Friday, December 31, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow " - Chapter 37

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 37

For the next few minutes, both men rested. Finally, Glen crawled from the ground and began to set up their camp. They needed the backpack unlashed from the litter, the tent erected, and some supper made. As the remnants of the day wore on, Glen set himself to work. His first order of business was to get Stan off the tent.

The small man removed the backpack and untied the lashings holding the frazzled tent in place. Next, he moved the litter out of the way. With the travois clear, he helped Stan roll back and forth; bunching the fabric up under one side of the big man before rolling him the other way and pulling the tent all the way out. Just like the night before, the helplessly injured man paid a tremendous toll of pain for such a small manoeuvre.

When the tent was free of the big man’s weight, Glen dug in his pack for the poles. The pegs had been abandoned at their last campsite, but at least the tent would stand without them. Glen scowled. “Putting up this tent is much easier with pegs to hold the corners!” The small man scuttled around, unsuccessfully trying to spread the fabric. Finally, Glen placed baseball sized rocks on the tent’s corners. A few awkward minutes later and the tent was erected.

“Ok Big C, my next trick is to get you inside the tent again.”

“First... I need a... bathroom stop.” The big man said.

Once more, Glen employed the sharp hatchet. First, he created a new digging stick; then a pair of forearm-thick logs for a latrine seat. Glen missed the wonderfully sharp folding saw that he had left behind to conserve weight, but the small axe was definately better than nothing. Soon the wood was cut and the small man scuttled back into camp.

The worn Scotsman sowed the hatchet and stared down at his hands. They were bruised and blistered and scraped and strained. He was kneeling beside his backpack, catching his breath. Glen closed his eyes. “Heavenly Father?” He prayed. “Please help us to live through this night and then help us to be able to cross this deep river in the morning and make it back to our families.”

Silver lines wandered down dirt-stained cheeks as Glen McPherson’s prayer concluded. He wiped his tears with the back of his haggard hand and looked over at his large friend. Stan lay helpless on the ground, silently waiting and watching. As their eyes met, Glen saw silent understanding in the big man’s eyes.

Soon, Stan was again perched above a deep hole, attempting to remain atop the pair of rolling logs that Glen had fashioned for him. The ordeal might have seemed rather funny if it hadn’t been such a privately serious moment in the big man’s life.

When the ordeal was finally over, Glen assisted the panting man off the makeshift latrine. With the big man’s shoulders on the sleeping mat, Glen pulled his friend away from the hole. Following the short trip from the bathroom, Stan collapsed onto the softness of his sleeping mat and attempted to rest. The big man was still groaning as Glen shuffled over to fill the hole.

“Ok Big C.” Glen puffed. “Now let’s get you into the tent.” The wiry Scotsman positioned the torn tent bottom over Stan’s moaning, but unmoving form, and helped the big man emerge inside.

“Thank you.” Was all the big man could offer. Stan Calderbank was spent. His ribs ached. His leg throbbed. The muscles in his fingers and hands spasmmed and cramped from the endless hours of clinging to the travois poles. “Is there no mercy?” The big man’s unspoken question echoed down the empty halls of his mind. “Oh God? Please help me?”

Stan lay still while Glen prepared their supper. Except for two freeze-dried meals, all their food was gone. Tonight’s nourishment would truly be their last supper. The roar of the roiling river made talking a chore, so both men kept mostly silent. Finally, Glen attempted to lighten the mood. “Considering this nasty river, it seems we’re most definitely up a creek without a boat or a paddle!”

Stan grinned, but reality wiped his smile away in an instant. The big man peered up through a trail-enlarged hole in the tent’s roof. The irony was painful. He rested beside a beautiful mountain stream at the end of a warm summer’s day. Nearby, a spectacular cataract of freshly blended, sun-kissed frosting cascaded glacial water over slick black boulders and into secluded pools. Majestic mountain peaks tickled the deep blue sky and marshmallow clouds. Vegetation painted the undulating landscape with infinite variegations of green. Multi-coloured wild flowers proliferated alpine meadows at every turn. “Who could dream up a prettier place to relax and take in the bounties of nature?” The big man closed his eyes and saw the face of his wife. He saw the faces of his children and grandchildren. “I can dream up prettier places!” he thought bitterly. Yes, his surroundings were spectacular, but he loathed the prison they had become. “Just help me get home in one piece.” He prayed though unbidden tears. “Just help both of us to get there.”

Glen knelt beside the stove, looking at his watch. The water in their only pot had been boiling for nearly five minutes, but with the turbidity of the rushing river water, the small man was going to give it another five. They were already in severe distress. The water they consumed needed to be free of any live bacteria and other obnoxious microbes. The weary Scotsman shuddered. “Adding a case of the turkey-squirts to Stan would not be pretty at all!” He shook his head. “No!” He muttered, forcing his thoughts to head elsewhere. “I won’t even imagine that sickening scenario!”

The sun was nearly down and darkness threatened to envelope their campsite in less than thirty-five minutes. From outside the tent, Glen McPherson gazed skyward. The clouds were nearly gone now—just four puffy white specs exiting over the jagged peaks of the Lajord Range. They would disappear any second now. “Well…” Glen broke the silence. “Without cloud cover, there seems little chance of a red sky to promise positive potential for tomorrow.” Glen sounded a bit sarcastic. Stan pulled out of his thoughts and smiled a bit. The alpine air was not very warm, but unspoken thoughts of embracing their loved ones, in just a few more hours, warmed both of their faint hearts. The water in the kettle still boiled. Nearby, Skull Creek churned on.

“Looks like… no rain tonight.” Stan said, gazing skyward through the open tent door. The prediction was, after all, not too surprising, taking into account the big man’s predominant view for past three and a half days.

Glen regarded the big man with interest. “I guess you’ve studied the sky more that any weather man does.”

Stan grinned. “A sky… that clears after… the sun goes down… means rain… before morning.” Glen nodded while Stan continued. “The sky… is clear now… and it is… still light.”

Soon, Glen was hunkered in the tent doorway, spoon-feeding Stan from the steaming Mylar pouch. “It could be worse.” Glen commented, manoeuvring another bite of stew into Stan’s open mouth. “At least we’re eating and still alive… Even if I am in a bad mood.”

Stan smirked a little, but continued to chew. Eating while laying flat on his back was a risky endeavour. The big man had no interest in coughing―should the urge arise. The truth was painful enough though. They were trapped by a river—a river that would have been relatively insignificant had they both been able to walk normally! “It really isn’t fair.” He thought. “One quarter of a mile is all that separates us from escape.” The big man swallowed the bite of rich, juicy stew. “All we have to do is to survive for one more night.”

Once Stan had consumed his portion of supper, Glen dug into his. When he finished eating, Glen limped to the water’s edge. Just like the night before, the small man crushed the two supper pouches and prepared to throw the refuse into the river. It wasn’t much, but even a small advantage over preventing a bear attack was better than nothing. “It’s not so bad.” The small man rationalized as he tossed the crushed Mylar into the current. “Our lives are on the line.” The shimmering balls of Mylar were swept away quickly by the swift stream. Glen watched them go. “And staying alive definitely takes precedence over having a clean environment.”

The garbage hurried quickly out of sight, but Glen remained motionless on the riverbank, gazing at the rapids and lost in thought. The crushed plastic had moved so fast! “I hope that doesn’t happen to us tomorrow.” He thought darkly. “Even with the water level down, dragging Stan across will be a tough assignment.” Glen’s heart was full of dread. “Heavenly Father?” he prayed. “Help me to be able to get us across this river in the morning.” As his quiet prayer left his chapped lips, he felt a little comforted. Whatever happened tomorrow, at least his God had heard his plea.

Glen hobbled back to his pack and prepared to hoist it into a tree. Before he dragged it away, the determined Scotsman took one last drink of cool water from a hydration pouch. Then, with his crutch under one arm and the pack dragging along behind the other, Glen located a tree with a suitable branch and hoisted the light backpack well above the reach of any marauding bear.

With the pack safely lofted in the tree, and the lifting rope secured at an angle to it, Glen shambled back to the tent. He slipped off his dirty boots and set them just outside the door. He placed his crutch on the tent floor, between him and Stan. With the zipper done up, the small man began to settle himself for the night. Stan lay in silence. In the flashlight’s glow, Glen attended to his swollen ankle. After massaging it, the exhausted Scotsman re-wrapped the tensor bandage. Placing his socks, pants and shirt in the corner of the tent the exhausted hiker climbed into his sleeping bag.

