Saturday, July 3, 2010
Davis L. Bigelow
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.