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It's only a model.
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Day Trip

When Linda Lawry knocked on her daughter’s door and stuck her head in to say, “Good morning sleepy-head, time to get up,” Bethany had already been awake a half hour. Quickly she hopped out of bed. She was so excited; today her parents would let her come along for the first time on a back country ski trip. Matt and Linda Lawry led cross country day trips for skiers at her grandparents’ hotel. Although Linda was a registered nurse and worked part time at the county hospital, she helped her husband on the mountain as often as possible. Today’s trip was a helicopter ride to the top of the mountain and a twenty-five mile cross country ski back to the hotel.

First Bethany pulled on the silk long underwear her mother had made for her. The pink thermal underwear came next, then blue jeans and a long sleeved pink Hello Kitty tee shirt. Her feet got three layers too, thin silk socks, thick warm cotton socks and her ski boots. Then she ran into the kitchen where Mom was setting breakfast on the table. “Hurry and eat Bethany. Your Dad will be here with the truck soon. Is your gear ready? Do you have your check list?”

“Yes Mom, it’s in my bedroom.” After finishing her breakfast Bethany returned to her room and put on her gear, then watched for her Dad through her window. As soon as she saw the familiar pick-up pull into the drive, she dashed back down to the kitchen. “He’s here! He’s here, Mom!” Bethany reached the door and wrenched it open just as her Dad reached for the knob.

“Daddy! Are you ready? Let’s go!” Bethany had forgotten she was a nearly grown-up nine year old lady and was hopping up and down in her eagerness to be on her way.

Matt put his hands on her shoulders and steadied Bethany down. “Hold it there Pumpkin! Let me guess, you already have all your gear and are ready to go?”

“Yes Sir!”

“Then you need to settle down and not work yourself into a sweat. Remember, wet clothes in the cold will kill Bill!” Immediately Bethany settled down. She had been told many times of the dangers of hypothermia and had forgotten in her excitement not to let herself get overheated and sweaty when outdoors or going outdoors in freezing temperatures.

By 7:30 a.m. the family was at Gander Creek Lodge, a small ski resort on the eastern edge of Idaho. They had six clients on this trip, two late middle aged couples; Mr. and Mrs. Wilson and Mr. and Mrs. Burgess, fifty-three year old Mr. Layne and seventy year old Mrs. Benson. Also there was Tanner, a new employee for the Lawry’s, he was to assist the clients if needed, however Tanner was late. After checking in the group and giving out the PIEPS Freeride Avalanche Search Beacons, the Lawry’s went into the hotel office to do their gear check. First Linda checked through Matt’s gear, naming each item and checking it when Matt put his hand on the item. Then Matt did Linda’s gear and lastly Bethany’s.

“Alrighty then, blue jeans pockets; left side space blanket and fire starter.” Check. “right side trail bar and Hershey bar,” Check. “Fanny pack; space blanket, fire starter, trail bar, Hershey bar, extra clean dry mittens and socks in plas-i-tic ba-ag-gies.” Matt threw in a bad Yogi Bear impression and got a giggle from Bethany. “Belt; two insulated 1 liter canteens full of water,” Check. “Backpack; folding shovel, Therma-Rest Trail pad mattress, 2 space blankets, one pound Gorp, two more trail bars and two Hershey bars, three cocoa mixes, three hot cider mixes, three apple spice oatmeal mixes, four MREs, Coleman aluminum mess kit, Pocket Rocket stove and MSR IsoPro fuel, pencil, crayons and activity pad, extra hat, extra scarf, basic first aid kit, one whole roll of toilet paper, fantastic map I made for you, compass, fire starter, multi-tool, signaling mirror, and fifty feet of rope. And wonderful lunch your Mom packed.” Check “Wrist; watch.” Check. “Neck; whistle and PIEPS Freeride Avalanche Search Beacon.” Check. “All right Bethany, you’re good to go.”

The Lawry’s rejoined their clients in the hotel Lobby at five till eight. At three till eight Tanner showed up, unshaven and carrying a half open back-pack. Matt pulled him to the office as the clients went outdoors to the helicopter pad.