Before lying down, Glen carefully placed the pepper spray, the sheathed hatchet and the flashlight between him and Stan. “Our weapons are all right here Big C.” He said warily. “I hope we won’t need them, but just in case we do, either of us can reach them.”

“Thanks.” Came the raspy response. “We just need… protection for… one more night!”

The men were quiet for a second before Glen spoke again. “Big C?”


“Let’s have prayer.”

“Ok.” Stan whispered, “I’m ready.”

Friday, December 24, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow " - Chapter 36

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 36

The afternoon deepened and then waned. As the day progressed Glen required rest stops more frequently. The winded Scot was becoming less and less able to drag his large friend. The speed of their progress had diminished. It had been sluggish at its best and now their pace bordered on deliberate dawdling.

Thirty-five minutes ago, the staggering Scotsman had downed the final drops of their precious water. Glen’s right leg and hip, as well as both his shoulders and arms, all burned mercilessly. His throat was parched. His bruised ankle throbbed, pressing against the interior of his boot like compressed helium inside a rapidly ascending weather balloon. His breathing was ragged. Glen couldn’t go on for much longer.

In the last half hour, since the last water pouch had been fully drained, neither man had spoken. Stan lay on the undulating litter, forever trying to will away his shooting pains and the incessant throbbing of his blood into his broken leg. He was beyond uncomfortable, and they were still not there. Not many positive thoughts swirled inside the big man’s mind, but he reached through the din of discouragement and plucked one good thought to focus on. “At least Glen’s careful about the route he drags me across.”

Suddenly, Stan imagined reaching the truck. The big man shook his head. The thought should have been comforting, blissful and even exhilarating, but it was not. “When we get to the truck, my discomfort will be anything but over!” The new thought chilled him, smashing his brief visit to positive thinking like spectacles under the tires of a speeding semi. “Riding on this travois is bad enough! Yarbo Road is full of potholes!” His worries multiplied inside his head. “And when the potholes of Yarbo Road stop trying to swallow my tires, there are numerous sections of washboard gravel, grooved strategically into the wilderness track to maximize my discomfort.” Stan sighed a shallow sigh. “I just have to hold on for a few more hours.” A fierce scowl crossed the big man’s face and he clenched his teeth. “Steady Stan, you can do this.” He reassured himself. “You can handle it.”

Forty-five more tortuous minutes passed. Glen was stopped again. He panted hard to catch his breath. “I think I… hear Skull Creek.”

Stan listened, but could not discern the sound of rushing water over the gentle rustle of leaves beside his ears. The trail was narrow and the bushes grew right up to the pathway. Numerous leaf-softened branch tips had been rubbing against his arms and hands for some time now. Several bushy branches even projected far enough into the trail to threaten his face, but none had hit him yet.

Glen began to pull forward once more. Silently, Stan hoped that his friend’s hearing was accurate. He had noted the slower pace and the increase in Glen’s respiration rate. His designated packhorse couldn’t pull much longer without a drink of water.

Twenty minutes later, the roaring rapids of Skull Creek were in Glen’s line of sight. In spite of his dry mouth, salty lips, burning limbs and aching joints, the small man grinned. Five additional minutes saw the litter resting near the bank of the rain-swollen watercourse. Glen rummaged in his backpack and retrieved the water-purifying pump.

In his right hand, Glen clutched the pair of hydration pouches as well as the bag that contained the pump. In his left, the exhausted Scotsman articulated his makeshift crutch. Seconds later, Glen’s exhausted body sat perched on the bank of the raging river. In no time at all, pure water trickled into the first pouch. When Glen had about a cup of water purified, he ceased pumping and guzzled the liquid. “Ahhhhh!” He blew out a breath. “That tastes heavenly!” The small man returned the intake hose to the river, again holding it in the stream as the flexible hose dangled over his outstretched leg. He pumped for another thirty seconds and stopped again. Hobbling over to Stan, Glen deposited the cool pouch into the big man’s hands. Big C downed the refreshment and Glen returned to the river for more.

As Glen sat parked on the river’s shore, pumping water into their hydration pouches, his eyes took in the deep torrent of water that blocked their path. Its roaring rapids were the only sound that the small man could hear. Skull Creek was badly swollen. Glen inspected the riverbank. “If we’d had much more rain, these banks wouldn’t have been high enough to contain all the water!” The muscles in the small man’s jaw worked as he pumped. His eyes swept up the hill. On the opposite bank, a five hundred yard struggle with an elevation gain of just over two hundred feet would lead them to the truck. “We’re so close!”

Glen eyed the river once more, this time trying to estimate its depth. He sent his mind back in time to the moments he had first waded across the icy waters of Skull Creek. “It must have been just under a foot in depth then.” He said aloud. “Right now, it looks like more than double that!”

From his low vantage point, it was difficult to tell. On the first day of their hike, and in the heat of the day, the glacial water flowing from Lady Lake had chilled his legs to the bone. Now it was their fourth day in the wilderness. The return crossing today would be so much worse than the first one! Then there was the ambient temperature to consider. Glen shot a quick glance at the sun. It would shortly begin its exit into the west, meaning that the gruelling pull up the steep hill would be made mostly in twilight and perhaps even in the dark. That, of course, was after they successfully forded the raging river.

Glen stared back at the frothing waters, tracing them up to the distant waterfall plunging from Lady Lake. An unbidden shudder ran through him. His jaw muscles flared again. The dreaded event of fording the swollen creek would most likely leave both men soaked to the skin. Glen scanned the sky once more. “If we’re lucky, there’s an hour of daylight left.”

Soon the hydration pouches were full. Glen drank deeply again and then refilled. “Big C?” he called. “Do you want any more to drink?”

Stan did, but even more than being thirsty he was terrified of having to use the bathroom. “Not right now.” He said.

Glen nodded, gathered up the pump, hoses and hydration pouches and hobbled back to Stan. As the items disappeared into the backpack Glen could see the trepidation on Stan’s face.

“That water looks… pretty deep.” Stan said. “Will my face… stay out?”

Glen stared again at the river, zipping up his pack without looking down at it. “I’ll check.” With that, Glen scuttled to the water’s edge and, balancing on one foot, probed the river with his crutch. From their first crossing, the small man new that the bank was steep and that the centre of the flow was only two or three inches deeper than it was at the edge.

Stan looked on as Glen plunged his makeshift crutch into the swift water. The balancing Scotsman bent sharply at the waist before Stan saw the crutch hit bottom. The crutch withdrew. A dark stain on the wood indicated the depth. The big man scowled. “The water’s at least two feet deep!”

Glen hobbled back to Stan. “It looks bad.” He stated, but the diagnosis was plainly obvious to both men. Glen reached the head of the litter and bent down. Kneeling, Glen compared the measured water depth with the small crutch that supported the front of the travois. The water was only three inches less than the stout support that had been assisting Glen in dragging the travois. He frowned and blew out a frustrated breath.

“I’m going to lift the travois up so it rests on the support.” Glen warned. A moment later, saw the travois at an angle and Glen staring at it from a distance of a few paces. The crown of Stan’s head was higher than his mouth but they were both lower than the measured height of the water!

Glen let out an exasperated sigh. “We’re so close!” He lamented, his voice rising in volume against the raging river. “We’ve made it so far! How can we be stopped now? It’s just not fair!” Glen looked down at the dirt and shook his head.

Stan lay quietly. He was quite familiar with the height of his face when Glen pulled the litter. As Glen passed him, on his way to measure the front support crutch, Stan observed the watermark on Glen’s crutch. Even without a word from his friend, Stan knew that the raging river was too deep for him. The big man closed his eyes and sent his brain into overdrive, searching for a solution that wouldn’t end in his death.

“The most obvious action is for Glen to leave me and go for help.” Stan thought. “That might be the best thing, but that choice would leave me at the mercy of at least two roaming grizzly bears.” The big man rubbed at the profusion of greying stubble on his swarthy face. “If I were threatened, I could use the pepper spray. But I certainly couldn’t defend myself in any other way.” Stan let out a shallow sigh. “If Glen did leave me, I would likely be alone for several hours—several hours of darkness!” Even though bears could not see especially well, Stan doubted that the giant carnivores would let darkness stop them from doing whatever it was that bears did in the dark. “Most wild animals are nocturnal.” The big man opened his eyes. Glen was still appraising the situation. “I have a much better chance of survival if there are two of us to battle against an invading bruin.” He concluded. “And besides,” Stan’s thinking extended, “If Glen does try to ford the river alone, without the travois to help stabilize him, he’ll probably not make it across in one piece.”

