Saturday, July 31, 2010

“In Ravenscrag’s Shadow” – Chapter 14

In Ravenscrag’s Shadow

Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 14

First, Glen pulled out a flashlight and then untied the backpack from the travois frame. The night was deepening quickly and the dew was falling fast. “I’m sure it’s alright with you.” Glen said, “But I think we’d better just leave the tent and both sleeping mats under you for the night.”

“Ok.”Stan rasped.

“Getting anything out from under you tonight will just cause you too much pain. And besides,” Glen added, “then we’d have to waste time in the morning redoing the travois. I’ll just level the ground and sleep on the rocks.”


Glen frowned at the thought of bedding down on the rocks again, but kept his thoughts to himself. “At least it’ll be a little more comfortable than last night!” He thought. The small man withdrew the sleeping bags from his backpack and began to untie them.

“Guess what?” The big man asked, breaking into Glen’s ponderings.

Glen stopped unzipping the main pouch of his pack to listen. “What?”

“The dew… is falling. No rain… before morning.”

Glen extended a bare hand to touch a nearby rock. Sure enough, a tiny brush stroke of water lay there. He sighed, obviously relieved. “I guess that means it won’t be a mistake to keep the tent under you.” He concluded, a wry smile on his face. “That’ll make things a whole lot easier for tomorrow!”

“I need a few… Tylenol before… we go to sleep.”

“I’ll get you some as soon as I cover you up.”

Stan nodded as Glen covered him with a sleeping bag and then protected it with an emergency blanket. Glen worked as quickly as he could, but it still took a while. Soon, the Mylar space blanket was held along the edges by a row of fist-sized rocks. The cooling breeze, puffing down the canyon, would make no difference to Stan tonight.

As soon as the warmth hit Stan, his eyelids grew heavy. His day had been an marathon of pain! “Tomorrow will be an ultra-marathon!”

“Here are three Tylenol.” Glen offered. Stan downed them in a jiffy, washing them into his stomach with the last of their precious water.

Glen frowned as he stowed the empty flask and then immediately went to work on his own sleeping arrangements. The flashlight beam illuminated the uneven rocks, causing animated shadows to dance in the gathering darkness. It didn’t require an engineering degree to see that a bit of ground levelling was in order to create a level sleeping area. As the exhausted Scotsman scuttled and scraped and tossed and filled, his stone bed slowly took shape.

Glen spread his sleeping bag over the relatively flat surface of discarded mountain rock and covered it with the other Mylar blanket. Since he wasn’t yet inside the bed, he pushed the centre of the plastic sheet together, creating some slack for his body to fit in. In a few more minutes the rock perimeter, holding down the Mylar, took shape. Glen felt thirsty, but nothing could be done about that – at least not unless he was willing to use his filtering pump to recycle some urine. Glen screwed up his face at the idea. “I would have to be knocking at death’s door before I embraced that option!”

Pulling his pack close to the top of his sleeping bag, so the bottle of pepper spray was near at hand, Glen carefully slipped off his boots. His ankle still throbbed, but at least he would be a little more comfortable in the warmth of his sleeping bag. In seconds, Glen had the sprained ankle unwrapped. The LED illumination highlighted the few patches of unbruised skin. Glen tentatively rubbed the aggravated joint. It was so tender! He was so tired! After a several minutes of lightly massaging the severe discoloration, Glen re-wrapped the ankle and gingerly slid his sock back into position. Scraped, bruised and exhausted, the small man switched off the meagre flashlight beam and nestled into his lumpy bed – clothes and all. “Glen?” Stan’s voice rose over the crinkling of Glen’s Mylar covering.


“I’ve been thinking.” The big man trailed off. “We are out of water… and still a long way… from the trail.” This was information the worn Scotsman knew all too well, but he listened politely while Stan continued. From the big man’s breathy voice and laboured gasps, Glen knew that Stan’s broken ribs were still greatly paining him. “I think… that you’re not… going to be able… to pull me… all the way… to Maple Creek….” Stan paused to catch an extra breath. “I think… you should go… back to the creek… for more water… before you move me… any further.”

The stony campsite went silent for several seconds. Glen pondered the suggestion. It was true that they were out of water. The two litres of liquid Glen had lugged back to Stan were mostly inside the big man. The last good drink Glen had taken was at Maple Creek that afternoon.