“Tanner, you were to be here at 7:30 for check in and gear check. How can you help the clients if you don’t have the right gear? Did you bring your gear list?” Matt handed Tanner his PIEPS Freeride from the cabinet.

“Naw, man, I didn’t have time to write it down. But I’ve got everything I need, sure.”

Matt was uncertain whether he should allow Tanner to come along or not. But he needed the help, and it would be better to train him while Linda could come along as well. So he just shook his head and opened the door for Tanner to head towards the chopper.

Everyone enjoyed the one hour ride to the top of Piney Peak, snapping lots of photographs as they flew through the bright, clear morning. At the drop-off point they unloaded quickly and waved at the pilot as he headed back to town. Then they started down the mountain.

The first hour went well. They made the five mph pace Matt had planned on. He had worried about Bethany and Mrs. Benson, but they were keeping up easily with the main group. It was Mr. Wilson who suddenly fell behind about 10:15. After a few minutes, Linda went back to check on him and his wife at the rear of the group. Then she blew her whistle to stop Matt and the rest of them. Matt hurried back to the Wilsons.

“I think he’s having a heart attack, Matt” Linda told him softly. “He’s clammy and pale, short of breath, and complaining of pain in his left chest and arm. And his wife says he’s been diagnosed with high blood pressure recently. I think we need to make him a travois and get him down the mountain as soon as possible.”

“All right, but I don’t like the idea of leaving Tanner in charge.” Matt looked at Tanner, a five foot eight, one hundred and sixty pound ski bum, and at Mr. Wilson, who stood six foot even and weighed two hundred twenty pounds. “I would suggest letting him go with you and pull the travois, but he’d never make it in time. I’ll get started on the travois then talk to him when we’re ready to go.”

Matt took the small hatchet from its loop on his backpack and quickly cut down saplings, trimmed them and cut one into lengths for crossbars. Using the rope from his own and Linda’s packs he lashed together the travois and a harness to pull it. In twenty-five minutes he had Mr. Wilson on the travois. He had wanted Mrs. Wilson to stay with the group but she insisted on going with her husband.

Matt’s conversation with Tanner was frustrating. Every answer from Tanner was a “Sure man, no problem.” Matt asked to see Tanner’s map and compass and Tanner pulled out a cheap compass, and finally admitted he didn’t have a map. Matt gave him his copy of their route map. Finally, Matt realized Tanner wasn’t going to have any better answers and turned to his daughter.

“Bethany, you’re going to have to stay with the clients. Help Tanner all you can. Mom and I love you. Be careful.”

Linda came over and gave Bethany a hug and quick kiss, “We’ll see you at the hotel this evening. Bye-bye baby.” Then the Lawry’s and Mrs. Wilson set off at a quick pace through the trees, pulling the travois and Mr. Wilson behind them.

After a moment Tanner took off down the mountain, Bethany and the clients stringing along behind. The pace Tanner set was much faster than the pace Matt had led them at, and soon gaps began to appear in the line of clients. After about forty-five minutes Bethany was second to last, just barely keeping Mr. Layne in sight ahead of her and Mrs. Benson in sight behind her.

Bethany could tell something was wrong already. Her Dad had gone over the route with her step by step, twice. She knew Tanner was going the wrong way.

Matt and Linda made record time back to the Gander Creek Hotel, Mrs. Wilson gamely staying beside her husband. The hotel staff radioed the ambulance service and by one p.m. he was admitted into the county hospital. At 3:00 Matt and Linda returned to the hotel. By 4:00, Matt was on the phone with the Rescue Squad to start a search for Bethany, Tanner and his clients. There was only an hour or so of daylight left but the helicopter took off, headed north from the hotel towards the point where Matt and Linda had left Tanner and the rest.

The searchers didn’t find anyone that evening, but after dark they made plans to widen the search area. The weather still remained clear and cold, the temperature falling to fifteen below zero. The Lawry’s spent a sleepless night. Matt reassured Linda that Bethany had her gear and the knowledge to use it effectively to survive. It did little to ease their worries. What if Bethany were injured? Or one of the clients? Dawn seemed never to arrive.