“What if we cross the river right now?” Stan began to mull through a second option. “True, the swollen waters of Skull Creek look menacing but the sleeping mat will give me a little bit of buoyancy.” The big man shook his head slightly. With Glen’s injured ankle, the possibility of them both drowning seemed imminent. “Even if we did make the crossing, we would be chilled and wet.” Stan followed that train of thought. “There will be no warm sunlight to stave off the hypothermia that is certain to attack us in the river and then follow us out.” The big man sighed again. “It would border on suicide to cross this raging river tonight!”

“There is only… one reasonable… thing for us… to do.” He said aloud. Glen’s eyes met his as Stan continued. “We have to… wait here ‘til… the morning.” Glen began to respond, but Stan held up a big hand. He had just remembered something significant. “The melt water… from the glacier… will be a… lot less… in the morning.” The discouraged Scotsman averted his eyes to the dirt and said nothing. Admitting defeat was not Glen’s first or even his second choice. Stan continued. “Remember our trip… to Spirit Lake?” Glen nodded, smiling a little as he recalled the amazing five-day adventure they had shared just two years before. “When we camped… below Hearts Hill? The river there… was twice as deep… in the late afternoons.”

Glen’s mind raced back to the campsite on the bank of that glacial-fed river at the foot of Hearts Hill, taking in the memory of the breathtaking surroundings. The Spirit Lake hike was all the two men had talked about while they had prepared for this new adventure. Glen remembered the phenomena with the river. It had been unexpected and very peculiar. When the sun warmed the landscape, the glacier melted at an increased rate and presto; the river swelled to double the height it had been in the early morning.

“So what you’re saying is that we should camp here tonight and cross first thing in the morning?”

“Yeah.” Stan said. “I really don’t… want to drown!”

“Good point.” Glen gazed up at the sky. “The sun will set soon and that would mean climbing the hill in the dark. Being wet will certainly get us into trouble with hypothermia.”

“Considering the… temperature of… the water… hypothermia is… inevitable.” Stan concluded. “It’s safer... to stay here... tonight!”

“That water is very cold!” Glen said, still considering Stan’s suggestion. “I could leave you here, but if you were attacked by a bear, I’d never forgive myself.” He trailed off, a lump forming in his throat. “And Alida would never forgive me either!”

Stan listened to the small man who had been keeping him alive. If Glen decided to leave him now and go for help, there was nothing he could do to stop him. “Glen might bring back help tonight if he left me.” The prone man pondered some more. “Of course that’s assuming he can make the crossing on one leg!”

Glen set his jaw, took a deep breath, and spoke again, interrupting the big man’s swirling thoughts. “Ok.” He sounded determined. “We’ll both stay here tonight.” The roar of the river nearly swallowed up his words. “First thing in the morning, we will cross this nasty river and go home!”

Hobbling back to lower the front of the litter, Glen’s brow furrowed deeply. He muttered aloud to himself, the sound of his voice lost in the rush of Skull Creek. “I hope this isn’t a fatal mistake!”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow " - Chapter 35

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 35

A pair of large brown beady eyes spied from within the leafy camouflage. The grizzly breathed smoothly, unflinchingly. As the big bear watched, he was surprised to notice the presence of two humans instead of what he thought was only one. Usually he didn’t make mistakes like this. Obviously, his extra caution had been prudent. What else had he missed?

A light southerly wind wafted the scents of the two humans into his moist nostrils. Now that he could see the two men, he was able to differentiate between their odours. The bruin stared as one of the men scampered back and forth about the campsite. In his very limited experience with humans, the bear knew that the smell of food was often blended in the air with the scent of their bodies. Strange, however, was the fact that the grizzly could not smell anything to eat. Even when he had stalked along the edge of their mysterious sleeping device he had not been able to detect the presence of a ready meal. And then there were those odd noises coming from within the structure. He had been curious and wanted to take a look within, but wariness had gotten the better of him. In fact, he had just barely hidden himself before one of the humans emerged into his mountain domain. He was wise to hide. He had no idea what might have happened if he had been spotted.

The big bear remained resigned and calm, observing and waiting. If he was patient, there would soon be another opportunity for him to satisfy his curiosity. Patience had been his friend in the past, and it would probably be his friend again today. “There is no rush.” He thought. “It’s much better to cautious.”

“We need wheels!” Glen sputtered, clumping along at his usual, but pathetically slow pace. Behind him, Stan just held on and gritted his teeth. The litter was much more stable than it had been when they crossed the field of boulders under the shadow of Ravenscrag Mountain, but the trail was not exactly a freshly paved primary highway. Random roots criss-crossed the dirt path. Rainwater sat in scattered, randomly placed depressions, making Glen’s footing uncertain. Still, for all the trepidation, the trail behind them was at least free of the unseen grizzly bear. If the two men had been hiking normally, they would have had to keep looking over their shoulders to see if danger was approaching them from behind them. Incapacitated as he was, however, Stan Calderbank made an attentive and astute rear lookout.

Glen halted. Stan turned his head to see what lay ahead, but his neck would just not turn that far. “Everything ok?” the big man asked.

“Yeah.” Glen replied. I just need some way to help support the front of this travois. My arms are killing me!”

Stan pondered the problem a moment. “Why don’t… you cut a… short crutch… and lash it on.”

The idea had merit, and Glen’s worried mind caught hold of the notion. “That’s a good idea.” He stated. “Hold on. I’m going to put you down.”

Glen set the litter on the trail and hobbled back to Stan. He untied the hatchet from one of the upper tent tethers. Unsheathing it, Glen looked at Stan, “I’ll be right back.”

With that, Glen scuttled off into the woods. It took the scanning Scotsman just seconds to locate a suitable branch. He set to work, chopping.

The sound of clinking steel filled the tranquility of the alpine air. The massive grizzly stopped and stiffened. He had been following the men—from a safe distance of course. It took less than a second for the big bruin to identify the sound’s direction. “It must be the humans!” Apprehensive, the bear listened intently. Whatever the humans were doing, it was loud. The grizzly puzzled a bit. He had never heard such a noise as this before. Anxious to get a closer look, but worried for his own hide, the bear stood his ground a moment longer. The clinking sounds did not stop. Finally, the grizzly turned and moved quickly off the trail into the undergrowth. “These humans apparently still have a few tricks up their sleeves!”

Stan lay on the litter, prone and pathetic. As he listened to the hatchet’s blows, he reached out to touch the bottle of pressurized bear repellent. He had made jokes about pepper spray. “A bit of spice to make a hiker more tasty!” he had often said. A deep furrow played in the dried sweat on his brow. Today, he hoped his flippant joke held no thread of truth. He wanted no part of the irony an encounter with a bear might bring.

Glen returned momentarily. Instead of one crutch, he now had two. In spite of the serious situation, however, Stan smirked. Glen noticed. “What?” The small man sounded irritated.

“You just look… funny with… crutches of… different lengths.” Stan wheezed.

Glen glanced down at the crude wooden implements. A smile crossed his own lips. He had to admit it. A man using two unevenly matched crutches did have the makings for a comedy act. After a second, Glen grew serious again. He drew out his Leatherman and cut a piece of excess string from one of the tent loops. They wouldn’t need to tie the tent down anyway, and he had no other twine to use to lash the new crutch to the front of the litter.

It took Glen a minute or two to lash the short crutch in place, but that was only after he adjusted its height with the hatchet. With the front crosspiece of the travois resting in the crook of the short wooden crutch, Glen hefted the litter. As the front rose off the ground, the extended crutch tip was dragged from its horizontal to a vertical position. With the crutch directly under the cross beam, Glen set the travois down. It rested perfectly on the new crutch! “Success!”

Glen had been wise enough to lash the wood to the exact centre of the framework. As long as he kept his own crutch and right foot far enough apart from each other, the short crutch just swung forward with each lurching step he took. He smiled at his handiwork. “Great idea Stan.” He offered. “I just wish you had suggested this very helpful mechanical device yesterday.”