A light breeze caressed twin chapped faces. Both men stared upwards at an inky black sky. “Maybe with the cooler temperatures, I will be OK.” Glen finally offered, not really convinced himself, but looking for a second opinion. It was true that Glen would have more endurance if he had additional water, but the enormous amount of time it would take to fetch more was unacceptable to him. They had to get to medical help while he still had the ability to get them there!

Finally, Stan spoke again, “You might… be able to make it… without water… but it’s risky.” Stan shifted his broken body, groaning from the effort. Once he was settled again, he continued, “If you get… too dehydrated… we could both die. You shouldn’t… chance it.”

A long minute of silence passed before Glen replied. He really didn’t want to waste the time it would take to get more water, but what if Stan was right? If he did get too dehydrated while pulling Stan out, he might not be able to make it back to the creek. The frustrating fact of the matter was that Glen was already feeling dehydrated! “Ok.” He reluctantly muttered. “I guess it’s better to be slower and safer than faster and dead!”

“Sorry.” Stan said. “I wish… things were better.”

“Me too.”

“Goodnight Glen… And thank you… for coming back… for me.”

The small man swallowed hard. “It’s ok.” He managed. “You would have done the same for me.”

A moment of silence passed before Glen spoke again. “Do you wan to join me in prayer before we go to sleep?”


Except for the gentle rustle of the Mylar blankets in the alpine breeze, their campsite fell silent around them. With the heartfelt prayer concluded, Glen pulled the flap of his sleeping bag over his face and drew in a long slow breath and willed his body to relax. He was so tired and still so far from civilization. “At least I’m warm!” He thought, trying to keep himself positive about something. His friend seemed to be trying hard to keep up his sense of humour. The least he could do was to follow Stan’s lead. Glen silently scolded himself, but as he closed his eyes, one thought hung on to the last fading bit of his consciousness. “I hope a bear doesn’t bother us tonight.”

