Google-map all you want, but nothing can prepare you for the actual sight of the Lhotse Face. It rises - or descends, depending on your perspective - on the south side of Mount Everest, 20-something-thousand feet above sea level. At roughly 100 feet wide and 3,700 feet long, it is the longest rock face in the Himalayas. For much of the length, the incline is 50 degrees. • Math: Fifty degrees is 20 degrees steeper than the staircase in your house. Fifty degrees is 19.5 degrees steeper than the steepest street in San Francisco (not crooked Lombard but Filbert between Leavenworth and Hyde, in case you were wondering). Fifty degrees is 40 degrees short of 90 degrees, and 90 degrees equals falling off a cliff. • Some Everest climbers climb down Everest by way of the Lhotse Face, clinging to safety lines; others climb up the world's tallest mountain this way, scaling what is usually a sheet of blue ice so thick that even a well-swung pick sometimes won't penetrate. Almost no one ever skis the Lhotse Face because (a) almost no one has ever skied anywhere on Mount Everest and (b) because you'd have to be a totally outer-limits nutbar to want to ski down a 100-foot-wide, 3,700-foot-long sheet of blue ice that is 40 degrees away from a scene in a Road Runner cartoon. Make one slip here, catch one bad edge, and you will absolutely, positively be killed dead.
All of which makes you really wonder about Kit DesLauriers. In October 2006, DesLauriers, a 37-year-old from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, skied the Lhotse Face after having spent almost three weeks climbing to the summit of Everest. Having not been killed dead in that effort, she had capped her personal and professional quest begun in May 2004 to climb up and then ski down the highest peak on each of our planet's seven continents. (She saved the biggest, Mount Everest, for last.)