The grizzly lay quietly among the thick, leafy bushes. The disturbing sound had ceased, but he wanted no part in taking chances. He would wait a while before he stalked after the unusual men any further. The big bruin looked up at the sky. The day was becoming a nice one and he was getting hungry. Hearing no more sounds, the bear rose and began to forage.

The terrain beneath the litter was more or less smooth, and the extra relief offered by the swinging support gave Glen’s strained arms some desperately needed help. The relief was definitely appreciated. “The further we go, the more I like this crutch idea!” Glen panted.

“Glad you… like it.” Stan offered.

“Big C.” Glen puffed. “I think you have… a patentable idea!”

“Thanks.” Stan said, “But there aren’t… very many… stores out here… that will carry it.”

Glen tried to laugh, but he was breathing too hard to get out more than a humorous huff. He had been pulling the litter for well over an hour and a half. The small man came to a stop and rested the front of the litter on the crutch. He ducked out from under the front cross brace and hobbled for his pack.

“How much farther do you think it is to Paisley Brook?” he asked, unzipping the main pouch of the pack.

“I can’t be sure… but it can’t be… more than another… hour.” Stan wheezed.

Glen drank deeply from the full hydration pack, then, he offered a drink to Stan.

Just a little.” Stan said. “After this morning… I don’t ever… want to use… the bathroom… again!” Glen smiled in understanding. He didn’t want to have to help Stan again either!

When the men finished drinking, Glen stowed the plastic pouch and zipped up the red pack. Their water was now gone, but Paisley Brook would soon provide a fresh source. Glen hobbled back to the front of the litter and resumed his position of packhorse.

Another hour of dragging ticked by, but still no river. The small man set the front of the travois down. “I’m getting dehydrated.” Glen panted. “My good leg feels like a piece of wood.” He was ranting now. “My hips are killing me and my armpit feels raw.” Stan had no idea what to say, so he just listened. “I’m moving on sheer will alone!” Glen concluded his complaints and picked up the travois once more. “We have to make it to Paisley Brook soon. I can’t go on much longer without water!”

Maple Creek had marked the southern end of Green Canyon. Now the narrow, rocky gap between High Tor and Ravenscrag Mountains was far behind the two haggard hikers. Three hours from the life-giving creek, a smooth open area began to stretch out before them. The Mistawasis Mountains on the west and the Lajord Range on the east back dropped both sides of the open valley. Quite different than Green Canyon, here, the mountain ranges were further apart.

Several miles west of the two hikers, thick deposits of glacial ice clung to the sides of the Mistawasis Mountains. As the thick glaciers slowly thawed in the summer heat, the melted ice fed Maple Creek, Paisley Brook, Lady Lake, and Skull Creek. Looking south, to where the broad valley opened even wider, the three rivers ran together to form a large body of water called Middle Lake. From there, the chilled mountain water ran into the Sucker River and eventually reached the salt water of the ocean. Glen McPherson paused to catch his breath, looking out over the valley.

The picturesque basin was home to a myriad of evergreen trees. They grew everywhere, but they were all so short that Glen could see over top of most of them. Nearly twenty years before, a mighty fire had ripped through the open valley, leaving blackened skeletons of the once-proud evergreens that called it their home. Today, seeds from the mighty forest had sprung up, trying to restore the valley to its former glory. Glen surveyed the area ahead of him, remembering the reason for the new forest seedlings. “In another thirty or forty years, there will be a magnificent forest her.” He thought, trying to take his mind off his throbbing muscles. “We have to be getting close.” He muttered between gasps for air and hefted the travois once again.

Minutes continued to creep by. Time seemed meaningless. Glen’s twin crutches and single booted foot left a strange combination of tracks in the soft earthen trail as he plodded along, lurching with each and every step. Suddenly, Stan spoke. “I think… I hear water.”

Glen paused in his forward movement and let the travois rest on the short support crutch. He could hear it too. “You’re right.” He panted, smiling. “Paisley Brook is just ahead.”

Twenty-five minutes later, Glen and Stan both lay on the ground. Beside them, Paisley Brook ran by. With the overnight rain accumulations, the lazy brook had been transformed into a narrow, but raging set of shallow rapids. Two full hydration packs and the water-purifying pump sat next to Glen’s unmoving arm. The stubborn Scotsman’s chest still heaved from lack of breath. Stan just tried to relax his cramping muscles. The day was beginning to warm, but the chilled water in their stomachs compensated for it. Above their closed eyes, the storm clouds were breaking up. In another hour or maybe two, the sun would be out to complete the storm cycle and end the gloominess that had dogged them for nearly two days. By tomorrow, the rain would be all but forgotten.

The men lay quietly in their tranquil surroundings. Birds and insects flitted and hummed nearby, but aside from the small creatures and the flowing brook, the world was still.

“Beep, beep, beep, beep!” Glen’s watch jolted the aching Scotsman out of the deep sleep of his nap. His hiking hat covered his eyes. His hand shot off the ground and groped for the shut-off button on the obnoxious watch. At his side, Stan stirred too, but he didn’t jump. The loud alarm wasn’t right beside his ear!

Glen moaned. “I don’t wana get up yet!” The small man pealed the wide-brimmed hat off his eyes and stared at this watch. It was twelve-thirty in the afternoon. “I guess we’d better get moving.” He said reluctantly. “We must have at least three more hours of this torture before we reach Skull Creek.”

Glen rolled over onto his stomach so he could pull his stiff body up to his knees and then complete the standing process using his good foot and handy crutch. He had only been dependant on the crutch for a few days, but had adapted quickly. It was, however, a love-hate relationship that he had with the makeshift support. His armpit was chaffed and his hip and hamstring hurt from having to hold up one leg all the time. Of course, dragging Stan made things even worse. In good conscience though, the worn Scotsman couldn’t be too hard on the inanimate wood. The crutch was, after all, helping to save his life and the life of his friend. The wiry man drew in a full breath of fresh mountain air and blew out slowly. Donning his worn leather gloves, Glen gripped his makeshift crutch and pulled himself up to stand.

“Ok Big C.” Glen was still trying to psyche himself up. “I hope you’re more ready for this than I am?”

“Probably not.” Came an honest reply. “I’d better have… two more Tylenol.”

Glen obliged, stowing the water in his pack and transferring the two requested tablets from the small pill bottle to the big man’s mouth. Glen then looked around, moved to the head of the litter and lifted it once more.

The short crutch did pretty well crossing Paisley Brook. Only once did the swift water prevent the wooden tip from swinging forward properly. Of course, the fast water was only a few inches deep, and the brook only eight feet in width. Glen watched the crutch work, knowing that this creek crossing was only a mild prelude to the fording of Skull Creek. Considering the extra volume of runoff in Paisley Brook, their next river crossing would be a most difficult challenge. The brook’s flow had nearly doubled in volume since their last encounter, three days ago.

“You know.” Glen puffed, limping along. “Maybe I should… lash a stick to… my bad leg… so I can... use it without… putting weight… on my ankle?”

Behind him, Stan grinned through his discomfort. In his mind’s eye, he could picture his friend using both a peg leg and a crutch—at the same time. With all that wooden support, Glen would really take on the air of Long John Silver! “You’ll have to… get an eye patch… to go with it.” Stan wheezed.

Glen laughed. In fact, he had to stop pulling for a second to let the joke roll off. “That’s a good one.” He panted. It felt good to add humour to their meagre diet. “Arrrrrg!” Glen chortled, employing his best pirate voice. “I’ll be wantin… a boat ready… when we get… to Skull Creek!”

Stan let a laugh slip, and it hurt. “Ouch.” He cried, holding up a hand like a traffic cop in a busy intersection. “That’s enough!”

“Well… you started it.” Glen countered, beginning to pull again.


