High on the Mountain: (a billybuc writing challenge entry)
Perhaps a mountain top experience
Don't blame me!
Bill Holland that wonderful rabble rouser issued a challenge for fiction writers. Something I am not. But I know Bill, he will bring in any stray animal that shows up. Well I am scratching at his door, so I know he will let me in if I promise not to chase the chickens and quail. There are rules to this, but I don't need no stinking badges. Find the challenge here: http://hubpages.com/literature/A-Writing-Challenge-Are-You-Up-For-It
Let us jump right in.
You could say they were a motley crew but you would be wrong. They were just good old country boys from a small town and they were going places. From 18 to 22 years of age they were. One was graduating from college Cum Laude, another had already had a ski shop that was making it. One at only 22 already had a doctorate and two were pro circuit downhill ski racers. All of them had successfully rowed the mighty Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. They were all skilled in rappelling and high level mountain climbing. They came from good families and worked hard and respected elders and all life around them. Come to think of it they all attended college on scholarships from academic to athletics.
Well today was not just another day. They gathered at a log cabin in a bottle. Well not really a bottle an old barn. Mostly together but on just one of their dimes they cut and shaped the logs they cut down and hauled. They actually built a full log cabin inside an old weathered barn. I don’t know why but it seemed like a cool idea at the time. Now forty years later both still stand. It stood at 7,000 ft., the same elevation as the town. Which was really there just because of logging and the railroad. Stuff of the past as the train cars sat as though already buried alive.
Today they would ride a chairlift up to about 9,600 ft. The ascent up to 12,600 to the peak of the mountain. Hard icepack, glacier like snow stuck to most of the surface of the mountain. It was basically about 3,000 ft. of an enormous shear ice death trap. A missed step would more likely mean death than survival. But not to worry they had all done it dozens of times growing up. A rope like you see mountain climbers use between them in a line for safety was not used. Well three guys had tried that 10 years prior and instead of one dying they all did, so the concept was not even considered. These boys would all be carrying about 40 lbs. of gear including skis to ski the inner basin of the mountain on the other side. About 12 miles of backcountry skiing in avalanche country.
Do not judge a cabin by it's cover!
Well you know I had to put this music in.
From the earth to the earth.
Did I mention that one of the gang was a Navajo Indian? Great guy that they all grew up playing ball with. To the Navajo this was a sacred mountain. Actually a corner of their world – like a real corner.
(About this time, you the reader are wondering why the dancing around with naming the location and the players. Well I will leave you to decide what is fact here and what is fiction. So I will leave out proper names to protect the innocent, or not so innocent.)
The game plan was simple and they went over it in the log cabin which was near freezing inside. That was on purpose. Otherwise everyone would have to strip down out of the mountaineering clothing and gear. You see one of the quickest ways of freezing your tuckus off is to stand indoors with your jackets and such on and start to sweat and then go back into the freezing weather. In this case a mere 2 below. Don’t even go there with a wind and chill factor.
Here is the deal. They were to gather around and eat a full handful of peyote. Maybe one of the most dangerous natural hallucinogens in the world. Definitely tainted with Strychnine which adds to it’s formidable strength. The Navajo had collected the peyote on the reservation. There was also some kind of shaman spell put on it. Within three hours it is normal to vomit quite violently. This blood rush to the brain actually intensifies the effect and there is something in regurgitation that really sets it off.
Then the urn was brought out and placed in the center of a ring. Not a word was said. Pent up emotions said all that needed to be said. The little brother of one in the crew had had a parachute malfunction when jumping into the great Alaskan wilderness. It was time to spread his ashes on the mountain peak he loved so much. Well now the hurry was on full bore. Timing was everything. Too much into the warmth of the day and the hike became way too dangerous as the melt would create a surface just too damn slippery to climb. To damn early and you were likely to catch jet streams. Jet streams are rivers of wind in the sky up at about 10,000 feet that can reach well over 100 mph. I reckon to a low lander city folk this is totally insane. But hey this is just the environment these guys grew up in.
The easy part.
Now four pieces of equipment were passed out after being charged all night. Avalanche transceivers (beacons) were first. This sends out an electronic signal that shows where you are if covered by snow from and avalanche. Then radios (walkie talkies) with multiple bands. And then cell phones. Yes these probably are futile where these guys were going. Poisk oxygen systems because there is little air at over 12,000 ft. Although these are really only used in the case of some distress. These items are kept by one caretaker rather than by the individual so that they are double checked when passed out.
