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Mountain Critter
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Montani Semper Liberi​

"Mountaineers are always free men"​


(Book Two of Mountain Evasion*)​

Silence filled the shadowy recesses of the granite gulley; the echoes of the blast and of the resulting rockslide having several minutes since reverberated and died out, the dust beginning to settle in the dusky light of that increasingly overcast March evening. The men on the ledge, scrambling to tend to their wounded, had little thought at that moment to spare for their erstwhile prisoner, who had disappeared into the dust and smoke and flying rock as the ledge had fractured and given way before the force of the explosion.

Far below and too faint to be heard over the shouts of the deputies and agents on the ledge, there was a faint stirring on the gulley floor; up against the rock wall a freshly broken flake of granite scraped and slid and flipped over, then another. A sign of life…

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Slowly fighting his way back to consciousness after the blast, Einar, covered with dust, found himself pressed up against the rock face on the blast side of the narrow rocky chute where he had come to rest after his fall, much of the rock having been thrown clear of him to land against the far wall. A number of chunks of fractured rock had come to rest on his lower body, pinning him to the ground, and he worked to free himself, lifting and shoving them one by one, glad that none of the jagged fragments were too heavy for him to move. The gulley was still full of dust, the acrid smell of freshly broken granite hanging heavily in the air, reminding him of times when he had been up high and too close for comfort when lightning struck rock, and Einar knew he had not been out for long. His thinking was muddled and slow from the concussion that had knocked him out, but something screamed at him to move! Get out of here! Shoving at the rocks, he was beset by a sudden wave of nausea, turned his head and vomited, saw that there was blood in the vomit. It took him a minute to realize, to his relief, that the blood was coming from a freely bleeding laceration on his cheek, rather than being an indicator of some type of serious internal injury. Which I may end up having, anyway… Turning his head to look up at the route of his fall, he was sent sprawling onto his back by an overwhelming surge of dizziness. When the rock walls around him had finally stopped spinning to the point that he was again able to make some sense of the world and attempt sitting up, Einar quickly tried to assess the damage, and found that in addition to one side of his face being coated with blood from the wound where a rock had grazed his cheek, his head throbbed sickeningly, and the ribs that had previously been injured were again tender and painful. Gingerly probing the side of his head where the pain seemed to be originating from, he found his hair damp with oozing blood, a lump the size of an egg already forming just above and forward of his left ear. Well. That’s not so good. “Head trauma with loss of consciousness…” Anything else? Unaware of the most immediately serious of his injuries until he deliberately inspected his legs, Einar discovered a deep gash just under his left knee which had already produced quite a pool of blood on the rock beneath him. That’s a lot of blood. Got to stop that. He quickly tore a strip out of the already damaged leg of his orange prison uniform, tore another piece and wadded it up against the wound, then tied a strip tightly around his leg to hopefully provide enough pressure to halt the bleeding. He fumbled with the strip, eventually getting it tied despite the handcuffs he was encumbered with. I can get these off, but not here and now. No time. Bruised, bleeding and beginning to be in serious pain, Einar told himself that at least you’re conscious, you can move, you’re not bleeding to death any more. Go up. They won’t expect you to go up.

But he was feeling awfully weak and dizzy and was pretty sure he was going into shock. The pool of blood beneath his leg, while it had stopped growing, was not insignificant. Yeah, well you can’t exactly lie still and elevate your feet right now Einar, so just get moving…hope you can somehow keep it up long enough…