Throughout the day the Rescue Squad gave the Lawry’s updates on their progress up the mountain. Finally, at 2:00 p.m. the helicopter pilot reported finding four people on the south-west quadrant of the mountain. They seemed to be in bad shape, with only two of them on their feet. An hour and a half later, the ambulances brought them into the hospital, where Matt and Linda were waiting to meet them.

Mr. Layne was the first off the chopper, rolling past on his gurney. Mr. Burgess walked beside his wife as she was rolled into the Emergency Room. Tanner came last, followed closely by Sheriff Dean, who escorted Tanner into an examination room. The Lawry’s pushed their way in after him.

Linda was almost beyond words. “Where are my daughter and Mrs. Benson?”

“I don’t know, man.” Tanner seemed to be unaffected by the entire ordeal.

“You don’t know! They were your responsibility! When did they get separated from you?” she nearly shouted at Tanner.

“Look man, it was your own fault, bringing the old biddy and a kid that couldn’t keep up. It’s not my fault.” Linda’s jaw dropped, she couldn’t believe he was so callous. She swung her hand and slapped Tanner on the face, then clenched her fist and hit him in the gut so hard he lost his wind, tripped over his own feet and landed on the floor. Linda ran out of the room in tears.

Matt watched as Tanner sucked in air. When he had recovered, Matt extended a hand to help Tanner to his feet. Then he delivered a quick combination that broke Tanner’s nose and put him back on the tile floor. “You’re fired,” was all he had to say to Tanner before he followed his wife.

The Sheriff just looked at Tanner. “Did you see. . .?” Tanner stammered.

“Looks like you need to be more careful out on that mountain, fella. Looks like you fell down a rockslide,” and the Sheriff left the room as well.

The second night was much the same as the first, clear and cold, with the temperature down to fifteen below again. At the planning meeting that night Matt suggested beginning the search at the point where he and the Wilsons had left the main group and go toward the location they had found the clients from there. He believed that Bethany would have noticed that Tanner was leading the group in the wrong direction and would have stopped soon afterward. Sheriff Dean doubted Bethany would have had that much presence of mind but agreed, mostly to humor Matt.

Bethany was getting frustrated. Tanner was going much too fast, the clients would never be able to keep up that pace. She paused a moment, shrugged off her backpack, took out the map and compass, and checked their heading, then looked at the map. Tanner was definitely going the wrong way. She looked back to where Mrs. Benson was close to catching up. Mr. Layne was totally out of sight ahead of them now.

Bethany shoved the map and compass in a side pocket of the pack and pulled out her whistle. Giving it three blasts, she began to ski as fast as possible after Mr. Layne. It was no good. As she neared the tree line, Bethany tripped on a half buried branch and landed on a jagged stump.

Mrs. Benson could hear the crack when Bethany landed on the stump. Horrified, she imagined the worst and hurried to her. When she reached Bethany she recognized the way Bethany was desperately sucking air. She had seen this many times as a third grade teacher, usually from small boys who had been stomach punched by school-yard bullies. Bethany only had the wind knocked out of her. Mrs. Benson knelt beside her and raised her arms.

“There, there, Sweetie. Just breathe. You’ll be fine soon.” In a few minutes Bethany felt better and pulled out the PIEPS Freeride Beacon and showed it to Mrs. Benson. The screen was cracked and when Bethany shook it both of them heard a bit of metal rattling around inside.

“I landed on this,” Bethany said, “I think it’s broken. And I tore my coat.”

“Why did you go so fast, dear? You could have really hurt yourself. And I won’t be able to go that fast.”

“I was trying to catch up with Tanner and the others. They’re going the wrong way.” Bethany answered.

“What? Are you sure?”