An hour later, the determined Scotsman rounded a bend in the meandering trail and halted. Ahead, the smooth, woodland pathway morphed abruptly into a small field of ragged rocks. Similar in appearance to the rock-strewn portion of Green Canyon, the area was much less expansive and not nearly so rugged. All the rocks in the fairly level area, were of similar size except one notable exception. Near the centre of the two hundred foot wide swath of small boulders towered a mammoth sized stone. “There’s Lone Rock.” Glen said

In some long forgotten day of the past, some unknown force of nature had deposited the giant boulder here. As far as Glen and Stan knew, no human eye had witnessed the cataclysmic event. All that remained was for tenacious trekkers to venture into this remote place to see the sight for themselves. Scrub clung along the western and southern edges of Lone Rock, diminished in their stature by the sheer enormity of the mighty stone. The eastern side of the rock was not quite as vertical as the rest. Its steep slope bore the marks of numerous climbers, attempting to ascend its thirty-foot bastion to gain a perch on the pinnacle.

Glen McPherson smiled to himself as he drew the litter slowly past the colossal rock. Just three days before, he had fought his way to the top. Stan had elected to observe. Glen remembered the panoramic view of the open valley that had been his to enjoy. With the evergreens still recovering their growth, he could see for several hundred yards in all directions. The sun had felt warm on his face. His legs had both been working well that day! How he had wished that he brought a video camera on the adventure. A shadow crossed Glen’s face. Today, he was grateful he had not brought the camera. By now he would have left it in Green Canyon for some bear to play with!

Soon the two travellers were across the rock field and on the smooth trail once again. “I need… a rest!” Glen panted. He came to a stop and lowered the litter, using his long crutch to kick the short travois support crutch forward so it would not keep the front of the travois aloft.

With the travois settled, Glen hobbled to the pack for a much-needed drink. Unzipping a small pouch at the top of the pack, the human packhorse dug out their last power bar. He was exhausted and hungry, but they were almost there.

The tired Scotsman eased his sore body onto the trail, settling like a beached jelly fish on a forsaken beach. While Glen munched the power bar, he rubbed his hip. “I need a two-hour soak in a swirling hot tub!”

“Me too!” Stan moaned, nodding his complete agreement.

Once the bar was consumed, Glen untied his left boot and unwound the tensor bandage. The sun peaked out from behind the thinning cloud cover and warmed the swollen joint. Glen ran his fingers over the damaged skin. Black and blue hues were everywhere! “Perhaps it is broken?” He wondered aloud. Glen was no doctor, but he had lived long enough to see a few injuries. “If I only have a bad sprain, shouldn’t I be able to use the ankle by now?” Without realizing it, Glen shook his head and let out a sigh. “I just don’t know enough about these things!”

Following a ten-minute rest, Glen rewrapped his ankle and donned his waterproof hiking boot. “Well…” he said, climbing to a standing position. “We’re not going to get there by resting.”

As the front of the travois was raised, Stan winced for the umpteenth time. The big man kept reminding himself that all the pain would be worth it, but that thought had long since become worn out. “I just want the pain to end!”

Glen pulled for several seconds and then suddenly stopped. Stan abandoned his pity party and listened. The light southerly wind played in the trees and bushes. A few birds flew in the warm air. Glen was silent. Stan hadn’t heard anything, but that didn’t mean Glen hadn’t. Unbidden, the hair on Stan’s neck bristled. He reached out a hand and closed his big fingers about the bottle of pepper spray.

Glen’s voice broke the stillness. “There are more bear tracks.” He stated. “A grizzly crossed this trail since it rained.” Glen studied the impressions. “The tracks are dry around the edges, which mean they were made a few hours ago.” The big man listened as Glen continued. “They look smaller than the other tracks. I don’t know if that’s good or bad?”

“It’s not… that good.” Stan offered. “Let’s have… a prayer.”


Glen set the litter down onto its support crutch. He lowered himself to his knees. The position was appropriate to prayer as well as for allowing him to rest from standing. He was so very tired of standing!

Bowing his head, Glen began to pray. “Heavenly Father? Stan and I have been trying hard to get ourselves to the truck and then to safety. We are hurt, and there are grizzlies in the area. If it be Thy will, please help us to reach the safety of our families. We are fearful of a bear attack. Please comfort us. Please protect us. Please help us to be strong enough to stay alive.” Glen paused as emotion temporarily closed off his airway. He flicked away a tear with a dirty finger tip before continuing. “We thank Thee that we are yet alive. Please help our families to be ready to help us when we arrive at Midnight Lake.” Glen paused again and then concluded the invocation in the name of the Saviour.

As two soft “Amens” were uttered into the tranquil mountain air, Glen McPherson and Stan Calderbank opened their moistened eyes. The sun was now brilliant in the sky. The minutes of the afternoon of their fourth day were ticking by. For now, the weather was wonderful—not too hot or too cool. Finally, Glen cleared his throat and then spoke. “Shall we go again Big C?”

“I’m ready.”

With that, the wiry Scotsman arose. Grunting, he lifted the litter and pulled once more. Methodically, the two haggard hikers moved towards their destiny.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 34

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 34

Dawn crept quietly over the Mistawasis Mountains, first striking the snow capped tip of High Tor. Once the light had condescended to touch the lesser peaks, Ravenscrag Mountain found illumination too. The thick nimbostratus clouds were giving way to the power of the sun and were beginning to break up and move eastward. In a few minutes, several shafts of sunlight would once again reach down to touch the rugged landscape. A mile away from Ravenscrag Mountain, sandwiched between the Lajord and Mistawasis mountain ranges, two bruised and broken men slept. Their battered tent stood silently at the southern end of Green Canyon. The chilled waters of Maple Creek churned nearby, swollen to a torrent by the precipitation. Overnight, the rain had ceased but the ground was still damp and soft.

Stan’s eyes flickered open. The air was cold and the humidity high. His ribs felt slightly improved, but the throbbing in his broken leg was like the nearby creek—it hadn’t stopped once during the night.

In the faint light of dawn, the ceiling of the tent showed its punctures as pinpricks of light against the dark interior of the cool sleeping chamber. Sometime in the night, the candle lantern had burned itself out. Stan eyed the gold lantern housing. It hung motionless from its string. “At least the wind isn’t blowing.” He thought. “Thankfully, the rain’s stopped too.” Stan closed his eyes again and offered a silent prayer. Not only was he still was alive and warm, but there was also hope for him and Glen to make it to medical help before the day was out. He had much to be discouraged about, but in spite of it all, he would try to be positive.

Soon, Glen stirred. His barely audible voice disturbed the tranquility within the tent, but he just muttered something incomprehensible. Stan smirked. “Glen’s probably enjoying some sweet dream. He’ll wake up soon enough.” The big man’s grin melted. “Then, he’ll have to resume the drudgerous duty of being my personal packhorse.” Stan silently studied the tent’s ceiling and tried to glimpse the sky through the largest tear. “No.” He thought, “I won’t disturb my dreaming friend just yet.”

Glen settled into a quiet snore. Stan just listened and let his thoughts run free. “Glen’s given so much of himself already.” The big man let his memory trace their journey back over the past several days. Then he took a shallow breath and soundlessly breathed the words, “Heavenly Father, thank you for Glen.”

Another ten minutes drifted by before Glen McPherson broke from the sweet squeeze of slumber. He sucked in a deep breath of cool mountain air and cast his eyes about the tent. “Mornin.” Stan whispered, meeting his gaze.

“Good morning Big C.” Glen sounded half cheerful. “How did you sleep?”

“Not bad… considering my leg... kept waking me up... every few minutes.”

Glen sat up and touched the ceiling. It was dry. “When did the rain stop?”

“It’s been a... few hours.” Stan dragged his left arm from within the sleeping bag and consulted his watch. “Three-and-a-half… hours since I… first noticed.”

Glen nodded. “Well, that’s good news.” He stated. “I was dreading the prospect of pulling you in the rain. Crossing Paisley Brook and Skull Creek will get us plenty wet enough!”

It was Stan’s turn to nod in agreement. “Glen?” he asked, dramatically changing the subject. “Sorry... but I need to… use the bathroom.”

Glen quickly responded, but the big man was not yet finished dispensing his request. “I need more… than cracks… in the rocks.” Stan finished.

Glen stopped, grimacing before he could stop himself. He bit his tongue and pulled on his chilled socks and pants. “Ok.” He said, now more or less composed. “Let me see what I can do.”

Glen slid his arms into his coat and unzipped the tent door. In seconds, his stiff fingers had his boots laced. Snatching up his makeshift crutch and the hatchet, Glen rose to stand, groaning as his muscles protested. This project was going to take a few minutes.