Nothing left to do. The longest hardest trail is climbed by one step at a time. So out they go. Dawn is still not breaking. It is that time of day/night when winds seldom blow as the earth has calmed my the total freeze of darkness over night. They drive from 7,000 ft. to about 9,500 ft. Collect their gear and load up on a chairlift they have paid money to start up early for their one way trip. Hoar frost covers every exposed thing and quickly forms on beards and eyebrows. Goggles are in place as the slightest wind at this subzero temperature can literally freeze an eyeball. The ride up is filled with good cheer and exhilaration. The end of the chair ride drops them at the last fairly unexposed point in their trip. From here one can see 300 miles but the sun which is showing a bit of light is on the other side of the mountain and will not be seen until reaching the summit.
Can there be danger ahead and yet peace where you stand?
Not a grave site for the men of the mountain
Shall they begin?
Oh yea you guessed it. The retching has begun. Almost simultaneously the effects of the peyote have set in. This takes about 10 minutes as the crew is basically incapacitated. It is all part of the ritual. They are now standing on sacred land. The standard “cramp on”, a set of spikes attached to the boot to hold in ice are not used as the snow they climb is so vertical only their toes will dig into the ice. A special kind of reverse spur is affixed to the toe to make “kicking in” easier and more effective. It will be like climbing slippery made as you go stairs from this point on. At this point there is an adjustment period. To the lack of air. To the drop in temperature to around 15 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. And to the drug. It takes just a few moments while stretching exercises are done and equipment is double checked in a buddy system.
The effect is such a connection and focus on nature and the elements as to be a oneness. Colors and textures come nearly alive. Fluidness of motion without nervous tension occurs. And in this environment man is not the intruder but a part of. Done correctly this is not a “see things that are not there” drug. This is an extreme senses awareness in reality “experience”. It is from a plant grown only in the wild by itself. And if the participant is also fully grounded in the earth it is a synergism. And this holy of holy grounds create the perfect mix of man and nature.
The real ascent begins. Adrenaline on high. Deep half the oxygen breaths. Yes some butterflies inside. The leader for this stretch is 6 ft. 6 inches tall a former football player for a major university and once considered the most valuable athlete by his entire state. He swings a mean pick axe into the ice pack a mere 2 ft. from his face as the mountain is near vertical at this stage. He carves out the toe holds the others will use. It is exhausting brutal work. The danger of exhaustion and building up a heavy sweat means another will take his place in just about 15 minutes. His little brother at a shrimpy 6 ft 2 inches. A man with an early doctorate and many pro skiing accolades. Sometimes a back country guide out of helicopters in the highs of the Bugaboos Canadian Rockies. Dang it a carabiner is dropped by number 3 and it falls, just missing number 6 which could be fatal, 100 ft before touching ice – it is that steep
Old things just die. Old souls just return to the mountain.
As close to flight a natural man can reach.
3 hours later 3,000 ft. have been mastered and they stand at a peak higher than anything for 5 hundred miles. The sun is rising from a horizon 200 miles away and 10,000 feet lower in elevation. On a near spiritual understanding no pictures are taken, but snapshots in the mind click like a high speed automatic camera. There is great exhilaration and a great feeling of accomplishment. For the most part this is only shared by the man and his God. Silence rules the day. The calm winds here are a constant 45 mph. One turns away from them to catch their breath. “Let’s do this” is shouted nearly in unison and Skis are put on, another quick buddy check of gear. Off the cliff made of ice the leader for this stretch goes. A celebratory yell, at about the 25 ft mark of a freefall of 60 ft. before he even lands number 2 launches and so on. Each member upon impact with the drift snow below submerges for two turns of the skis about two hundred feet. They reach an interior summit within the great inner basin. All accounted for and healthy with one facial cut from a tree branch.
The ashes are now strewn. More oxygen at this elevation. Much excited talk. A flask of 20 year old whiskey is passed. Hugs are given. High fives all the way around. Some energy bars consumed along with needed hydrating water. A pact is made to do this again in five years and every five years thereafter. It will be honored. The ski out will be another 5 thousand vertical feet and about 9 miles. For mere mortals a hell of a trip in itself. For the men “high on the mountain” just one more death defying trip to be followed by many more.