Bethany was nearly ready to cry. “Yes, look, here’s the route map my Dad made. We were supposed to go five miles per hour all day. We’d skied a little over an hour when Mr. Wilson was hurt, five, maybe six miles.” Bethany pointed at the spot on the map. “Now after Mom and Dad left we should have kept going south. After about two or three more miles we should have crossed Gander Creek and gone along with the creek on our right.”

“Well maybe we haven’t gone that far yet?” But Mrs. Benson said it uncertainly. She knew Tanner was going faster than Matt.

Bethany repeated what Mrs. Benson already knew. “No, Tanner’s going much faster than my Dad. And look at this compass. We should be going south and instead we’re headed southwest. On the map it shows the creek turns south right after we cross it. When we started going southwest we missed the creek entirely.”

“Well, we can’t catch up to them skiing. Maybe you should try that whistle again.” Mrs. Benson suggested. Bethany did that, blowing three groups of three whistle blasts. “So, now what?” Mrs. Benson asked.

“Daddy says the best thing to do when you know you’re lost is to stop. He says the closer you are to where you’re supposed to be, the easier it is to find you. Then you need to take stock, to see what you have to work with.”

Mrs. Benson nodded. “Ok, but why don’t we go over by that outcrop and get out of the wind.” When they reached the granite outcrop they found a couple of stones to sit on and opened their packs. Bethany got out her equipment check list.

“Here’s my equipment list. I checked it off just before I left so I know I have everything on it. I’ve drunk about half of one of my canteens though.”

“Alright, Bethany, let’s take a look at what I’ve got. I’ll tell you and you can write it down on the back of your list. Three 1 liter bottles of water (one half empty), the turkey sandwich lunch the hotel fixed for us (two sandwiches, potato salad, Cole slaw, and apple pie), my camera, a hair brush and comb, small mirror, a paperback novel, my knitting, two 6 ounce packs of cashews, a pack of peanut butter crackers, lotion, lip balm, oh, an extra hat and scarf. I think that’s about it though.”

“Nothing in your pockets?”

“No dear, these pants don’t have pockets.” Mrs. Benson sat back. She had camped out often as a young girl with her family down in the Big Thicket in Texas, but that was years ago and never in such cold weather. Fortunately Bethany didn’t seem about to panic anymore and had some gear that could help them a lot. But first they needed to decide what to do and shelter would be high on the list. The wind was strong enough that if they stopped moving around while out in it they soon got cold.

“Well Bethany we seem to have plenty of food for a while. What are these MRE things?”

“Those are Meals Ready to Eat. The army thought them up for soldiers to take into the field with them so they wouldn’t have to go back to camp for meals. They’re packed to last for years and come with a heater to heat them up. You just add a little water. They have snacks, dessert, drink mix, even toilet paper for later. I can only eat half the hot meal at one time and the rest of it lasts me most of the day.”

“So four of them could last about four days with the oatmeal and other snacks you have. I wish now I’d brought more food.”

“That’s OK, Mrs. Benson. I don’t eat much, Daddy says, and we can share.”

“Bethany if we’re going to be out here a while I think you can call me Clara, or Miz Clara if you prefer. So we have food, we can make a fire with the fire starters and melt snow for water. We need shelter and a way to call for help. Will these avalanche beacon things do that? Tanner and the others don’t seem to be coming back to the whistles.”

“No ma’am. The beacons are just for avalanches. They only have a 40 foot range and don’t send a signal until they’re buried in the snow. Their purpose is so your friends or the guides can find you quickly and dig you out if you’re buried in an avalanche. That’s why I and my parents have shovels. Tanner should have had a shovel, but I didn’t see it.”

“So which should we do first, make a shelter or some kind of SOS sign? These little blankets don’t look like they would make much of a tent.”

Bethany giggled a little. “No Miz Clara, those you wrap up in to stay warm. If you’ll help a little, I can show you how to make a snow cave we can stay inside. Mom and Dad and I make them all the time at home. We just play in them, but they stay pretty warm and the little stove I have will help warm it up. You don’t want a big fire in a snow cave.

