Conquering Savage Mountain
William Holland's Writing Challenge
The following story is a writing challenge presented by billybuc (aka William Holland). Writing Challenge here. Why not check it out and join the fun. I hope you enjoy the story.
Daddy - Hero and Adventurer
Savage Mountain claimed my Daddy when I was fourteen years old. He was an adventurer whose bucket list was never exhausted. No sooner did he conquer one feat, then he was onto another of a greater challenge. He climbed mountains, canoed through dangerous rapids, jumped from airplanes, bungee jumped, raced cars, competed in three Ironman races, and he was a highly decorated Marine, awarded for his daring, bravery, and saving of lives.
Daddy was my hero and the day that Savage Mountain swallowed him up, my world was crushed...for a time, a long time. But I have my Daddy's blood coursing through my veins, and I don't take Savage Mountain's thievery of my Daddy lightly. I am my Daddy's daughter.
I'm twenty-seven now, and I've followed in his footsteps of conquering, taxing, stretching, pushing the envelope. I love adventure and challenge as much as Daddy did. But I feel his pleasure most when I set out. Conquering, winning, succeeding are awesome, but starting the adventure means I'm willing to take on a challenge rather than stay home because I feel something is out of my reach.
Visit to Daddy
I stood at Daddy's grave like I always do before I start an adventure. Of all the adventures I'd ever gone on, this was the pièce de résistance and I needed to talk to Daddy more than ever. I needed his support, his encouragement, and I needed to tell him some things.
Randy Brighton - loving son and father, brave adventurer, free spirit.
When my grandparents made the arrangements for Daddy's celebration of life and burial, I was asked what I'd like to see on his gravestone. I gave it a lot of thought and we all agreed this summed up who he was in that order.
"Daddy," I said. "This is it! I'm going to climb Savage Mountain and give it what for. I want to make you proud, Daddy. I can already feel your pleasure and encouragement. Thank you for showing me the thrill of adventure. I'm going to do my best, as you always told me. I'll see you when I get back, and we'll celebrate."
Heading to the Mountain
Mama begged me, pleaded with me in tears, tantrums, guilt trips, whatever she could think of to keep me from avenging my Daddy's death by climbing Savage Mountain. I remember these tricks and dramatics when Daddy would set out for his next challenge. She finally left him, telling him he was selfish and irresponsible. What it was was she just couldn't handle the fear of losing him to whatever risky undertaking he had a mind to try next. When Mama got the news of Daddy's demise on Savage Mountain, she shouted at me, "See, what did I tell you?" I don't take kindly to "I told you so's." I love my Mama, but I won't be shackled to her fears and defeatism. Savage Mountain is going to get its comeuppance!
Monday morning I and my friend Rita set out at four a.m. for the three-hour drive to Savage Mountain. We had all the provisions we needed and then some, including the drive to avenge and conquer. I couldn't wait.
"Rita, what time is it? Time is of the essence."
Rita had her feet up on the dash like she always did when she was riding shotgun, reading the map and eating homemade granola in a ziplock baggie.
"You need to chill, Bitty. We're ahead of schedule by forty minutes."
Bitty was the nickname Daddy gave me when I was a baby and it stuck. I am a small gal, but strong, wiry and full of piss and vinegar as he liked to say.
"Perfect. Check the weather forecast again."
"I checked it when we left, what's the deal?"
"Rita, you know as well as I do the unstable weather patterns on the mountain. We need to be prepared. Get on your smartie pants phone and get me a forecast."
"Okay, let's see here. Nothing's changed. Clear forecast except for some light clouds at the summit which are expected to clear later today. A piece of cake, Bitty."
"Don't get cocky, Rita. Savage Mountain is a fickle foe. The weather can be unpredictable."
"Are you going soft on me little bit?"
I glared at Rita and threw a glove at her and hit her in the face.
"I told you never to call me little bit. Rita, you have to respect the mountain. Courage, skill, determination - all important and vital, but like the ocean, you have to respect it. One hundred and seventeen people have been claimed by this mountain. Many of those were expert climbers. Give me some granola, and toss me another Gatorade."
"Yes, your Lordship."
GPS instructed the next and last left turn on our trip to the base of Savage Mountain. A surge of adrenalin began pulsating through me. Little did I know then how much I'd need that adrenaline.
We signed in at the ranger station at the trailhead at 6:15. It was a balmy forty-nine degrees. The sun was out and the temperature was moving up. The ranger looked at the sign-in sheet and saw my last name.
"Brighton. We lost a man by the name of Brighton here, oh about twelve, thirteen years ago."
"You trying to scare me Mr...." I looked at his name tag, "Tremain?"
"Nah. Course not."
"Good, because that Brighton, Randy Brighton, was my father. I'm here to finish what he started."
"She calls it avenging his death," said Rita. I kicked her.
"I see. Well, I'm sorry for your loss. He was a brave man. But that word avenge sounds kind of cocky. You've got to respect the mountain. It's not a tall mountain, only nine thousand five hundred feet, but it's treacherous, depending on what trail you use. We've lost a lot of..."
"Where have I heard this before?" said Rita.
I gave her the look.
"Listen, no one respects the mountain more than me. I'm not taking this lightly. I've been training for eight years. I've got a lot of climbing experience. Let's get on with it."
"Right. There are two trails to the summit. The easier one is Kohana trail, Kohana means swift. The second is the Gelid trail. This is for the more experienced. As I said, it can be treacherous and unforgiving in bad weather. The terrain is rough.
I took the pen and wrote Gelid.
"There's some fog up there now, but no storms. If it holds you should make the summit by tomorrow late morning. Good luck to you."
We were on our way.