Saturday, July 24, 2010

“In Ravenscrag’s Shadow” – Chapter 13

In Ravenscrag’s Shadow

Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 13

Glen worked silently on the travois and Stan’s thoughts slowly spiralled away from all the pain, all the doom, all the enduring.
“Well that’s just too bad!” he heard his condescending voice speaking to Alida. The two of them stood near the picnic table at Midnight Lake. Stan’s backpack lay nearby. He was about to leave the camp and go backpacking with Glen. “What was I even fighting with her about?” Regret gripped him once again. “When did I start being gruff with the one I love?” A tear slipped silently from his eye.
Then suddenly, Stan’s mind transported him back in time. Alida stood at the water fountain in the hallway. As Stan’s memories solidified, the walls of his old high school filled in around the blond-haired beauty. He remembered the day well. He looked around at the familiar surroundings. “Has it really been over thirty years?” The sounds of moving, chattering students, all anxious to be homeward bound, filled the painted cinderblock hallway. Stan had just exited the gym. Hot, sweaty and dishevelled from an intensive wrestling practice, his much younger body stopped short. For the very first time his eyes came to rest on her. Holding a splash of hair out of the fountain, Alida bent forward to drink. The girl had no idea the effect she was creating.
Stan ran a large hand through his thick shock of brown hair, but made no other movement. He drew in a deep breath of amazement. The girl seemed to hold him in a spell. She had delicate features and moved with the grace of a ballerina. Of medium height with high cheekbones, a small nose and opal eyes, she was a vision in blue jeans and a pastel pink shirt. He didn’t remember whether or not his mouth sagged open, but he vividly remembered standing and staring – his mind swimming with awe. Or perhaps swimming wasn’t the right term at all. Perhaps he was drowning. His legs wouldn’t move – well at least not until another student burst through the gymnasium door behind him, effectively knocking him off his feet!
Into the throng of fellow students he tumbled. Alida hadn’t noticed him before then, but now, everyone seemed to freeze and stare. There had even been some spontaneous laughter. “Nice move Calderbank!” Someone had shouted. Stan recalled the hot flush that had washed over his face. After that clumsy event, it took him a full month to dredge up the courage to finally introduce himself to Alida. A warm, easy smile drifted across his chapped lips at the musings. “I was a much kinder man back then.”
Stan made a brief return to reality. Glen was still working on the travois. By the look of things, he was nearly done. Soon the frame would be ready for the tent and then for his injured body. Stan surveyed the inhospitable meadow of rockslide leavings. He scowled to himself. From crumbling boulder to disintegrating pebble, the travois crossing was going to be rough on them both. “And probably worse for me!” He thought. “At least for the moment, I’m in relative comfort.”
Much more pleasant thoughts drifted back into his mind. Stan replayed his first awkward meeting with Alida. She was so beautiful. She had taken his breath away. It was funny now, but not then! Back then, he had felt painfully embarrassed! “What if she hadn’t moved into their town for her senior year? What if she hadn’t caught a flicker of the real man behind the stammering words of his first greeting?” The questions made him appreciate her all the more. He was a lucky man! “Why don’t I treat her better now?” He wondered.
Smart, pretty and genuine, Alida had swept him off his feet! He recalled their first date, walking along a picturesque lakeshore pathway in their town. He could hear, once again, her musical laughter. And then, there was the first time she watched him wrestle. He was pitted against the toughest opponent he had ever fought. He could no longer recall the boy’s name, but he would forever remember the look of encouragement Alida shot him during the match! His opponent had been so very tough to beat. That look of pure faith in him had propelled him to victory. “Crossing these rocks will be harder than that match!” Stan thought darkly. He closed his eyes. He needed to see Alida’s look of encouragement one more time – even if only in memory. Stan wiped at a tear. “Why don’t I show more appreciation for her?”
Sounds of rustling pulled the big man out of his revelry down memory lane. Glen had just yanked the nylon tent out of its bag. “Be careful… not to lose… anything down… the cracks.” Stan instructed, but the thought was already running through Glen’s head.
The small man nodded. “I just hope I can get the tent tight enough to suspend you off the ground.”
“Maybe you should… stretch the rope… across a few times.” Offered Stan. Glen paused to consider the idea as Stan went on. “You could put… a sleeping mat on… top of the tent… to help spread… my weight out?”
“Good ideas.” Glen replied, nodding in agreement and snatching up the rope. “By the time I get this fabric stretched, and you on this contraption it looks like we’ll only have about a half hour to move before we’ll have to stop for the night.” It was a long way across the rocks, but both men knew that every inch closer to the waiting truck would be to their benefit. Stan gazed upwards at the dimming clouds. Glen’s voice sounded again. “Once I get this contraption ready, I’ll try to pull you up using the other mat as a slide.”
“Sounds like… the best plan.” Stan agreed, knowing that no matter how the event unfolded, it would be excruciating for him.
The rope and tent quickly transformed the open travois skeleton into a fairly hopeful-looking transporting device. Glen pulled the nylon fabric over the edges of the frame and used the tent’s strong guy lines to make it taut. He may have gotten off to a slow start, but things were moving right along now. With the other sleeping mat in place, the determined man leaned back to examine his work. He nodded his approval. “This travois is about to get a serious workout!”