“I think though we should make SOS signs first. We are supposed to be back at the hotel by 3:00 p.m. and they will probably start searching by four or five. They can’t be out long before it’ll get dark, but if they see our sign they’ll ride in on snowmobiles and we won’t have to spend all night out here.”

“That sounds great Bethany. Where should we put the sign?”

“We can put one on top of this outcrop. Get your yarn out and your extra scarf and hat. Mom wrapped my sandwiches in tinfoil so I’ll use that to help signal too. But first I want to fix this tear in my coat, I can feel the cold coming through the tear.” Bethany opened the two pimento cheese sandwiches her Mom had made to go with the chili and apple for Bethany’s lunch and put them in one of the plastic baggies that held her extra scarf and hat. She put the tinfoil, her multi-tool, scarf and hat in her pocket. Then she and Mrs. Benson pulled together the edges of the rip and used the tape in the first aid kit to repair it.

“Daddy says that when you leave your camp, you should mark your trail, like Hansel and Gretel, so you can find your way back. If we tie one end of your yarn to a tree near the outcrop we can unwind it out behind us. Bring your skis along; we’ll make the sign out of them.”

Bethany and Clara went along the side of the outcrop until they found a spot where they could climb the side and back of it to the peak. Bethany pushed the skis into the snow in an X shape, a sign for ‘help needed’. She took her bright pink scarf and Miz Clara’s purple hat and tied one on each X. Tearing her tinfoil in half, Bethany made a small lump on one end and fanned out the remainder as flat as possible. She tied the improvised signal mirror unto one of the skis as well as the end of their yarn trail.

“Daddy says anything you can use to make your SOS more visible is good.” From the peak of the outcrop they looked around. Nearby was a narrow bare valley, Bethany pointed to the head of it at a high cornice of snow. “That valley looks like an avalanche path. That’s why it doesn’t have any trees, the avalanches knock them down. With my beacon broken I don’t want to go very far into it, but it would be a good place to spell out ‘HELP’ in the snow. We could cut some pine branches to make the letters stand out and put our ski poles there in Xs with our scarf, hat and the rest of this tinfoil.”

“Before we do that, though, I think we should have lunch. It’s already 12:00. Let’s go back to the base and decide what we want to eat.”

Seating themselves on the same stones they had chosen before. Mrs. Benson decided since the chili was still hot they should eat it and the pimento cheese sandwiches first. She used Bethany’s multi-tool knife to slice the apple in half and they enjoyed the sunshine while they ate lunch. Afterward Mrs. Benson insisted they clean out the Thermos and cups they had used with snow.

About a quarter till one they began their ‘HELP’ sign. Mrs. Benson asked if it wouldn’t be a good idea to tie themselves to a tree while they were in the avalanche path. Bethany agreed, so they took turns stamping out the sign while the other cut small pine branches with the multi-tool saw. They worked slowly but by 2:30 they were done making the sign. Then they went back to the outcropping and chose a deep drift to build their snow cave into.

They took turns with this as well, Bethany explaining to Mrs. Benson what was needed whenever she was digging. Slowly the cave took shape, a two foot diameter entrance tunnel sloping up slightly, widening into a two foot deep six foot high space. Behind this there was a five foot long, four foot wide bench, with the roof three feet over that. The bench was three feet high so that all the heat inside wouldn’t leak out through the entrance tunnel. Mrs. Benson worried about the air going bad inside so Bethany took a branch and made a small hole to the outside below the bench level.

They brought their packs inside and Bethany inflated her mattress and put it on the bench. The rest of the bench they covered thickly with more pine needles. They decided it was time for supper which they decided would be the Turkey sandwich lunch which they divided evenly. Afterward Bethany lit her Pocket Rocket stove and they heated snow for water to make a pack of cocoa which they shared. Before the water got too hot Mrs. Benson used some to refill their water bottles.

Before bed they took turns going to a latrine area they had chosen about 100 feet downhill of their outcrop. They took the shovel along, not wanting to leave any traces that would attract predators. Once they settled down and wrapped themselves into the space blankets they were warm enough to sleep comfortably throughout the night.

