"There we were, clinging to the edge of the crevasse by our frozen fingers as the evil wind screamed terror in our ice clogged ears," Philip R. Trimble did not say.
"Up there on the slopes of Everest, it was every man for himself, each battling a ghost more monstrous than the long-haired Yeti -- the ghost of his own fear, which raked each gut with palpable claws," he did not continue.
"It was hell," he did not add.
What he did say, this wiry veteran of the politics of Washington and New York, this horn-rimmed mountain climber who on Wednesday is to be sworn in as our next ambassador to Nepal, was:
"I was very impressed when I met Sir Edmund Hillary at a party at the Explorers' Club. What impressed me the most was how Hillary, the first man to climb Everest, could still handle with perfect aplomb the same questions he had been asked for more than 25 years."
Phil Trimble, 42, has plenty of aplomb himself. He was the leader of the 1976 American expedition up Everest, which came off without a hitch and sent two of its party to the summit. Trimble is proud of the accomplishment, and his understatement sums it up: "No one was killed."
He returns to Napal next month as our ambassador. His selection was made by President Carter in January, the Nepalese government has concurred and the Congress has confirmed. In Katmandu, he will head a staff of 20 Americans and a contingent of Marine guards, and oversee the American aid mission and Peace Corps groups there.
There is something else, too: Xixibangma.
Xixibangma is an 8,000-meter mountain in China, which Trimble has permission to climb in 1981. President Carter presumably knows this already. p
"I don't know whether I'll do it on my vacation or whether I'll be taking a leave without pay," Trimble mused at an outdoor table at Martins Tavern in Georgetown, as cars and trucks belched exhaust fumes past his teacup, his seersucker suit and his black Gucci loafers. "I hope to go with the core of the Everest expedition."
Wan, diplomatic, quite at home in Georgetown, which after all is his home: Phil Trimble is not about to explode like Mount St. Helens, covering N Street with emotional ash.
"I hope to be a very active ambassador," he said. "I hope to be very visible, and to see a lot of the country."
Yes, yes, of course, Mr. Ambassador.
Somewhere along the line of Harvard Law School, a Fulbright Scholarship, a Felix Frankfurter Scholarship, years of service as a State Department attorney and a two-year hitch as deputy to New York Mayor Edward Koch, Trimble adopted diplomacy and reserve as a personal style.
Drawn perhaps by Trimble's cup of tea, a bumblebee alighted on his companion at the outdoor cafe. The bumblebee stung the companion on the finger, leaving half of its anatomy impaled.
"That reminds me of Borneo," Trimble said nonchalantly.
"We went rafting there last summer, 50 miles up an explored river. We went up the river in dugout canoes, carrying the rafts, and then we inflated them and shot down the rapids. My two climbing buddies went with me -- one practices law in Jakarta, and the other's in real estate in Los Angeles.
"Anyway, there were a lot of bees. Big ones, the size of the end of your thumb. They used to cover us, and you were always brushing them off. Nobody thought much about it, but once I pressed my back against the rubber raft, I squashed a bunch of bees. They removed 15 separate stingers from my back. That hurt, I will say."
Trimble went up this uncharted river in Borneo as a cartographical service to mankind, naturally. Mapping the frontier and all of that.
"Oh no," he said. "We just thought it would be fun. We were too busy to make any new charts."
The new ambassador has been learning Nepali. He has been studying it intensively for two months, and there is homework. Nepal, which happens to be where Mount Everest is, is also ruled by one of the world's few remaining absolute monarchs.
A countrywide referendum was held earlier this month, and the voters among Nepal's 7.2 million adults declined the chance to have political parties. King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, 34, himeself a product of Harvard, has promised reforms. The isolated kingdom, never of strategic importance, seems likely to remain stable.
Which may leave time for Mount Xixibangma in 1981, and Trimble's climbing buddies.
"We met in college," he said. "We've climbed together a lot. I hope they come to China for this one, but we really haven't promised it yet." What drew these fellows together for the Borneo rafting trip?
