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"I open my right eye and I can't see a thing. It's a complete blur. At first I think it might be retinal hemorrhaging. That's when the blood vessels in your eyes start to pop due to the altitude. Or, I think, maybe it's one of the first signs of high-altitude cerebral edema [potentially fatal unless you immediately get to a lower altitude]. I know I need to go down." —Lisa Rust, the third guide

"When there's a storm, most accidents occur in the descent, when people are tired. And I am tired. I tap Ben and say, 'I'm afraid of the weather. I want to turn back.' He says, 'I'm pulling the plug, the weather's coming in. Let's all turn back.' An hour later, we are in a whiteout. It was a hard decision, though. You spend six weeks working at a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and then it comes down to this moment: Do you risk your life to try to get to the top? Maybe we'd only have frostbitten toes or fingers. And at that point, you kind of think, Hey, what's a few fingers?" —Jody

"For three nights after that I kept dreaming about being right there. I probably would have gone up, and I probably could have gotten myself into trouble." —Lynn

"There are a lot of bold climbers, a lot of old climbers, but there aren't a lot of bold old climbers." —Jody

"We thought: Better to come down safely as a team than risk being the big news story because we were a tragedy." —Alison

Home Again
The team made it back despite a near fatal collapse of an ice ridge that almost crushed them toward the bottom—a reminder that you're never done until you're down. Four out of the five reached 28,750 feet, 285 feet shy of the summit, but still higher than any other point on the face of the planet. "They were strong," says Erin Simonson's husband, Eric, co-owner of IMG. "If they'd had a little bit better weather that day, they would have nailed it without any question. But they turned around, and that was the right decision."

A week after they returned to their homes, perspective settled in. "At first it was really disappointing," says Lynn. "But the longer I've been back, the more I realize that if you try and you don't make it, that's not failure. To me the failure is if you don't even try."

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