He didn’t know what was going on up on the ledge, or where the ledge had been--that recipe worked a little better than I thought it would--but could hear the occasional shout, and supposed they must have sustained some injuries. Glancing quickly around--and regretting it the next minute for the stabbing pain and dizziness it set off in his head--Einar decided that there was no obvious way for them to reach him without ropes and technical gear. So I may have a chance, here. In the dimming light he could see a smaller side chute that joined his some twenty yards up. It was a narrow, steep gnarly-looking thing that he expected probably ran out into cliffs not far above his position, but was angled in such a way as to offer him concealment from the men on the ledge, so it looked to be, if not his only chance, at least his best. To continue up the main gulley meant climbing in full view of the ledge, allowing him to be seen, and possibly recaptured or, if he resisted, shot, by anyone above who had remained uninjured. Which, as he figured it, ought at least to include the three Sheriff’s Deputies, because he had been careful to make sure they were some distance behind when the blast went off. Keeping as close as he could to the ledge side of the gulley, hoping to avoid being seen, Einar began dragging himself up towards his escape route. He had not gone far before realizing that, with his heart rate high and his blood pressure low due to the blood loss, he was not going to be able to move very quickly at all. Anxious to be out of the area as soon as possible he tried anyway, but the slightest exertion seemed to produce immediate dizziness and, if he raised his head too quickly, a rapidly spreading blackness that threatened to send him collapsing in a heap on the rocks. Slow and steady, Einar, or pretty soon you’re not gonna be moving at all…

Reaching a point directly across from the side chute, he studied the terrain above him, looking for any sign that people might be watching, but could see nothing. Praying that he would not be seen, he hurried across the big gulley and clambered up into the protective shadows of the narrow one that he hoped would allow him to make his escape. And promptly passed out again. Einar woke up bleeding, the improvised bandage having come loose in the scramble, and did his best to again secure it in place, wadding a fresh strip of cloth from his pants and shoving it under the strip that he had bound around the leg. He wished he could get ahold of some of the yarrow he had used so successfully the previous fall as a coagulant, but it was too early in the season. The snow had just barely begun leaving the ground in open, sunny places at his elevation.

Beginning his climb up the steep chute, glad that its angle did, indeed, conceal him from the ledge, Einar struggled to make progress despite the difficulties posed by the cuffs, wishing he was not effectively reduced to climbing one-handed. Once he put his weight on an unstable rock which promptly came loose, and he had to scramble to put some downward pressure on it with his other foot to keep it from clattering down the gulley and giving away his position. Raising his head after the struggle with the rock, he was overcome by a terrible dizziness, simultaneously losing his sense of direction and his tenuous grip on the steep rock, sliding sideways into a steeper section of the chute that he had been carefully avoiding, falling. Scratching uselessly at the steep rock of the chute with his cuffed hands, he was pretty sure he was headed for a nasty and rather abrupt ending until finally the cuffs snagged on a protruding root, arresting his fall rather painfully but saving him from disaster on the rocks below. Einar was stuck, hanging helplessly by his wrists on the nearly vertical slope, unable to get his feet under him. He tried pressing the soles of his boots against the wall, hoping the friction would give him enough leverage that he might be able to free his hands. Below him by no more than eight feet and a little to the right was a small rock bench, and he thought that he could possibly roll to the right and land on it, once free of the root. But he couldn’t seem to free himself, couldn’t break the root even when he tried, and soon it would be too dark to see what he was doing, risking a serious fall when he did get loose. Every time he struggled he could feel a fresh warm trickle of blood running down his leg and knew that the bandage must have long ago soaked through. Swinging himself to the left, Einar tried bracing his foot against the granite slab that met the one he was trapped on, forming a dihedral, wanting to wedge the toe of his boot into the crack where the two met, but he could not get close enough to do it, and was rapidly losing the light as the clouds lowered and a wet spring snow began to fall. It was beginning to look like he might be spending the night. Not a good idea… He knew he was staying warm only because of his ongoing efforts to free himself, that he would quickly become hypothermic when that struggle was inevitably cut short at some point by his growing exhaustion. Then you die, Einar. He knew that his blood loss combined with the cold could very quickly turn lethal as temperatures fell for the night, especially if he should happen to be hanging there by his arms all night with no way to curl up for warmth or slow the bleeding from his leg. And if you do somehow make it through the night, they’ll find you right here in the morning when they send searchers up this chute.