Stan began psyching himself up as his friend slid the travois into position. “This is going to be the worst part of my day!”
With the bottom crosspiece of the travois nearly touching the top of his ratty, blood encrusted hair, Glen shuffled, hopped and crawled over to his big friend. Glen untied the denim strap that held the splint to Stan’s waist before moving behind his shoulders. With Glen’s hands under him, Stan sat up again. It was for the third uncomfortable time that day, but because of the splints and chest bandages, moving wasn’t quite as bad as the first two events. Glen held Stan in a sitting position while he grabbed for his crutch. Jamming it into a large enough crack, it stood upright on its own. “Here!” The small man breathed. “Hold onto that while I get the travois under your back.” Big C grabbed the stout stick and held himself. It hurt to do so, but the action meant less moving later on.
As quickly as he could, the wiry Scotsman pulled the travois under Stan’s back. Glen positioned the two mats one on top of the other so that when Stan laid back on the first that he could pull the big man up onto the second mat. The plan worked well. The nylon-covered mats weren’t as slippery as either man would have liked, but that would be good later on when Stan rode at an angle to the ground.
Grunts, groans, moans, whimpers, howls and wails all rent the alpine air for several prolonged and tormented minutes as Stan Calderbank and Glen McPherson struggled. Inch by inch, the big man shifted and shuffled and slid onto the travois. Glen heaved and strained as his large friend gritted his teeth, crying out from searing assaults of agony nearly every second of the ordeal. When it was done, both men were gasping hard to get enough oxygen. Stan’s heart pounded mostly from enduring the intense pain. Glen panted from the Herculean effort required to drag the big man with as few jolts and jostles as possible.
With Stan finally on the travois, and after a few minutes of rest, Glen retied the denim waist strap, snatched up his crutch and hobbled to his pack. He had already zipped it up. All that remained was to tie it to the travois near Big C’s feet. In moments, the job was done and Glen scuttled to the front of the lashed poles. “Time to find out if this contraption will work.” Glen muttered. The wiry Scotsman planted his foot just inside the front crosspiece and jammed his crutch in a crack. Out came his trusty gloves. Under the dark clouds and dimming sky, he lifted the load. Even with the mechanical advantage of the travois, Stan felt heavy. “Hey Stan.” He called over his shoulder, “Let me know if anything falls off.”
“Ok.” Came the breathy response.
Glen positioned the crutch under his arm and began to pull. The travois lurched forward a few inches before stopping so Glen could limp ahead a little. The small man pulled again. Stan moaned slightly, but mostly just tried to hang on. “Enjoying this ride is certainly not going to be an option!”
During his first crossing of the rock field, Glen had learned the value of moving slowly for a prolonged period of time. “Slow and steady wins the race.” He muttered to himself. The field was wide, rugged and unforgiving, but eventually, if he just kept on moving, he knew would reach the other side. He pulled, then shuffled, then pulled again. From the speed they were moving, it would be a long and arduous crossing!
For a half an hour, the only sounds in Green Canyon were panting, moaning, creaking, scraping and the occasional sharp clunk of wood striking stone. Intent on his task, Glen McPherson forged onward. His keen eyes swept the pockmarked field ahead, searching for the optimal route through the maze of dimly lit bumps and holes and fissures and boulders. Determination flowed through his bulging veins but he would have to rest soon. The small man paused to catch his breath. “A prolonged soak in a hot tub followed by an extended night filled with blissful sleep would be really nice about now.” He puffed and then pulled forward once again.
Just before he could no longer see, Glen stopped. His chest heaved to draw in sufficient air. Sweat ran from his brow, along the side of his nose and into his gaping mouth.
On the ground ahead of him, the beleaguered Scotsman surveyed the rubble. He needed a flat place to set Stan down on. “Hold on Big C.” he warned. “I’m going to set you down while I level a spot for us to spend the night on.”
“Ok” came the laboured response. With that, Glen gingerly lowered Stan to the rocks and moved a few feet ahead of the travois. Following a few pushes with the tip of the crutch and several rocks tossed from his gloved hands, Glen soon levelled a small area. The spot wasn’t perfectly flat, but it was acceptable. He hobbled back to the sluggish travois and proceeded to drag it over the spot.
“Ok Stan.” He stated. “Down you go again.” Stan groaned a little, but mostly remained silent. The big man’s jaw hurt from clenching his teeth. In the half-light, Glen eyed him compassionately. Without asking, he knew that Stan was trying to will his pain into oblivion. Glen shuffled to the back of the travois to untie the backpack.
Finally, Big C spoke, “Are we there yet?”
In spite of exhaustion, Glen laughed out loud. The response from his injured friend was so unexpected. “Yeah!” He panted, grinning for the first time in what seemed like months. “We’re there!” The small man looked around. The tip of Ravenscrag Mountain was obscured by clouds, but it was nearly too dark to matter anyway. Their current reality was oppressive. “Well at least we’re not where we were last night.” Glen stated evenly peering though the growing gloom. In the twilight, it was tough to make out their old campsite – if you could even call it that. In that tragic spot there remained nothing left but broken rocks - broken rocks with some leftover traces of their precious blood, sweat and tears.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