Moving as quickly as he could, Glen scanned the area. “The closer I can get the bathroom to Stan, the better it’ll be.” His mind reeled. “But what should I do?” Suddenly, he had it. With a workable plan forming, Glen scuttled over to the edge of the forest.

The small man unsheathed the hatchet and stuffed the leather sheath into the back pocket of his pants. He then laid the sharp blade into a stocky chunk of deadfall. He needed a digging stick. After numerous chopping strokes, Glen had the tip of the four-foot stick sharpened to a point. The tip resembled a ridiculously oversized flat blade screwdriver. Glen inspected it. “A bit crude, but it should work.” He stated, sounding like a judge at a primitive tool making contest.

“Next, I need two pieces of wood.” Glen’s eyes darted about the wooded area again. It was only a minute before he was chopping at a thick fallen log. It took some time, but the axe was sharp. Wood slowly splintered away under the incessant cadence of steel striking wood in the morning stillness. Like a frenzied beaver, Glen used the hatchet to gnaw off two stout chunks of the log. With two two-foot pieces on the ground, Glen stowed the hatchet in its case and threaded the sheath onto his belt once more. Grabbing the chunks of wood, he tucked them under his right arm and jammed his crutch under his left.

Returning to retrieve the digging stick, Glen soon arrived back at the tent doorway. “Well Stan,” he said. “I think you’ll be able to do your business right here.” The limping Scotsman panted, and set to work.

Digging stick in hand, Glen chipped away at the rain-softened dirt, pausing every few seconds to scoop it out with his hand. In no time at all, he created a hole a foot deep. Stan looked on as Glen positioned the two cut-off logs, one on each side of the hole. Glen stared down at the crudely constructed latrine, frowning but nodding approvingly at his handiwork. From his Boy Scout training, he knew that latrine pits were supposed to be eighteen to twenty-four inches deep, but this one would do for a one-time use.

“Ok Stan.” He said, trying to lighten the mood. “Your throne awaits.” Glen gave his best imitation of game show girl’s wave and smiled. Stan just rolled his eyes and shook his head.


The big man held up an open palm. “I’m sure... it will work.”

“I hope so, cuz our options are pretty limited.”

Glen ducked inside the tent and quickly removed his sleeping bag, mat, flashlight, lantern and the unused bottle of pepper spray. A few seconds later, the tent was again in the air and floating to the damp ground several feet away from the big man. Glen ducked back into the tent and pulled a half a roll of toilet paper from an inside pocket. “At least the roll’s in a sealed plastic bag!”

The next few minutes involved a lot of suffering for Stan. The incessant throbbing in his broken leg was relentless! Slowly, but surely, the big man moved the three feet from his sleeping mat to the unstable log platform. Glen supported Stan’s back, while the logs threatened to roll out from under him.

When the ordeal was over, Stan manoeuvred off the pit and collapsed on a sleeping mat, panting hard. Glen filled the pit with the dirt he had dug out of it.

“Good thing we’re never going to write a book about this!” Glen remarked, trying to relieve the awkwardness of the moment. Stan just offered a fleeting smile and nodded. “How does my wife do this?” Glen asked under his breath. Lillie had worked as an assisted living worker for many years, but up until today, Glen had not fully appreciated the job she did. “I just hope this is one-time thing!” He muttered under his breath.

With Stan temporarily settled back onto his sleeping mat, Glen hobbled over to the pack and lowered it. Using the pack hanging rope as a clothesline, The small man quickly hung up the sleeping bags and one of the mats to dry. He shuffled back to the tent for his final trip. Crawling back inside, he gathered the crinkly Mylar back into his fanny pack and then began to strike the tent. As Glen moved to pull out the poles, he stopped short. His hurry on hold, the limping man stared down at the dirt. From the smooth ground, several grizzly tracks screamed out in silent exclamation.

Glen glanced furtively around. Nothing moved. He looked back at the tracks for further examination. There was no water in the depressions, and that meant one very disturbing thing. “Stan.” Glen tried to speak without alarm in his voice. “What time did you say that the rain stopped?”

Stan thought a moment before replying. “It was three-thirty… when I first noticed… that the rain had… stopped. I don’t know… what time… it actually did. Why?”

There was a pregnant pause. Finally Glen spoke. “There are fresh grizzly tracks where the back wall of our tent was.” He admitted. “They are so fresh that there’s no water in any of them.”

Stan’s brow furrowed deeply. Glen looked stricken. The wary Scotsman scanned his own tracks. They appeared to have been made at the same time as the bear made his. Abandoning the poles, Glen made a rapid shuffle back to Stan. He scooped up the bottle of pepper spray and threaded its black nylon case onto his belt. Together with the hatchet, he now carried two weapons. Stan gazed on as the stressed Scotsman re-buckled his leather belt.

“The bear… is probably… watching us.” Stan wheezed.

Glen nodded in agreement. It seemed painfully obvious that the bear had walked past the vulnerable men only minutes before they had awakened. “Perhaps it was even a matter of seconds.” Glen shuddered. Adrenalin fuelled him now.

“Here.” Glen’s exit strategy was rapidly falling into place. He dug out the bottle of Tylenol and gave Stan two tablets. The big man swallowed the pills and Glen went for their water. “I’m glad I filled these pouches last night.”

The small man was bordering on hysteria, but he forced himself to voice his thoughts clearly. “We have to leave as quickly as we can. Bears are unpredictable, and this particular one clearly has little if any fear of us.” Stan nodded but remained silent as Glen continued. “Since we’re going to reach the truck by nightfall, we should leave anything else we can spare to entertain the wandering bear.”

Glen carried some water back to Stan. Between the two of them, they emptied the one litre pouch in under a minute. Glen then moved to the tent and finished pulling out the poles. The gentle southerly breeze caressed the fabric as he lofted it and hauled it to the rope clothesline.

With all their wet things on the line, Glen focussed on his backpack. “I’m going to leave as much as I can.” He said repeating himself without realizing it. “We should make it to the truck tonight and there’s no point in me dragging any more than I absolutely have to.”

“Ok.” said Stan. The big man was in total agreement, but even if he hadn’t been, he was in no position to argue anyway. Glen was right, however. They had to get to safety before the bear became bold enough to harm them. The longer they took to flee, the more inevitable a close encounter became. “And an encounter with a bear would end badly at best.” The big man thought darkly.

Big C lay helpless on the ground. Glen had done everything for him for days now. Frustration burned through him. “It just isn’t fair!” He thought. “How would it be if a bear attacked Glen and I’m forced to watch?” Stan willed the tragic spectacle from his mind, but it refused to leave so easily. The fact was, the dark thought was a definite prelude to a potential reality.

Glen continued to sort things. He spilled everything from the backpack. Moving to the sleeping bags, he took one and stuffed it into his pack. Then he spread the tent out beside Stan and laid the second sleeping mat on top of it. He glanced around again, just to be sure they were still alone, then went back to work. “Ok big fella.” Glen said, trying to sound cheerful. “Let’s get you onto this travois.”

The two men worked together and after considerable effort, Stan was atop the tent and nestled on the double set of sleeping mats. Glen hobbled to the immobile travois and dragged it over top of the big man. The worried Scotsman slid the litter into the perfect position and then began the process of tying the tent to it. “I hope I can stretch this tent tight enough.” Glen muttered. “I expect that dragging your hind parts on the ground would probably be a bad thing!”

It required several minutes of trying and retying before the litter was ready to support Stan. The slice Glen had cut in the tent floor proved to be challenging to work around, but the small man managed it.

With the job completed, Glen covered Stan with his sleeping bag. As an emergency measure, he put the tent poles into the pack and then thought about the rest. They still needed to eat and drink, so he stuffed in the stove, two freeze-dried suppers and two energy bars. From the discard pile, Glen pulled the pot, and the two hydration pouches, but the rest was going to remain. One water pouch was empty and Glen paused to consider. “One litre will be enough to get us to Paisley Brook where I can refill both pouches.” Without further consideration, he stuffed the pouches and the pump into the waiting pack.

They were ready to go, but Glen’s ankle was throbbing mercilessly. The injured joint needed some serious rest and relaxation. The frustrated man sat down on the damp soil. Shedding his boot and sighing, Glen spun the tensor wrap off. The black and blue ankle was still very swollen. The only positive part was that some of the swelling around the edges of the damage had begun to go down. The small man curled up his lip and his thoughts snarled inside his racing mind. “If I just had the use of both my legs, Stan and I would’ve already made it to the hospital.” Glen’s brow furrowed deeply. “And this prowling bear would not even matter!”