The next morning they had one of the oatmeal packets for breakfast with a hot cider mix to drink with it. They didn’t do very much during the day, either sitting on the stones by the outcrop or on the bench inside. Mostly they listened for the sounds of rescue, either snowmobiles or a helicopter. Mrs. Benson read and Bethany did some activities in her little book. About 9:30 a.m. they opened an MRE and ate one of the snacks inside. For lunch they prepared the entrée and had the dessert and drink mix included in the kit. After lunch Mrs. Benson whittled out makeshift knitting needles from some of the leftover pine branches and showed Bethany how to knit, which gave both of them the giggles. At mid-afternoon they had some Gorp for a snack and for supper they had the cheese and crackers from the MRE and shared a trail bar and another pack of hot cider.

At bedtime that night Mrs. Benson told stories to Bethany about some of the children she had taught through the years. Bethany was very glad Miz Clara was with her to keep her from being lonely while they waited for rescue. Once again they slept comfortably through the night.

The second morning, Mrs. Benson had just added hot water to the oatmeal and the cocoa packet they were going to have for breakfast when they heard the whoop, whoop, whoop of a helicopter. They looked at each other, smiling. Bethany carefully blew out the stove and Mrs. Benson carefully set down the mug of cocoa and they went down the tunnel and around to the top of the outcrop.

The helicopter had already circled over the ‘HELP’ sign and when they got to the peak they could see the pilot’s grin and wave as they waved their arms overhead. He held up the radio so they could see him speaking into it, then he tossed out a smoke bomb to mark their position before going to make larger circles to wait for the snowmobile teams.

Bethany turned to Miz Clara, “It’ll take them a while to get here on the snowmobiles; can we go finish breakfast?”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Mrs. Benson said and hugged Bethany, “Then we can start packing up to leave.”

Sheriff Jim Dean was quietly celebrating the rescue with his friend, Dr. McCoy at the Elk Head Bar. He lifted his beer for another drink. “I tell you Bones, when Randall Jones radioed in to say he’d found those two, I expected to find icicles. When he said they were alive and mobile you could have knocked me over with a feather. Me and her Dad get there and there they both were, spry as crickets; the girl chattering a mile a minute, dragging her Dad around to show him their snow cave, the pine needle bed, the yarn they used to mark their trails, how they made the SOS signs. Mrs. Benson said it was all because of the girl and her equipment that they were kept safe and secure.”

He took another drink, “That jerk Tanner and the other clients would have done better to stay with Bethany instead of running around exhausting themselves, not building any shelter, no way to make a fire even, getting wet and freezing.”

The doctor nodded, “Yes Jim, it’s a real shame. I think Mrs. Burgess is going to lose toes to frostbite and be lucky that that’s all she loses. Next time maybe they’ll be a little better prepared when they go on a day trip. You can never tell how the day will end.”

25 Posts
That was a nice story, I think this would go really well in a children's short story book and could lead to an interest in survival/camping, which we all know is a good thing. Thanks for the good read.

1,325 Posts
I think you have a career ahead of you.

With your permission, I think I will save it and read it to my great-nephew when he is a little older. It gets very cold very fast here in Washington, and I hear adults tell kids "Daddy's/Mommy's got everything we need." Well, that's great if you can stay together. I've seen kids get very cold and scared in a couple hours; they would be in the creek or over a cliff if left to their own devices just because people don't share with them what to do. I want Vin to know things like "hug a tree" and "tie your orange flag where you can see the sky" as well as how to keep himself warm. Even a kindergartener can carry some food and a jacket, and learn to stay put.

Bethany is age appropriate and she's not superwoman, but she's a smart, gutsy kid who's been carefully taught. Informative and entertaining, both. Great story!

1,628 Posts
That was a nice story, I think this would go really well in a children's short story book and could lead to an interest in survival/camping, which we all know is a good thing. Thanks for the good read.

A wonderful idea to collect some suitable short stories into a children's book on survival technique.

The best tool for survival is the mind and the more kids use it the easier it will be to access it when the time comes. Not much different from "muscle memory" training concepts.
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