There was a narrow ledge above him, composed of little more than an inch of granite, that he could just hook his heel on if he tried very hard, but, with his boot up higher than his head, could not use it to lift himself at all. That ledge, though, seemed to be the key to his escape. All he needed were a few more inches, and he would be able to raise himself far enough to get some weight off of his arms, work the cuffs off of the root, and hopefully be able to grab the root with his hands and lower himself to the larger ledge beneath him. He knew the more likely scenario involved falling as soon as he freed the cuffs, having neither the strength nor the speed to grab the root in time. Even that, though, was looking better than staying where he was.

After trying unsuccessfully several more times to raise himself using his boot soles on the smooth wall, Einar remembered an ice climbing move--intended to help out when you have a solid handhold but nothing to do with your feet-- that he had used a few times in the past. I could still do this pretty easily two years ago, but now…we’ll see. Spreading his elbows as far apart as he could and leaning back out away from the rock face, he brought his right foot up between his arms, hooking his leg over his arm so that the thigh rested near his wrist. This allowed him to lift himself enough to get some leverage with his left foot on the little lip of granite, raising himself and at the same time sliding the cuffs up and off of the root. He didn’t even have time to think before falling, let alone make a deliberate effort to control his landing, and lay half a second later on the rock shelf, slowly untangling himself, grateful that he had not instead fallen all the way down. His hands had lost all feeling as he hung there, the cuffs cutting into his wrists. He tore more strips from the leg of his prison jumpsuit and dressed the wounds the best he could, replacing the blood-soaked cloth on his leg before resting on the shelf for a minute, catching his breath and waiting for a bit of feeling to begin returning to his hands. In the last of the evening’s light and with the snow now coming down in earnest, Einar worked his way over to a less steep portion of the chute and resumed his climb.

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*Book One of this story can be found:
http://www.survivalistboards.com/showthread.php?t=25500
 

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cute is not always enough
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2,232 Posts
yay! I finished book one a couple days ago. I was a little disappointed with where the story seemed to go right at the end. good to read more and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the story!

Edit... I took out the spoilers.
 

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Mountain Critter
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Discussion Starter #4
Slowly making his way up the increasingly steep and slippery chute in the dark that night, Einar knew that he needed to find a way out of it before he fell again. The wet snow was making footing very tricky, and it had so far showed no sign of letting up. Which was, as he saw it, one of the few things he did have going for him, along with the fact that the Sheriff had given him back his snow boots, as it meant there would be no helicopters as long as it went on. He hoped to be out of the area of the likely search by the time the snow moved out. So far though, the walls of the chute had consisted of steep rock and, while the route he was following was steepening as well, it still seemed more sensible than attempting one of the walls. As he continued to gain elevation, Einar began to be aware of a diffused glow coming from somewhere far below on the ridge, and realized that they must be down there searching the gulley. The snow muffled any sounds the searchers might be making, and, as he inevitably knocked loose the occasional rock in the near darkness, Einar hoped it was doing the same thing for him. The glow of the lights, diffused and reflected by the snow, was making it a bit easier to pick his route, which was a good thing, as the angle and slickness of the chute were such that each step required quite a bit of deliberation and care. Reliable handholds were becoming scarcer also, his unprotected hands numbing in the snow as his pace slowed. Einar kept stopping to warm his hands against his stomach, but after a couple of close calls, he began to seriously consider finding a secure spot and waiting for daylight. Which he knew meant risking discovery with the coming of morning, especially if the snow ended.