“In Ravenscrag’s Shadow” – Chapter 12

In Ravenscrag’s Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 12
A breeze stalked up Green Canyon. It puffed tentatively at first before strengthening. Overhead, darker clouds now paraded where white ones had once been. In minutes, they completely obscured the blue expanse. The approaching nightfall would ultimately finish the job of ensuring complete darkness. An unmistakeable chill hung in the alpine air.
Glen McPherson crouched near Big C and looked up. Guessing the time from the sun was now impossible. No doubt, from somewhere above the thick cloud cover, the once brilliantly displayed sun still bore down on the snowy white tip of High Tor, but beneath the blanket of low clouds the landscape was shadow free and gloomy. The determined Scotsman pulled his fleece jacket a little closer about him and zipped it up. ”Late afternoon is upon us and it’s definitely waning!”
Stan Calderbank was just about finished the hot soup that Glen was carefully spooning into his waiting mouth. It had taken Glen another ninety minutes of shuffling and crawling to reach his fallen friend, and about ninety seconds after that, Stan had consumed his fill of water and taken three extra-strength Tylenol. Still, the two men were glad for each other’s company – even as bleak as their situation was. They both ached everywhere, just not for all the same reasons.
Following Glen’s return, Stan elected to drink first, eat second, and have the splint installed third. Glen was agreeable to the idea, but kept looking up at the lowering sky. “I hope it doesn’t rain.” He muttered under his breath.
Stan licked his parched lips and smiled. The hot soup felt amazingly good in his empty stomach! The big man hadn’t eaten anything in nearly twenty-four hours. The worst part of his day, other than the pain he was in, had been smelling the sweet aroma of the soup before it was ready to eat. Glen grinned down at the big man. “It’s good to see you smile.” He said. Stan nodded and swallowed more soup. Glen had never seen his friend in such a serious state of affairs, and it did him good to glimpse a smile on Big C’s dirty, care-worn face. The large smear of dried blood on Stan’s face was beginning to flake off in places, giving the big man the appearance of a reptile. It looked laughable, except for the bleak reality of it all. Glen smiled at the observation, but only spooned another bite of soup into Stan’s waiting mouth.
“Well?” Glen began, stowing the supper dishes. “Are you ready for that splint?”
“Not quite.” Came the reply. “First… I need help… to pee again.”
Glen nodded. The exhausted Scotsman had expected this event to come ‘round again, but that hadn’t made the anticipated experience any more agreeable.
“Ok.” He said, successfully masking his reluctance. “Let’s get you up.” With that, the struggling began. Stan repeatedly groaned in pain while Glen attempted to move him slowly enough that his pain was manageable. The Tylenol had kicked in, but it didn’t help very much.
“Good thing… there’s all these… holes between… the rocks.” Stan panted, trying hard to keep the intense agony at bay. Glen just nodded and winced. He hated to see his friend in so much anguish. “Ok.” Stan said finally. “I’m done.” Glen supported him long enough to slide a sleeping mat behind his back. He then gently lowered Stan’s broad back onto the uneven rocks, now softened by the mat. “Oh!” Stan cried in relief, “That’s much… better!” He breathed in again. “After the splints… are in place,” Stan puffed, “I want to move… off the smell… I’ve created.” The Scotsman grimaced at the thought. The heat of the day and the calm air must have made the air around Big C unpleasant to breathe.
“At least there’s a breeze now!”
Minutes later, Glen sat amidst the boulders, his friend’s extra pair of blue jeans in one hand and the Leatherman’s sharp scissors in the other. Meticulously, his adroit fingers fed the strong material into the titanium blades, creating strip after strip of binding material. He first split the pants right up the inseam and crotch, stopping his cut just short of the waistband. He figured that the waistband, with its belt loops and button, might come in handy for something he hadn’t thought of yet. Glen surveyed his handiwork. “Good thing Stan wears such big pants.” He thought.
