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Strength of Will
Strength of Will
Henry James Earl pushed the gas pedal slowly. He couldn’t stand driving in rush hour. He couldn’t stand driving to begin with, and now he was stuck in traffic. He was 5’10 and sturdily built. He had been a mountain climber ever since he was young. Yet, he wasn’t young anymore. He had just turned 60. He was a feisty man in extremely good shape, and he was opposed to dying in a Retirement House.
He was on his way to one of the final mountains in the US he hadn’t climbed. He was sure he could do it. He had lost his wife last year to a hit and run driver. So he had nothing else to do with his time. His kids had moved away and never called to talk to him. So he had decided to climb the mountain. His doctor had told him that he couldn’t physically stand climbing this particular mountain in the summer. Now it was midwinter. Ten degrees with wind-chill. James was a stubborn man and told the doctor where to shove it when he had heard the news.
Now he had been driving for 19 hours and was one hour away from his destination. The excitement flooded through him like a breath of the freshest air he had ever breathed.
Then he saw it. The white capped top of the mountain. A brief smile flickered into his weathered face. Then that brief smile returned to the grimace of pain as he remembered that he was still stuck in traffic.
Three hours of driving and many horns honked later, James arrived. He stepped from his car; he blew out a sigh of relief.
“Glad that’s over with,” he thought to himself.
He unpacked quickly, wanting to get started on the mountain as soon as he possibly could. It took him 17 minutes to unpack his gear. He then put on his boots and started off towards the bottom of the mountain.
The cold wind blew around him making him shiver a little.
“Must be at least 10-15 degrees,” he thought.
He paused to get his heavy coat out of his bag. It took him a little while to find it. When he had finally got it on he was starting to shiver. The warm fur inside felt good.
He pressed on, carefully noting the icy parts of the rocks.
“It must have rained last night. I better watch my step” he muttered.
He continued on, stopping only for a brief moment for a power bar. As it continued to get colder and darker he started looking for a camp site. It took him quite awhile to find a perfect spot for him to pitch camp. He slowly unpacked his rucksack. He found his tent and sleeping bag right where he had left them. Next he pulled out the tent pegs and started setting up camp. Fifteen minutes later he had the tent up. Looking in his pack he found his matches and fire starter kit. He went out to look for some dry wood. As he was collecting it, he felt the wet feeling of freezing rain falling on his exposed neck. He hurriedly grabbed as much wood as he could and walked back to camp. He brought the wood into the tent to keep it dry for the next day’s quick breakfast.
James woke up stiff, after a fitful night sleep. He ate a quick breakfast and pushed on. He stepped out of his tent into five inches of snow.
“Aw hell,” he cursed.
James hated snow. It’s the worst weather for climbing a mountain. But he wouldn’t quit now. He packed up camp. When he turned around he could see his footsteps receding into the distance as he trudged slowly up the mountain.
Four hours later, which seemed an absolute eternity to James, passed. He sat down for a break. He rubbed the feeling back into his hands and face thinking to himself, “What am I doing? I’m gonna kill myself going at this rate.”
He took a break to eat lunch. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. He looked up into the cloud-filled sky. He noticed the snow clouds slowly moving back in.
“I need to find shelter and dry wood if I’m going to shelter from this storm.”
He slowly heaved his body up with a grunt and pushed on. He was halfway up the mountain at this point, yet he felt like he had been climbing for years. His old body wasn’t what it used to be.
He trudged onward. He looked up at the face of a cliff he would have to scale. He got out his climbing ropes. He knew how risky it would be to scale this rock face alone. But he started looking for a perfect thing to attach the rope to. He found a tree. He looked at it for a long time. The wind blew his grey hair across his face. He gave a deep sigh and started twirling the rope. He threw the rope. It missed.
“S***, he muttered”
He tried again and missed. He tried four more times then he hooked it. He slowly tugged the rope to make sure it was sturdy. Then he started climbing. Hand over hand. Sweat beaded on his forehead and arms. He felt exhaustion when he was halfway up. He slipped. He fell heavily to the ground winding himself. The pain was immense. He passed out from the pain.
He woke up in complete darkness. He panicked thinking he had lost his vision from the fall. He looked up into the sky. He saw the faint glow of the moon shrouded by clouds. His muscles relaxed and he leaned back onto the ground. He breathed a sigh of relief and looked for his pack. It was a few feet away.
Then the snow started to fall. Ever so slowly it fell. James knew in his heart that a serious snow storm was coming. He had heard it on the news all week. Yet, he had come anyway. A feeling of urgency flowed through him as he slowly stood up. He collapsed back down. He looked at his left shin leg. The front of it was stained crimson with blood. He realized that he must have caught it on something on his fall. He needed shelter to tend to his leg. He flicked his eyes around his surroundings.
The wall where he had fallen had a small indentation, an area just big enough to shelter James from the weather. He started to drag his injured limb slowly toward the cave-like area. By the time he made it the sun was slowly rising above the formidable cloud formation that was moving in.
He immediately started to work on his leg. He slowly pulled up his pant leg to take a look. A deep gash was on the lower half of his shin. He got his flashlight and med pack to get a better look at the deepness. He saw something white in the wound.
“S***,” he muttered again. That’s bone.”
He quickly started to bandage up his leg. He didn’t need to add infection to his list of things gone wrong on this trip. He started to build a fire with his fire starter kit he had brought. Some ten minutes later he had a little blaze going. James then started to sterilize some water to clean the gash. As he poured the boiling water over his leg he clenched his teeth in agony. He wiped his leg down and wrapped a firm bandage over it, then he hunkered down and slowly started to wait out the night.
When he awoke from his fitful night sleep, he looked out. All he saw was white. Snow had covered the ground all around him. He estimated it was a foot and a half, and by the cold that it was ten below zero. He looked for his water bottle. It was frozen to the back wall of the enclave he was in. The icy grip of panic took hold of him. He thought to himself, “Leg damaged, water frozen, a ton of snow, probability of coming out alive...low 30s.” He was never a downer but he knew the inevitability of what would happen. He would freeze to death.
He began to lose all feeling in his right leg. He knew hypothermia was starting to kick in, so he frantically started getting rid of the snow around him. He found some dry sticks in his bag he had put in before the snow. He then tried as hard as he could to get a fire. He looked in his fire starting kit. He talked out loud slowly, repeating what he had over and over again, “Four matches, barely any lighter fluid, great.”
He tried the first match. It didn’t work. He cursed under his breath. He tried another two times. Both failed. On the last match he looked up into the sky as the snow fell, and he just thought about his life. He struck the match. A sudden gust of wind suddenly came out of nowhere!
The match didn’t light. He didn’t have any fire. He had only his meager supply of food. The cold wind started howling. Yet, he didn’t feel the wind. Wolves. He started to worry if there were a pack of wolves on the mountain side. Then he heard the distinct howl of a wolf. They were near.
He grabbed his K-bar and readied himself. A wolf padded outside of the cave. James looked at it. The wolf just sat there. It seemed to James that the wolf looked right in his eyes, seeing that he was going to die anyway. But, the wolf padded on leaving James to die slowly and alone.