Davis L. Bigelow
“It looks like you have three broken ribs… but that’s the good news. You also have a broken femur.” Came Glen’s calm reply. “You have a nasty gash on the head too, but it has stopped bleeding on its own.” The small man paused a moment to let the sobering news sink in. “Other than that,” he unsuccessfully tried to lighten the sombre mood, “I think you’re just bruised up a bit.”
The big man shut his eyes. His brow furrowed deeply. The news was worse than he feared! “People died from broken femurs.” Glen’s voice interrupted his depressing thoughts.
“You wouldn’t be so bad if my leg hadn’t landed on you.” He confessed. “I’m sorry. At least it looks like a clean break… And the skin isn’t broken… I’m surprised that neither one of us broke an arm.”
Stan opened his eyes again and stared quietly at his sober friend. The big man’s breathing was ragged. He thought of his wife. He thought of sunshine and the laughter of his grandchildren. He heard the unkind words he had spoken to Alida just before he and Glen had left the campsite. Unbidden tears pricked at the corners of his eyes.
High above the bruised and broken hikers, the silhouetted slopes of Ravenscrag Mountain stood out black against the deep purple of the sky. In the profound silence, Glen pulled up his pant leg to examine one of his own wounds. Stan lay still, but sorted through his final memories before he had lost consciousness. “If he hadn’t slipped off the ledge in the first place, Glen wouldn’t have had to grab his hand and neither of them would have fallen.” He drew a laboured breath and spoke. Glen looked up and listened. “It’s not… your fault.” Stan reassured. “It was my… idea to have a… look at that… cave.” Without thinking, the big man tried to raise a hand and point to a spot a few hundred feet past the crumbled ledge. “Ow!” He gasped and returned the hand to its resting place on the rocks. His arm might not be broken, but it was probably the same colour as the purple sky. Glen resumed his self-examination, wincing from the invasion, but remaining thoughtful while Stan drew in another breath. “Can we… survive the night… without our packs?”
Glen’s thoughts spun quickly away from the pity party he was beginning to host for himself. There would be time to feel bad later. The cut above his severely sprained ankle had already clotted and his head wound seemed stable. He needed a tensor bandage, a crutch and maybe even a cast, but right now, they had to stay alive. “I have a couple of emergency blankets in my fanny pack.” He blurted, his alert mind instantly circling the survival problem in search of a good solution.
“I have a… little water… in my right… back pocket.” Stan volunteered. “I hope… it didn’t get… punctured from… the fall.” Glen finished unbuckling his fanny pack and moved to locate the water bottle. Stan winced a little as Glen it pulled free.
Glen unscrewed the lid and peered inside. The night was nearly upon them, but he could still see a little. “It’s still full.” He stated. “Here, let me give you some.” Stan opened his mouth while Glen carefully poured in a bit of the precious liquid. Other than the small flask, the nearest water was in their backpacks, some six hundred yards away. “This isn’t going to last very long.” Glen mourned, “But it’s much better than nothing!”
Stan swallowed. “That’s good… for now.” He rasped. “You have… a little too.” Glen complied, but took only a small swallow. Considering Stan’s injuries, Glen knew he would get to a water source long before his friend did.
“I have my compass, some matches, a little trail mix, a couple of energy bars and two space blankets.” Glen enumerated. “You’re probably hungry, but if we eat any of this food, we’ll just need more water.”
“You’re probably… right.” Stan concluded. “I’d rather be… hungry than… thirsty.”
“Yeah, me too. And besides, if we eat anything now, our head trauma may cause us to throw up anyway”
A few minutes of crawling around accomplished much. First, Glen unwrapped the silver, Mylar emergency blankets and spread them out. He placed stones along the outside edges of their makeshift coverings and pulled the noisy Mylar over them to trap their body heat. The two men had been friends for a long time, but sharing the same bed felt awkward to both. Tonight, however, survival would have to take precedence. Inwardly, each man knew the terrifying truth. They would probably not live to see dawn without the warmth of the other’s body.
As the two men huddled together, the night deepened. One by one, the stars came out to play, but the thickening clouds obscured the rising crescent moon. Painful minutes dragged by. The discomfort from their soft flesh poured over rugged mountain aggregate was inescapable. Finally, Stan whispered into the darkness. “Are you… still awake?”
“Nice campsite… we have here.” In spite of a rock digging into Glen’s shoulder, he cracked a wry smile and chuckled. Ironically, they had anticipated this journey for many long months and now all they wanted was to be home. Stan spoke again, solemn now. “In the morning… you need to go… to our packs… and bring back… some things.”
“That’s what I was thinking too.” Glen replied.
“We need water… or we’ll both… die.” Stan paused to draw an agonizing breath. The reality of their situation was bleak at best! “You go… to our packs… and get our… water. My cell phone… is in the top… pouch… but it probably… won’t work… unless you climb… High Tor.” Glen listened attentively. “If you can’t… call for help… then cut four poles… to make a… travois. There is enough… rope in my pack… to lash the frame… but I don’t know… what to use… for the middle part.”
The air went quiet as the two men considered a solution. Finally Glen spoke. “I bet we could use the tent. You know, stretch it over the frame, like a hammock.”
“That would… probably work.” Stan rasped approvingly. “I have the… first aid kit too.” He went on. “It isn’t much… but at least we… won’t die from… an infected cut.”
Glen cracked another smile, and added to the much-needed comic relief. “I suppose if we get eaten by a bear, at least our meat won’t make him sick.” For the first time since falling, Stan wanted to laugh, but suppressed the urge that promised only a generous portion of pain. It was good to smile though.
Glen grew serious once more. “Speaking of bears, I’ll bring back the pepper spray too… We might be stuck out here on this giant pile of crumbled rocks, but a hungry bear won’t let that stop him.”
“Maybe my ankle will feel better in morning.” Glen hoped. “It is going to be murder to cross all these rocks using only one leg.” His thoughts were disheartening. “And we must be at least five kilometres from the truck.” He added bitterly.
“You’ll make it.”
There was silence for a few moments before Stan spoke again, “We should… have a prayer… and then get… some sleep… if we can.” In the darkness, Glen nodded his agreement.
“I’ll offer it.” Glen volunteered.
Tears rolled down both men’s cheeks as Glen thoughtfully pled to God for their fragile lives. It would be four more very long days before anyone else but God knew of their precarious plight! A few moments of tenderly spoken words concluded the heartfelt prayer. For several emotion-choked moments, neither man spoke. Then, Glen’s whisper broke the alpine stillness.
“Good night Big C.”
“Good night… Glen.”