Thirty minutes passed before the small man was done. Stan lay still, partially on the mat and partially on the rough rocks. Prior to all the cutting, Glen had spread a sleeping bag over him. The big man gazed over at his partner-in-pain. “So?” He breathed, “Are we going… to make it out… alive?”
Glen looked up from his cramped fingers. The scissors were too small for such a large project! “Yeah.” He replied. “Unless I drop dead from exhaustion first!”
“Ow!” Lamented Stan. “Don’t make… me laugh.” He drew a shallow breath. “You’ve already… saved my life… at least once… today. You’ll be fine.”
“I hope so.” Said the determined Scotsman. “I just hope I can pull you out of here on the travois… Those rocks are pretty rough and I only have one good leg!”
Glen finished cutting the strips of denim. Stan eyed what was left of his mutilated jeans. “I guess… I won’t be wearing… those again.” He pretended to sound upset. “Is there enough?”
“I think so, but won’t be sure until I start tying the splints on.” Glen gave the sky another furtive look. “One way or the other, I have to hurry or we’ll run out of daylight.” He scrambled to the pile of logs, clutching the denim strips in one hand and using the other for support. Untying the rope binding the wood was easy, and in a few seconds, Glen knelt beside Stan’s broken leg. He gently placed the two short poles between the big man’s legs and the other two pieces of improvised splint against the outside of the broken limb. As he had been trained to do, Glen began at the feet, lashing the stiff wood to both of Stan’s boots. The two-inch strips of denim performed beautifully, but Stan still gritted his teeth with each tiny tug. Even the slightest movement caused cries of pain.
“Nurse?” Stan called, trying to ease his extreme discomfort with a dose of humour. “I need… a pain killer.”
Glen grinned and shook his head as he crawled to Stan’s waist. “You have a sick sense of humour my friend!”
“I have to... get thought this... somehow.”
Glen nodded in agreement and securely tied the top of longer splints in place before working his way back towards Stan’s feet. Soon, denim strips were secured above and below the break, as well as at the big man’s waist, knees, ankles and feet. A neat row of six dark blue bows ran the length of the longest splint. Stan breathed a shallow sigh of relief.
“I have three strips left.” Glen said. We should use them on your broken rids to give you a bit of support.” The big man agreed. A few more uncomfortable minutes followed, but once the strong denim was snug, Stan felt somewhat relieved. His chest was so big that Glen had to tie the straps together; two pieces side by side over the broken ribs, and the third one completing the circumference of Big C’s barrel-like chest. Glen sat back and stared at his trussed-up friend. “You might be the most unusual thing I’ve ever seen wrapped in bows.” He teased.
“Thanks.” Came the wry reply.
“I’m going to lash the travois together and then try to move us a little closer to the trail before it gets completely dark.” Glen was already untangling the rope from the four remaining lengths of wood. He reached for his pack and dug the short lengths of cord out. The small man had never built a travois before, but knew the fundamentals of lashing. The four bundled lengths of cordage had accompanied Glen on more hikes than he could remember, but he had used them only occasionally. Still, they had always been there, faithfully waiting in his backpack to become clotheslines or to help support a tent at a windy campsite. Thirty-six hours ago, when the wiry Scotsman had placed the short cords into his pack, little did he dream of their potential to save a life. After all, they were just short pieces of strong twine.
Stan rested while Glen fussed with the lashings. A glance up at the cloudy sky told the trussed up man that the sun was slipping behind the Lajord Range. It would be dark in just over an hour. The big man closed his tired eyes. He had lain in Ravenscrag’s shadow, in more or less the same place, for nearly twenty-four hours. His bruised and broken body ached and throbbed, but the splints and rib bandages were helping. The soft sleeping pad, under his back and shoulders, felt wonderful. Amazing, how such a small comfort suddenly seemed like paradise! He turned his head to stare at his faithful friend. His life was still in the small man’s hands, but tonight there was finally a little more hope.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