Crouching behind a boulder, relieved at the temporary break from the constant possibility of falling, Einar rested and worked at convincing himself to continue, to go for it, that finishing the climb and finding a way out of the chute was just something he had to do. That used to be enough. Just knowing I have to do something has always been enough. His head was hurting terribly though, he was beyond exhausted, could hardly keep his eyes open. And the thought of the steep, slippery snaking chasm of rock and snow that lay above--and below-- him scared him like nothing in his recent memory had, though he knew he had many times been through worse without giving it a second thought. Come on. Move it. You know you’re just thinking this way because of the injuries. You lost a bunch of blood. Hit your head pretty good. But stop here, and they’ll have you as soon as the snow ends, if you last that long… The pain and the dull, confused feeling it brought to his head were making it hard to think, though, sapping his confidence and causing him to seriously doubt every decision he made, and he wanted in the worst way to wait in that little place of refuge until the confusion subsided and he felt like himself again. Yeah, how long’s that going to be? An hour? Couple of days? What are you afraid of, anyway? Falling? Dying? Why? Gonna die anyway, if you stay here. And he couldn’t answer, but that didn’t make the obstacle any less real.

Huddled behind the snow covered boulder in his prison jumpsuit and the grey sweatshirt the Sheriff had talked the agents into allowing him for warmth on the hike that day, Einar warmed his hands and waited for…he wasn’t even sure what. Finally, though, he just got too cold to keep still, and was forced to again begin moving up the chute. In the dim glow from below, he could make out a dark crack in the far wall of the chute, and, hoping it might offer a way out, his goal became reaching that crack. Easier said than done. As he attempted to cross the smooth, snow covered rock of the chute, heading for the other side where there were some small stunted trees and larger rocks he could use as handholds, Einar’s feet kept slipping and threatening to go out from under him, until he could hardly bring himself to try the next step. An idea came to him, a way to secure his hold on the rock as he searched for the next foot placement. Not far above him on the steep slope was a three foot spruce, growing out of a crack in the rock. Carefully balancing himself, he tugged on it to see that it was firmly anchored in the rock, then hooked his cuffed hands around behind it. This gave him the confidence to go ahead and move from his secure footing and seek new footholds. The difficult part was freeing his hands once he had repositioned his feet, but he managed it, and after that, went on with the climb, using the technique often as a backup and eventually as a way to haul himself up nearly featureless sections of the rock, using small trees, roots, even rock features to anchor himself as he climbed. His hands had for some time been too numb to feel, but a warm trickle of blood down his arm alerted him to the fact that this climbing method was taking quite a toll on his wrists. The next time he passed a spruce, he stopped and took some time to shake off the wet snow and search along its branches, glad when he found several hanging clumps of witch’s hair lichen. Working the soft, stringy lichen in between his injured wrists and the metal of the cuffs, he went on, satisfied that he had done all he could to stem the bleeding and prevent further injury. A unique bit of climbing gear I’ve discovered here, but it really could use some modification…

The shadowy crack Einar had observed from below did not turn out to be something he could use to climb out of the chute, but somehow the discovery did not prove nearly as discouraging as he had thought it might. Keep going. This is working. The haze seemed to have lifted some from his mind with the renewed activity, and though a good bit of pain and weakness still remained, he managed to make progress up the chute until finally it widened and he was able to climb up a bank of loose rock into the timber above. Collapsing beneath a fir just inside the forest, he lay on his back for quite a while before his breathing slowed and normalized some, rolling over and sitting up to check the improvised bandage on his leg. The strip of cloth was gone, but inspecting the wound in the glow from the gulley, he saw that, though the jagged edges still gaped open, it barely oozed blood. Probably the cold…hope so, because otherwise I must either be awfully dehydrated, or I lost a lot more blood than I was aware of…either of which is possible, I guess. Pulling some more lichen from a nearby branch, he used his teeth to tear another strip of cloth from the pants--got to do something about all this orange--binding the lichen to the wound against the time that it again began bleeding. After resting for a while and melting a few globs of wet snow in his mouth, Einar hauled himself back to his feet and continued into the timber, wanting to put more distance behind him and make tracks while the snow was still falling to conceal them, and too cold to reasonably sit still, anyway.

