The Emptiness of Air is a creative essay I wrote about a particularly harrowing incident during a trek in the Indian Himalayas.

The place where I was about to die was beautiful, at least. The Indian sun cast thick and orange on the earth as it draped from the opulent hills down to the valleys, the scene framed by the deific ridges of the Himalayan mountains towering above.

Before me was a path cut high into the hill, the dirt leached to grey by a million footsteps and the ever-blazing sun. And directly underneath me, a point where the path had been razed away, creating a thirteen-storey drop down to a grave of jagged rocks below.

That was the place where my feet were slipping, directly towards the edge of the cliff. Towards a certain death. Inch by inch they slipped, the loose gravel crunching under my boots. I stared straight ahead to where the path picked up. It looked so close, but it didn’t matter.

I knew I was dead.

Two weeks before I had flown into Delhi, a solo traveller with a thirst for adventure. I’d met up with eight other travellers with that same thirst, the type that sends us into foreign lands, across desolate landscapes, up dangerous mountains.

Once we left Delhi and got out onto the trail, we were led by our head Sherpa, Tashi. Typical of Nepalese Sherpas, Tashi was slim and athletic, good-natured, always smiling and leading our group with patience and experience.

The day of the cliff, we began walking across a series of high ridges—tiny narrow paths cut into the top of high hills, the width of two booted feet standing together. They were breathtaking, these ridges, totally exposed on barren hills with nothing to stop a fall, if that’s what one were to do. I—traditionally terrified of heights—walked quickly and ended up well ahead of the group.

That’s when I came across the place of the cliff and the looming death. The man in front of me briefly looked at where the path had fallen, then made his way across the vertical slope. I stared at that drop, at the jags and the edges and the terrifying emptiness of the air. People were approaching behind me, all confidence and gusto. Tashi was nowhere to be seen. Panic struck at my stomach, indecision. Just go, I thought. Others have, you can too. I put my right foot into the boot print of the man before me. Then I stepped forward with my left foot—and that’s when I slipped.

My vision tunnelled to pin pricks. I couldn’t hear, couldn’t speak—all I was aware of was the sensation of boot on gravel, and the hundred galloping stallions in my chest where my heart used to be. There was a moment where I wondered what it was going to feel like, as my body plummeted down and down and down before spiking on the rocks at the bottom.

It was then that Tashi appeared next to me, standing perfectly balanced on the slope, hands on hips. He shook his head and chuckled like this was just an everyday occurrence, and not a moment where I was staring down my own mortality. He stopped laughing and said, “Oh Jenna—you just have to be more confident.” Then he grabbed me by my backpack and simply walked me across the drop.

I stood on the other side, taking in air, revelling in the feeling of my boots on more solid ground. Confident, I thought. Just be confident.

I looked back. Why had I done it? No one had pressured me—I’d pressured myself. I’d let my pride control me because I didn’t want to look stupid in front of more seasoned travellers. And that had nearly cost me my life. Just be confident, I reminded myself. Ask for help if you need it.

I stepped forward, making my way further up the path, but the confidence was shaky at best. I wondered if I should veer off ahead and find my way back to sea level. But those mountains so high above called out like sirens, willing me further into their grasp. Don’t give up, they whispered. You can’t give up. Be confident.

I walked on.

– The Emptiness of Air by Jenna Cosgrove