Glen blew out a frustrated breath. Holding up one end of the tensor bandage, he removed all the twists. Then, he rolled the wrap and began to apply it to his ankle once more. I seconds, his ankle was protected anew and his boot re-laced.

Turning over onto his knees and then standing, Glen tentatively tried to put weight on the injured ankle. He balanced on his good leg and crutch. As the dangling foot touched the ground, even before any weight was on it, Glen winced in pain. “Perhaps it is broken?” he thought glumly, gazing down at the injured limb. “No matter what its status, the ankle is still useless to me!” Glen scowled and sighed again.

“Almost ready.” Glen said, pulling himself from his unsuccessful attempt to diagnose his ruined ankle. The handicapped Scot hobbled over to his backpack and dragged the light pack to the bottom of the travois. In moments, he had the red pack lashed securely in place. “Ok Stan. Time to leave.” While Glen scuttled to the head of the litter and lifted, Stan tried to mentally prepare himself. The pack mule portion of the day had begun!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 33

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 33

Auburn hair shimmered in a flowing cascade behind her. In their weightless environment, Glen stared through the glass of his diving mask at Lillie as she descended just ahead of him. Her long hair waved smoothly through the water. Her body was graceful. From above them, sparkling sunlight bathed Lillie’s deep blue swimsuit and the pale skin of her freckled back. It glinted off her matching fins and snorkel. Glen powered after her, holding his breath and kicking with his own fins. Below them, hundreds of thousands of coral polyps pushed towards the tropical light. Hauntingly beautiful, the reds, greens, blues and yellows painted a pastel panorama on the ocean floor. Everywhere, as far as the crystal clear waters would allow them to see, multi-coloured fish swam lazily in small schools. Some were large and some small, but all looked exotic. It boggled the mind to think that this coral reef ran for over a thousand miles! Given an entire lifetime of diving, it seemed unlikely that anyone could see it all.

Glen pulled hard against the thick water with his stocky arms. In a second or two, he pulled alongside Lillie and looked over at her. She was so beautiful! The mesmerized Scotsman couldn’t imagine that any mythical mermaid could look so good under water. Grinning, he gestured with his hand; thumb and forefinger forming a circle and his other three fingers extended. It was the universal scuba diving sign for ok. Under the mask, Lillie’s eyes glittered. She sent him a dazzling smile, nodding as she did. Even with a snorkel in her mouth, she was gorgeous. Her delicate fingers returned the sign. Then, she made a fist and pointed her thumb upwards. Glen nodded and responded to her direction.

In a few seconds, they were at the surface, snorkels protruding into the hot September air. Swimming side by side, Glen reached out and took Lillie’s hand. As their skin touched, Lillie gave his fingers a squeeze. They were living their dream and loving every minute of it. Beneath them lay a part to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Beneath them lay a part of the planet that few ever got to enjoy from such a highly personal vantage point.

Off to their left swam a submerged sea turtle. Lillie pointed excitedly with her free hand. She squeezed Glen’s hand and released it. He knew she was going down for a closer look. He blew a small puff of air through his nose to clear the salty water that was attempting to accumulate in his mask. Then, Glen sucked in a giant breath and joined Lillie, popping his finned feet out of the brine and pushing them straight up into the warm tropical air. Down he shot, into the depths after his very own mermaid. Truly, this was a breath-taking experience!

“Ahhhhh!” Glen gasped for air. He face was wet, but he was no longer warm. “Where’s the light?” The disoriented Scotsman moved his head around, his eyes darting from side to side. A strange sound filled the air. It sounded like raindrops. “Lillie?” In the inky darkness, a drip of cold water hit his nostrils. “Puuu!” Glen blew out sharply to clear his airway, sending the unwanted water away in a mist. “What’s happening?” His mind wrestled to clear away the cobwebs of sleep. Then, in a torrent, reality returned. Another drop of chilled liquid landed on the tip of his nose.

Wiping the water off, Glen shifted. Out from within his warm sleeping bag came his hand. He groped grogily for the flashlight. Fumbling a little, he finally switched it on. Outside the tent, rain rhythmically dripped. Inside, water was crawling through the many small holes in the tent’s roof. Some of the unwelcome water clung to the interior of the fabric, running along the waterproof coating of the nylon to reach the floor. Some of the unwelcome water just fell from where it had breached the ceiling. “This is not good!” He muttered under his breath, dark thoughts rising within his mind like putrid smoke from a smudge fire. “We might be warm now, but getting wet could easily tip the balance against us.” Glen shook his head. “Hypothermia is not a friend to be casually invited in. Hypothermia could easily take both our lives before morning!”

Glen shone the light on Stan’s sleeping bag. Dark, water stains littered the nylon fabric. He looked at his own bedding. It was the same. Wide awake now, Glen’s mind sought a solution. He reached for his fanny pack, getting hit by two separate drips of chilled liquid as he moved. In seconds, he produced his match case and twisted the sealed container open. A tiny fire erupted at the tip of his damp fingers. Then, Glen touched the flame to the wick of the candle lantern. Its yellow flame flared. At least they had a heat source—albeit a small one.

In the light of the candle lantern, Stan stirred. His sore body had been in a shallow sleep, but Glen’s squirming had awakened him. Glen regarded the big man. It was good that he was no longer asleep.

“I need to cover us with the emergency blankets.” He stated unzipping his fanny pack.

“Ok.” Stan whispered. “My sleeping bag… feels wet.”

“Yeah.” Glen muttered. “Rain’s coming in.” He pulled out the noisy Mylar sheets. In the confines of the tent, the crinkling was like applause at a rock concert! Glen rose to his knees and spread shimmering plastic sheets over Stan and then over his own sleeping bag. “There.” He said. “I hope that’s enough protection.”

Outside, the rain gently dribbled, but inside, at least they would stay a bit dryer. Water might drip on them, but the Mylar would keep the tops of their sleeping bags dry. Glen’s eyes followed the flashlight beam to the tent floor. “As long as the rain doesn’t come through the roof holes too fast, our sleeping mats should keep the water on the floor at bay.”

For long minutes, both men laid awake, listening to the incessant drip of raindrops. Muted trickles and gurgles sounded from nearby Maple Creek. The sounds should have been soothing, but not under the circumstances. Candle lantern light illuminated their sleeping chamber, but no sleep was happening as yet. “I wish…” Stan finally whispered, “That I was… home in my… own bed.”

Glen’s thoughts drifted back to the images of his dream. Lilie’s sweet face appeared in his mind. Cuddling up to her would be so much nicer than laying alone in his damp sleeping bag. Tears pricked at the corners of the small man’s eyes. At last, he spoke. “Yeah.” He said. “That sounds wonderful.” Glen’s words died out and were replaced by the sound of pitter-patter on the roof. “I’ll get you home tomorrow my friend.” He finally promised.

“Ok.” Stan replied. “I guess… that will have… to do.” The big man’s breathing was still laboured from his broken ribs, but he continued. “As long as… we don’t die… from hypothermia… first.”

“We still have three miles to go to reach the truck.” Glen stated. “We should make it by tomorrow night.”

“Why doesn’t… God help us… more?” Stan wheezed.

“I don’t know.” Glen replied, considering his next words, “But perhaps He expects us to struggle before He ultimately saves us.”

“I hope… He saves us.”

“I hope so too.”

Stan Calderbank and Glen McPherson lay quietly in the half-light. Tears welled up in their eyes. They had both had enough, yet there was so much more to endure. The candle flickered its warmth near the tent roof, casting its marginal glow over the two unmoving men. Water dripped slowly onto the shiny Mylar and trickled to the tent floor. Both men wrestled with the same question. “Would God spare them or just let them struggle and then die anyway?” One by one the minutes of the dark, rainy night ticked by. Finally, imperceptibly, a fitful sleep overtook each man - first Glen McPherson and then Stan Calderbank.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 32

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 32

Creeping soundlessly on cat’s paws, darkness finally overtook the weary hikers. Before the sun had vanished, however, Glen had the tent erected. He had put it up in the dark several times before and utilizing the waning light of day just made the task all that much easier.