"Oh, the same thing that drew up to Everest," Trimble said, not attempting to explain what drew them to Everest.
"And once you've organized foreign expeditions, you sort of know how to go about it."
Quite. There is absolutely no chance, of course, Mr. Ambassador, that beneath this air-conditioned exterior and club tie there beats the heart of a flaming romantic?
For example, the business of the lock of a woman's hair that he is purported to have carried to a mountaintop in India and implanted in the snow there in 1975.
"I don't know where that story comes from," Ambassador Trimble said coolly. "I certainly do not tell that story."
Yeah, but is it true?
"There may have been such a lock," Trimble intoned softly.
Other evidence is extant. For example, Trimble dose not like to miss his daily run of eight miles. All runners are romantics and dreamers, though they deny it to a man. Trimble missed his run on Tuesday. "But I ran 16 miles on Monday," he said.
And there is the matter of the Everest music.
"Well, yes," Trimble explained. "On the Everest climb we took the Beethoven string quartet, and also a lot of Rolling Stones." The cassette recordings were played in tents and not just through tiny earphones, either.
"We had small speakers that we brought. So you could entertain the other tents." The most popular Beethoven on Everest, Trimble said, were the A-minor and C-sharp minor quartets, the late and most difficult of the series. "We'll have music on Mount Xixibangma, too," Trimble said.
Dan Emmett, a Los Angeles real-estate developer and Trimble climbing pal, is well versed in the ambassadorial Trimble and in the dry, "British" wit that distinguishes him from the "rock jocks" of the mountaineering world.
"He's not a loud fellow," Emmett said. "He doesn't look particularly athletic, and he might not strike you as tough. All those appearances are wrong. He looks like a Wall Street lawyer, but he's extremely disciplined and he never loses his cool.
"He can barely swim, you know, and there we were in the rapids of Borneo last year, with him in the front of the raft, covered with bees and making wry remarks. His sense of humor is wonderful.
"A couple of years ago we were in New Guinea, climbing a mountain there, and the porters were going to walk out. Phil was really the outsider, he didn't speak the language, whereas our other friend, Frank Morgan, lived in Jakarta. So each of us had a try at persuading the porters to stay with us, and each of us failed. The porters had had it, and they were going home.
"So finally Phil gave it a try. He walks over to the porters, who don't speak English, and he stands before them:
"Gentlemen, I am Phillip R. Trimble of the New York law firm of Gravath, Swaine and Moore, he begins, deadpan, and addresses them like that. Well, the other guys started laughing so hard that after a minute the porters started laughing too, and everybody got cheered up and the porters stayed on," Emmett said.
To Emmett, the notion of Trimble as a Lord Byron in a pin-striped suit is amusing and not too far from the truth. "The thing is," Emmett said, "he takes his professional life very seriously. He takes himself a little seriously, too."
That does not mean that Trimble, in the sunlight of Georgetown, will not try to explain what the moutain, and the river, mean. Yet he seems to know he will fail.
"It's not a misunderstanding about 'Why Everest?'" he said. "It's more of a nonunderstanding. Everest is much bigger than you can comprehend until you actually see it. The danger is there -- the glacier moves under you, a serac collapses, there are avalanches very near. People ask, 'Why climb a mountain?' But as somebody said, 'The real question is, If the mountain is there, why isn't everybody climbing it?'
"The satisfaction comes from pride, from doing something other people don't want to do."
Trimble says he has received no intensive political briefings to prepare him for his ambassadorship. "There's no given or standard way to represent the United States. You do it in many ways."
If your posting is Nepal, however, it does not hurt to have conquered Everest. And to have Dan Emmett in Los Angeles and Frank Morgan in Jakarta ready to fly in with their Beethoven tapes for a diplomatic mission to China.
Sorry to interrupt, Mr. Ambassador, but Mount Xixibangma is waiting.