to me?” and “I’m an American.” But the couple believes she wasn’t talking to them, as it seemed more like a record that was stuck. They gave up their chance to summit in order to stay with her and try to help her, but they too were unable to do so – Francys was too weak, and they had to leave her behind to not risk their own lives as well.

Francys died there later on.


Her husband, Sergei, was lost at that point. He was found the next year, and is believed to have had a fatal fall while trying to rescue his wife.

This is a kind of tragic I can’t get my head around. I just read that article and the information over and over while trying to understand how it must feel to be alone in the freezing weather, unable to move, or to try to save someone whom you eventually have to leave behind to die. It’s something so cruel I still can’t capture it. Perhaps that’s the reason I felt I should write about it. While I was reading about Sleeping Beauty, I felt this story growing inside me. I knew it would write itself. I knew it would be good, because somehow, this wasn’t my story, this wasn’t something I would write. It seriously felt as if it was all ready somewhere, just waiting for my fingers to type it out. So that’s what I did. One day I felt like I shouldn’t wait anymore, so I sat in front of my computer and started writing.

This wasn’t easy. I was afraid it would drag me in and give me nightmares, because it’s such a horrible thing to imagine. It was somewhat emotionally challenging. After having written it, everything I worried about before didn’t seem important anymore. I was glad to have it out of me.

The reason I changed their names is because it’s fiction. Of course I did my best to give an impression of what she must have gone through, and I also tried to show the encounter with Woodall and O’Dowd, but I left her son out, for example. I just couldn’t imagine how it must feel to be a mother dying. I knew I was unable to write that part of her story, so I decided to go for fiction instead. After all this is but a possibility and nothing more. No one can known what was really going on inside her.

I still can’t get my head around it, but I’m glad I wrote that story, however challenging it was. I hope this is some kind of memorial for all those people who died up there. The man with the green boots for example, is also a real person who died there and is now used as a landmark. The couple that encountered Francys have given her some kind of burial, removing her from view.

It’s a tragic thing.

My information comes mainly from Wikipedia. I even stole some sentences. I’m sorry.

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  1. I had no idea that corpses were used as landmarks on Everest!

    It’s incredibly morbid, but ultimately it’s because retrieving them is so dangerous.

    Good post here, NBI! If learning something inspired you to write a bit of fiction about it, I reckon you’ve got the makings of an author in you…

    • Yeah, it’s pretty morbid indeed… But retrieving is as you say dangerous and difficult.

      Thanks Michael, that’s such a compliment! ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Another well written post. My Sister and her husband climbed to base camp at everest a couple of years back and I remember her saying something about bodies used as landmarks. So sad for all the fallen and this story is particularly touching. Thank you for sharing x

    • Wow, that’s pretty impressive!
      I felt like I had to explain this so that everyone could understand where this came from, and why this was so emotionally challenging to do.
      It’s a sad thing, but I hope to write some brighter posts soon!

      • This writing is a credit to you, as is all your stuff, but these have been my favourite pieces ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Now that makes my day Juls…! Seriously :D. Thanks so much for reading all my stuff and for telling me you liked it – after all all bloggers are attentionwhores, isn’t it? ๐Ÿ˜‰
        But Thin air in particular is something special to me now…So thanks again!

  3. RO

     /  November 1, 2013

    I absolutely love Rammstein. People think it’s weird because I’m pretty much a fashionista who loves ballet and can sing every popsong there is but when it comes to Rammstein (and other metal bands) I’m a total softy for that kind of music. Gorgeous song and good to see where your inspiration came from..

    • Join the club – I start to think that ballerinas tend to listen to metal more often than other people ;). I’m not such a fun of Rammstein in particular because I don’t know them that well, but I do love some good metal!
      Aren’t we total badass ballerinas?

      • RO

         /  November 2, 2013

        I think we are!! I always tell my teachers to choreograph to some metal haha, that would be awesome wouldn’t it??

      • Totally! Imagine what cool things you could do…
        By the way, just today I bought my pointes… Aarrrgh! I must admit I’m excited and slightly scared at the same time.

      • RO

         /  November 2, 2013

        Woohoooo! What brand do you have? And how was the fitting? Was she nice and clear whilst fitting? I’m dying to see pictures!!!!

      • I have Blochs serenade, and the man who did the fitting said we had good feet for pointes! So we were instantly happy :).
        I’m curious how things will go now, but there will be some work to get them to fit perfectly for my feet I guess ;).

      • RO

         /  November 3, 2013

        Haha there always is……. pictures!!

      • Okay, I promise I’ll do pictures! But it won’t be all too soon – I don’t have them with me now.
        Also, I didn’t get those little pieces you can put on top of the nose. I’m afraid they’ll wear out soon, but I’ve got no clue where I can find those :/.
        And the troubles begin ;).

  4. editalozovska

     /  November 5, 2013

    This is very very sad (as you warned me). I am not even sure what to comment. It really shows her husband loved her as he went back for her only to meet his own demise.

    • It sure is…
      That’s one of the things which made this so tragic. He wanted to rescue her, though he might have been too late already, and then died on his way… How sad can things get?

  5. I just don’t get why people keep doing it despite knowing their chances of dying are pretty high. That’s what I call having a death wish

    • Hmm I kind of understand. After all, driving a car on a highway is also not safe :/ But the chances are quite high, and also, you have to climb between dead bodies. That would terrify me…


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