“In Ravenscrag’s Shadow” – Chapter 11

In Ravenscrag’s Shadow

Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 11

With Stan’s pack safely hanging in the tree, Glen hobbled back to retrieve his own pack. It sat waiting in the dirt near the splints and unassembled travois pieces. With just a little effort, Glen bundled the eight sections of wood together using a timberline hitch. In less than a minute, the poles were ready to drag. “If things go according to plan, I’ll be able to pull the free end of the rope over the top of my pack and let the tips of the longest wood pieces drag over the rocks behind me.”
With the padded crutch under his left arm, Glen hefted his red backpack onto his shoulders. Mercifully, it was considerably lighter than the other one had been. He snugged up the shoulder straps and cinched the hip belt. Stooping, he scooped up the rope that bundled the logs and flipped it over the top of the pack, hoisting one end of the log bundle several feet off the ground. Forming a fourteen-inch bight in the rope, Glen stuffed the loop between his stomach and the hip belt and tied the rope back onto itself. A fleeting grin flickered across the small man’s face. “Looks like this might actually work.”
Before moving out, Glen coiled up the remaining rope and tied it to a “D” ring on his left shoulder strap. He stared down at the dangling coil. “I just hope this rope won’t hamper my movements.” Taking one last look around just to be sure, the stubborn Scotsman drew in a deep breath and hobbled off the relatively smooth trail onto the uneven and unforgiving rocks.
If he had ever seen a field of dreams somewhere in his forty-five years of life, what lay before the small man was definitely its opposite! It was, in fact, a field of nightmares! Every step was fraught with potential disaster! The tip of Glen’s crutch kept slipping into cracks and crevasses, throwing the injured man off balance with nearly every shuffled step. Glen groaned and lurched. He grimaced and panted. The logs, dragging behind him, clunked and scraped noisily on the stone, pulling and pushing at him to further complicate his movements.
“At least my ankle feels a bit better.” He commented, finally finding something positive to say in the malay of frustration. The snug tensor wrap didn’t allow Glen’s ankle to bear any weight, but at least it helped the incessant jarring not to hurt so much. Glen glanced ahead. Protected from the direct heat of the sun, Stan was easy to spot. At a distance of six hundred yards, seeing the brilliant glint of the big man’s Mylar blanket was easy. Getting there was the tough part!
The loaded pack felt so heavy! “And I thought my earlier crossing was slow!” Glen muttered. “This trip makes the first one seem fast.” Often, the boulders were so uneven that Glen had to crawl to proceed. When crawling on his hands and knees, the gloves helped considerably, but the trailing poles bumped his bruised ankle almost every time he moved. When he was standing and shuffling, the sock padding required frequent attention. “Oh, if I just had a few inches of duct tape!” Glen moaned, adjusting the socks again. He looked up at the lowering clouds and allowed a sardonic smile to pass across his dry lips. “A hot air balloon ride would be nice about now!”
One and one half hours crept by. Stan was much closer than he once was, but Glen was still barely half way to him. Only minutes before, Stan had offered an encouraging wave to his labouring friend - his reluctant, rescuing, packhorse. Between gasps for oxygen, Glen returned the gesture. He was coming as fast as he could!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