With the tent up, Glen pulled out his knife and purposefully cut a slit into the floor. “Alright Big C.” he said, “You may want to grab a breath so I don’t suffocate you.” Stan obediently drew in as much breath as he could hold.

“Ok.” He squeaked, using as little air as possible.

Glen lifted the erected tent into the air and swung it over top of his big friend. Once it had settled into place, the wiry Scot scuttled to the tent door. He quickly located the big man’s bulky bump and slipped the tent floor around him. “Nice.” Stan wheezed. “That only hurt… a little.”

Glen grinned and began to quickly stuff their loose belongings inside. “Let’s just hope any rain water doesn’t run under the tent and get you from below.”


Once his mat and sleeping bag were spread, Glen hobbled around outside the tent to locate the pack’s hanging rope and a suitable rock. Then, tying the fist-sized rock to end of the rope, Glen scouted to locate a tree with a high enough branch. He located a large Fir tree nearby, and in the near darkness, began to toss the weighted end of the rope skyward. Success finally came on his sixth try.

With the rope in place, Glen returned to camp and heaved the pack the short distance to the waiting rope. Under the Fir tree, once again, Glen tied the pack to the rope and prepared to pull. With Stan‘s help, the chore wouldn’t have been too bad, but all he had was himself. “Why does everything have to be so hard?” Glen dug in his pocket and found his flashlight. Shining the beam here and there, he searched until he located a low branch on a nearby tree. The bough appeared to be strong enough, and Glen wasted no time in introducing the dangling rope to it. The day before, when he had hoisted Stan’s pack, Glen had looped the rope once around a neighbouring branch, taking advantage of the mechanics of friction to assist him. Tonight, would be no different. With his gloves on, Glen began the tug-o-war. Slowly the dangling, dead weight rose until it the pack was high enough. From the claw marks in the milky bark of the towering Larch tree in Green Canyon, Glen knew how high the pack had to be to remain out of reach of a roaming bear.

Glen shone the narrow flashlight beam onto the dangling backpack. “I think that’s high enough.” He said approvingly and began trying off the free end of the rope. A flashlight inspection revealed secure knots and Glen wasted no time in stowing the light, retrieving his crutch and making off for the tent. His inviting sleeping bag, complete with an inviting, soft sleeping mat awaited him. Mercifully, there were no rocks to lay on tonight. Glen knew that for a fact. Before he spread out the tent, he had checked!

The limping Scotsman made his way back to the tent. The handle of the hatchet, mounted on his belt, slapped at his leg as he moved. The journey was only 25 yards—not the 100-yard recommended distance to separate your backpack from your campsite. In the darkness, however, Glen no longer cared. Physically, he was spent. Mentally, he was beaten. Only one more problem remained to be solved before he could chase his dreams into blissful sleep. He was starving!

Glen scuttled to the creek and dipped several cups of cool water into the aluminum pot. His mouth watered in anticipation. “Supper’s a comin’ Big C.” He called out, shuffling past the tent door.

Glen easily assembled the stove and attached the fuel bottle. Rummaging in a tiny pocket on his fanny pack, he produced a waterproof cylinder containing matches. Five seconds later, a tiny, but hot fire blazed in the darkness. The stove fire’s blue and yellow glow danced through the open door and onto the tent walls. Their second hot meal in three days was in the making.

Shadows from the fire’s illumination flickered across Stan’s swarthy face. He was so very tired. Laying still, breathing shallow breaths, the big man stared out the tent door at Glen. After three days with nearly no food, he was finally feeling hungry. “I guess that’s what a broken femur does to a guy!” He thought wryly. As the stove’s heat seeped into the pot of cold creek water, hope began to replace the big man’s doubts. “The trail to the truck has two more river crossings.” He thought. “At least we’ll have a steady water supply.” The big man’s memories of his hike into Green Canyon were still crisp and he took a short walk down memory lane. “The pathway is mostly a gentle downhill slope. That will aid Glen in dragging me.” He recalled the crossing of Maple Creek and his mind raced to the banks of their next crossing. “Crossing Paisley Brook will be OK, but fording Skull Creek will be another matter.” When they had crossed Skull Creek, on the way to Green Canyon, the water had been a twelve-inch deep torrent, nearly forty feet wide. “Going through a foot of icy water on this travois will be tough! And then there’s the climb up the hill to the truck.”

As Stan’s thoughts swirled, Glen prepared the freeze-dried suppers. When Glen poured the boiling water inside the two Mylar pouches, steam violently erupted into the cool air. With the pouches resting carefully on the ground, the weary Scotsman lit the candle lantern and extinguished the stove. The candle’s warm, yellow glow flickered in the darkness, dancing on the tent wall and nearby foliage.

Glen moved into the tent and fastened the lantern to a short string hanging from a small loop sewn into the ceiling. He pause a moment and remembered installing the string three years before, on the tent’s very first adventure. “Those were better days.” He said softly. Suddenly the small man frowned. As the light illuminated the tent’s ceiling, Glen saw something he didn’t like. Numerous holes! All the dragging over the boulders had damaged the fabric. Most of the holes were tiny, but if it rained, they’d have a problem. The frustrated Scotsman let out a weary sigh. “When this is all over, I’ll be needing a new tent!” Shaking his head, Glen crawled back to attend the food.

Following five minutes of rehydration, the food was ready. Under the flickering flame, Glen carefully fed his prone friend. Stan chewed methodically. It seemed like the man was learning how to eat for the first time.

“I need… some more… Tylenol.” Stan muttered between bites.

Glen produced the nearly empty bottle from his fanny pack and shone the flashlight beam inside. He counted the tablets. Glen shook two pills into his hand and held them up to Stan’s lips. “Here.” He said. “There are only eight left after these.”

“Ugh!” Stan grunted, letting the tablets drop in and then swallowing. “I hope… I make it.”

“You will.”

Stan finished eating, and Glen chowed down on his own supper. It was already getting cold. “The night’s upon us and it looks like it’ll be a cool one.” The small man said, speaking through a mouthful of cheese laden macaroni.

In the candle light, Stan nodded his silent agreement.

Glen gulped the last bite and licked his spoon several times to get it clean. “Well that was a much needed meal.” He stated. Glen held his spoon up in the light to inspect it. Satisfied, he stashed the utensil in his fanny pack. The weary Scotsman gathered up the two empty Mylar food pouches, grabbed his crutch and rose. It would be a serious mistake to leave such tantalizing smells anywhere close to their campsite. “I’ll be right back.” He said.

Following his flashlight beam, Glen made his way downstream, keeping close to the edge of Maple Creek. After a hundred feet, he paused to crush the Mylar packages in his hand. He had been taught to pack out any garbage he brought, but he was about to make an exception. He was not about to lower the packs just to put their trash out of reach of a hungry bear. Tonight, staying alive took precedence. Glen frowned as he tossed the two balls of plastic into the current. He watched as the discarded garbage drifted out of sight, miniscule bits of twilight dancing off the wrinkled silver. Then, the darkness swallowed them up.

The tired Scotsman turned and headed for the tent. The muscles in his face were slack. His eyelids were heavy. In a minute or so he was there, removing his boots and then the tensor wrap that cradled his swollen ankle. “My ankle’s beginning to look a bit less black and blue.” He observed aloud. “But it still can’t bear any weight.” Glen gently massaged the bruised flesh for a moment and then re-wrapped it. Stan said nothing.

The tent zipper hummed, sealing in the two men. Stan was settled and all that remained was for Glen to turn in. “Goodnight Stan.” The weary man whispered. “I hope you sleep well.”


Glen peeled off his pants and removed the pepper spray and hatchet from his belt. “Here.” He said, raising the bottle into the candle light for Stan to see and then setting it down. “The bear spray is right here between us.” Glen set the pressurized bottle against the edge of Stan’s hand so he could feel its location.

“Ok.” Stan replied. “I hope we… don’t need it.”

“Me too, but better safe than sorry.” Glen trailed off. “The flashlight and hatchet are here too.” He added, setting the items alongside the bottle of pepper spray. “You wanna have prayer with me before we go to sleep?”


When Glen had finished praying, he blew out the lantern’s flame. The weary man then nestled into the cocoon of his sleeping bag and exhaled a long warm breath. Before the humid heat penetrated his sore and exhausted frame, and extinguished his consciousness with some much-needed sleep, he spoke, “Goodnight Big C.”

“Goodnight Glen.”