"I think part of me lives in Nepal. I find myself being there in my mind and in my dreams constantly," Uhlmann says, reliving the journey.
The trip got off to a hectic start. Fischbach had nearly backed out when she had a panic attack as she was about to board her plane in Orlando; she went home and called Uhlmann, who insisted she find a way to go. So Fischbach caught a flight through Amsterdam and met up with the other two women in Bangkok. The three set off for Kathmandu, where they would meet a staff of 13 Sherpa guides and porters arranged for by the Norgays.
On the third day, in a remote part of the Annapurna range, the group spent all morning on a grueling climb of about 2,000 feet in 90-degree heat. They finally reached a plateau at about 13,000 feet.
"When we finally took off our day packs and turned around, all three of us, in unison, just gasped," Uhlmann remembers. "You could look down to the river gorge we had climbed up, and across the river were all these mustard fields completely in bloom, like a patchwork quilt of amazing yellows mixed with green. And the river gorge was (filled by) a glacier-fed stream that gave it this opaque jade green color, and there was a Hindu temple all painted in blues and reds and that same mustard yellow. The skies were pristine, and the mountains -- it was just this panoramic vista.
"We were just giddy with the sight, but Deb was just bawling her eyes out."
"Chantal," Fischbach was saying, "Chantal will be too old and institutionalized when she gets out and she'll never see this. It's just so beautiful, and Chantal will never see it."
Fischbach couldn't stop crying. Her emotions had been heightened by the extreme temperature changes between night and day, the physical strain of the uneven rocks and sheer step-ups, the isolation, the mortal danger of a misstep or a rockslide -- and the beauty. Distraught, she felt overwhelming guilt for being on such an adventure while her close friend Chantal McCorkle suffered in prison in Tallahassee, malnourished and cold, with rancid food and violent cellmates -- including one woman who had microwaved her own baby.
Now 32, Chantal had moved from England to Florida in 1988 to work as a nanny. She soon met William McCorkle, a former exotic dancer and aspiring local politician who made money buying and reselling government-foreclosed properties. When William McCorkle decided to use televangelist-style techniques to sell his get-rich-quick program, he formed Cashflow System Inc. and started filming 30-minute infomercials that ran on late-night TV in cities all over the country. Chantal appeared by his side, showing off fancy homes, sleek limousines, and helicopters bearing the McCorkle name. The couple eventually made more than $40 million off the infomercial deals.
People who bought his $69 book and video kit, McCorkle claimed, could earn $10,000 in just 30 days. But when his plan didn't work for them, some of his customers complained that they could not get refunds and were constantly put on hold when they called the company. Others complained that McCorkle rarely followed through on his offer to put up the cash and split the profits if a customer found a "good deal." The U.S. government got involved, charging that McCorkle used rented props and hired actors to pose as satisfied customers and that the couple hid $7 million in a bank account in the Cayman Islands. In November 1998, the McCorkles were convicted of 150 counts of fraud and money laundering. Both are serving 24 years without parole in federal prison.