“In Ravenscrag’s Shadow” – Chapter 10

In Ravenscrag’s Shadow

Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 10

Glen scanned the dappled sky. He was tired and there was still so much to do. White clouds punctuated the azure expanse overhead, but the horizon looked discouraging. Ominous clouds were crawling quietly over the highest peaks of the Mistawasis Mountains. Glen’s mouth registered a lopsided smile that might have been a sneer. “Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.” He muttered. Glen’s stomach gurgled with an entire litre of glacier-chilled water as he methodically limped along the trail leading back to their strewn supplies. Every few minutes, he eyed the sky warily. They were in the mountains and that meant fast-changing weather. In his experience, however, fast changing weather and inclement weather shared the same meaning.
With water safely stowed in his pack, Glen’s return trip from Maple Creek was as uneventful as the one there, except the trek gained a few feet of elevation, causing him to pant a little more. Of course, the extra four pounds of water made its contribution too. His handmade crutch did very well, though. Glen glanced down at the crutch. “I hope you can handle the field of crumbling rocks.” He thought, but he definitely had his doubts. There were so many holes just waiting to swallow the crutch’s thin tip!
Finally back at the colourful packs and green poles, Glen meticulously placed needed items into his backpack. He was in a hurry, but at this point a slight mistake would prove uncomfortable at best and fatal at worst. Glen selected the first aid kit, the small plastic bottle of Tylenol, their two LED flashlights, Stan’s extra pair of blue jeans, the compact stove and fuel bottle, matches, two packages of dried soup, the large aluminum pot, a handful each of granola and chocolate bars, a couple of protein bars, their sleeping bags and mats, the tent—minus the poles and pegs, his water purifying system, four bundled lengths of cordage, clean shirts, underwear and socks for each of them, the outer shells and inner fleece linings of their two-part coats, the bottle of pepper spray, and, of course, the two litres of precious water cradled protectively in the flexible hydration pouches. Glen slid the water pouches along the interior of his pack so they would ride at the bottom as well as up against his lower back. Then, he stuffed the remainder of the supplies inside. For good measure, Glen threw in a bag of dried fruit. As the flash of colour disappeared into the mouth of the pack, he scowled. “Everything we have is dry!” He felt full of water now, but that would soon change!
His pair of faithful leather gloves rested in trail-dirt beside the filled red backpack. “It’s ready.” He muttered still wondering if he was right. The balding man pulled off his hiking hat and rubbed his large forehead. Glen hated losing his hair. Well-meaning friends had repeatedly told him that he just had more face than other people, but that thought didn’t really help him much. He should have been humoured by his friend’s remarks, but in the secret chambers of his heart, aging bugged him. The tough Scotsman shook his head. “At least my Lille doesn’t seem to mind my enlarged face.” He eyed the rest of the gear and food. “Will I ever see her again?” Glen glanced at his digital watch and sighed wearily. Three and a half hours ago, both packs had been full. Now his was loosely packed and he had to figure out how to stuff Stan’s pack with all the leftovers! “Get a grip Glen!” He scolded. “You can worry about Lillie later!”
It took considerable finagling, but soon only four items lay on the ground: their cups, their second pot, a length of coiled rope, a pair of thick socks, and the folding saw. Glen reached for his crutch and then the socks. In seconds, his nimble fingers had both socks threaded, one over the top of the other, onto the armpit portion of his crutch. “That should help a little.” He concluded. “I wish I had some duct tape!”
Glen snatched up the coiled rope and began to rise. “I guess you’ll just have to wait here.” He mumbled to the inanimate objects still lying on the ground and climbed from his dirty knees to stand. He shook his head. “I’m losing it! I’m talking to things!”
As he arose, the small man gazed out over Green Canyon. In the distance, a shiny bump stood out against the grey rock field. He stared a moment. The mirrored Mylar emergency blanket flashed, shimmering in the afternoon sun. Glen felt for a breeze, but there was none. “At least Stan’s still moving.”
With hope in his heart, the crutch under his left arm, and the coil of rope held between his bruised knees, Glen dragged Stan’s overstuffed backpack up against his good leg and hoisted the cargo into the air. A few grunts and groans later, and the pack sat on his back. Glen looked down in disgust! “You dirty, rotten rope!” He fumed. During the hoisting struggle, the coil had dropped to the ground. He drew a large breath and began to bend forward. His back and good knee cried out under the strain, but his finger tips finally closed on one of the coils. “Yes!” He panted triumphantly as a trembling leg returned him to a standing position. He looked up and down the trail. “Now to find a suitable tree to hang it from.”
Even with the crutch, Glen’s movements were difficult and laboured. Seventy pounds of extra dead weight made limping both interesting as well as dangerous. Thankfully, a large enough tree was only thirty yards away!
A rock, tied into the end of the rope, flew into the air for the fifth time in less than a minute. “Finally!” Glen sputtered. The weighted end fell over the stout branch he had been aiming for. Glen carefully played out the rope and the rock dropped into his waiting hand. Removing the rock, Glen tied the dangling rope end to the top of Stan’s pack. “I wish one of us had thought to bring a pulley!” He muttered.
The small man scuttled over to the base of a neighbouring tree and wound the rope over a low branch. The friction from the branch would help him control the load. He pulled the leather gloves from his hind pocket and wrapped the rope around one hand. Gripping tightly, Glen yanked. The rope went taut under the strain and the pack began to rise. With his left hand, Glen gripped the end of the rope below the place where it looped around the lower branch. With his right, he reached upwards as high as he could and pulled downwards, applying all his weight. It required a full five minutes of effort, but finally, the heavy pack hung just inches below the overhead branch. Glen wrapped the rope a second turn around the lower branch and tied two half hitches on the tensioned part. “Finally!” He panted, pulling off the gloves and massaging his fingers, palms, wrists and arms. Glen shot a satisfied look at the dangling pack. “Let’s see a bear get our stuff now!” The words sounded brave, but the small man warily scanned the trail is both directions before moving out.