Gale, Storm, and a Train Wreck
We set out on the Gelid trail at six forty a.m. and hit the snow line just before noon. We took a half hour break and made it to the halfway point of the summit by four. We were making good time. The weather had held so far. The hike so had not been easy at this point though and we had a couple of mishaps. Still, below the snow line, we came into a situation with a bear. We'd stopped for a drink and a snack. I ate one of Rita's homemade granola bars, but she whipped out a piece of jerky. We were sitting on some rocks on the edge of a swift creek and a bear came out from behind a stand of trees about thirty feet from us. Rita was gnawing to beat the band while watching the creek, completely oblivious.
"Rita," I hissed. "There's a bear right behind us, toss the jerky in the water."
"Right," she said. "We've done this before. We've got this."
I turned to see the bear stand up and sniff the air. I knew it wasn't a sign of aggression, only that he got a whiff of the jerky or us or both. I didn't think he'd spotted us so we got up slowly and headed back the trail. Rita took a glance back and saw that he'd spotted us, was following but seemed unperturbed. We started talking loudly and the bear shied and went another way.
We had another more serious mishap when we were not long into the snow and I slipped off an icy rock and ended up on the edge of a steep ravine. I had let an eagle distract me. I knew better. "Respect the mountain. Pay attention you idiot," I told myself.
We had camp set up by four, then had our evening meal. It got really cold, which we expected, but a wind came up out of nowhere and turned very quickly into a gale. Things went from bad to worse when thunder and lightning ravaged the mountainside and our tent was being pounded by rain, then hail, and eventually snow. It was one of the longest night's I'd ever lived. Sleep came out of sheer exhaustion, but it was fitful. The sounds of the storm became the sound of a freight train in my dreams. The train had no one at the helm. It was on its own barreling through storms of its own. It derailed about the time a real clap of thunder splintered the air above our tent. Daddy appeared. I threw my arms around him. Because dreams are weird, suddenly the train was back on the track, the weather was beautiful and Daddy got us to the station. And then he was just gone. I stepped out of the train to see it was sitting in a bed of weeds as old as the hills. The world was a ghost town and I wept because I couldn't find Daddy.
At first light, the high wind was still buffeting us at gale force. I unzipped the tent an inch to see snow. We were nearly buried. Were we doomed? You couldn't get me to say it.
Search, Rescue, and Finish
After three hours the weather cleared. We dug our way out and headed onward. It was slow going, and navigating was difficult. But we made the summit by dusk, set up camp, and prayed for a quiet night. And it was. But we knew the downward journey was fraught with just as many possible dangers. And we were right.
I'm just going to be honest. A search and rescue team had to come find us due to losing our way in another doozy snow storm. We'd gone through all our rations, we were seriously sunburned, chapped and Rita was suffering snowblindness and frostbite was setting in both my feet. But you know what? We still made it. Sunburn, snowblindess and frostbite are things to overcome and we did. And I finished what Daddy had started with a little help from our search and rescue friends. That's not defeat in my book, it's plan B.
"Life is an exciting business, and most exciting when it is lived for others." ~ Helen Keller
The Real Lesson
After a two day stay in the hospital Rita and I were back in my Highlander headed for home. We were still very tired so we took our time. We were driving through a long stretch of farm country and it was another twenty-five miles till the next rest stop. Rita announced she had to pee. I told her she could hold it another twenty-five miles. She was a bit fragile emotionally after our ordeal on Savage Mountain and started to cry. Normally I'd tell her to quit being a crybaby. But in her normal state, Rita would not cry because she had to wait for twenty-five miles to pee. So we exited the highway onto a country road going I didn't know where.
"What are you waiting for?" Rita said. I could hear desperation.
"I'm just looking for somewhere for you to pee," I said.
"Come on Bitty, they don't have toilets in the middle of nowhere. Anywhere is fine."
She was right, but just then we saw an old sagging deserted barn with a beat up rusty grain silo. The scene begged for a history lesson. I pulled up to a dilapidated fence and Rita flew out of the car and into a forest of weeds four feet high. A minute later I heard her sing out the old Alka Seltzer ditty "Oh what a relief it is!"
While she was eliminating I wandered around the barn. It didn't look safe to enter so I just circled it wondering who once owned it. What was their story? Did they go bankrupt? Did the bank take their farm? Did the owner die? Was he a failure?
Then I saw something in the grass. I picked it up and brushed the dirt off of it. It was a weathered old pendant with an inscription.
"Life is an exciting business, and most exciting when it is lived for others. ~ Helen Keller
It got me to thinking. Daddy's life on the surface seemed to be about seeking and embracing thrill, excitement, adventure, success, conquering. But Daddy didn't always succeed, and I tend to brush that aside. Many an injury, financial hurdle, or life responsibility kept him from reaching a goal; sometimes, he just didn't come out in front or failed to complete something because he made a mistake or there was some mishap. But he wasn't a quitter or a cry baby. He saw failure as a learning experience and it motivated him to do it differently and better next time. When he died Mama said, "What a sad thing to die while failing." That hurt.
But as I was standing there looking at the inscription on that pendant I realized that my Daddy's greatest feat was passing on to me how to persevere, to not shy from challenges, to not let failure hold me back from trying again. I think those things may have been more exciting to him than all the rest. Yes, his life was an exciting business, but it was most exciting passing these vital truths to me. Gosh, I miss my Daddy.
Enjoy other responses to this writing challenge
- Lost Mountain
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- Rainbow Mountain - A Short Story
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- Sugar Mountain ~ a poem
A writing challenge from Bill Holland and my response.
- The Ghost Mountain Adventure (a short story)
This short adventure story is my response to a writing challenge. I also read a recent article that said there was a lack of short fiction available with skiing as the theme. So here goes.
© 2016 Lori Colbo