Stumbling out onto a snow covered rockslide, the burnt-out, split trunk of what must have once been an enormous tree loomed up at him against the fresh snow. He leaned against the twisted, hollow trunk, catching his breath. Looks like you had a long, hard life up here before that lightening finally did you in, he addressed the tree. And now you’re gonna help me, some. Climbing up into the hollow of the burnt trunk, he rubbed charcoal all over the his jumpsuit, which was already pretty dingy from the climb and well on its way to not being orange anymore. The grey sweatshirt had two pockets, and breaking off some chunks of burnt wood, Einar filled his pockets with them, knowing that he was once again almost entirely without supplies, and thinking of the many potential uses of the charcoal. This’ll come in handy as camouflage for my face and hands when I’m hunting this summer, I can grind it up and mix it with spruce pitch to make a sturdier glue for making arrows, tools, all kinds of things, I can write with it (on what? And why?) and if I get enough, might even be able to use it to make a rough water filter. He knew that it had just been luck, or Providence, that he had so far avoided waterborne illnesses after all the times he had found himself with no choice but to drink water in whatever condition he discovered it, especially last fall before he had a fire. Giardia is mighty uncomfortable at the best of times, but right now, it would probably finish me off. Not that my charcoal filter would eliminate Giardia, anyway… But he knew that the charcoal would remove arsenic, mercury and a number of other contaminants from water, and such a filter might be a good idea if he found himself getting his water from a seep near a mine tailings pile again, especially of he planned on using the source for more than a few days. Oh, and I could use some of the charcoal as medicine if I eat some bad food and need to absorb it and get it out of my system…ha! That’s not too likely, though…haven’t seen a thing to eat since I started this climb… Dragging himself out of the burnt tree trunk, Einar hurried back into the timber and continued on his way, knowing that, all joking aside, he’d better start thinking very seriously about obtaining some food in the near future, if he wanted to be able to keep going.
 

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Mountain Critter
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Discussion Starter #6
As the night went on, the snow moved out, the sky cleared and the temperature plummeted, creating a hard crust on the wet new snow that made traveling much easier for Einar. He barely left tracks at all as he hurried along the ridge under the sharply brilliant stars, keeping up an exhausting pace in an attempt to stay warm, tremendously glad that none of his injuries this time had left him unable to walk. Despite the difficulty he was having with the cold--he was seriously worried about his hands after the long climb in the snow, and with the constriction caused by the cuffs--he was very glad to have the crust to travel on. He knew that there are times in the spring when the daytime temperatures cause the surface of the snow to begin melting in the sunlight, only to be turned firm and hard as cement again over night. At those times you can travel in the morning, skipping across the surface and barely leaving a sign of your passage, while anyone who may be pursuing you, if they are several hours behind, will find themselves floundering up to their hips in rotten spring snow, as the crust again softens and gives way. A great tactic for outdistancing a pursuit, though one Einar hoped not to have to use that spring. Really hope they lost my trail back there in the gulley…

Though travel on the firm crust was relatively easy, dizziness continually plagued him, and he found that the only way to avoid periodically succumbing to it and falling in the snow was to keep his head as still as possible as he walked, looking straight ahead and avoiding looking up or down or especially to one side or the other, which he quickly learned would earn him a certain fall. He hoped this malady was not to be permanent, imagining himself trying to gather firewood or check snares or any of the numerous other things he would have to do to stay alive, without being able to turn his head. Wouldn’t be easy.

Occasionally as he walked Einar was overcome, seemingly out of nowhere, by a sudden and pressing sense of hopelessness and blackness, that in the instant it hit him threatened to swallow him up and made it difficult to take the next step, let alone contemplate the next day or week of his life. The cold and the imminent threat of freezing if he stopped in his wet clothes kept him moving through it, though, and after awhile the feeling diminished and the world again appeared its normal self--cold, wet, somewhat hostile, but something that he knew he could deal with. After the second such incident he had to get rather stern with himself, telling himself that it’s not real, it’s just the injury, keep moving and don’t make any decisions when you feel like that… But it was real to him, scared him, left him feeling completely vulnerable, stripped of the persistence and determination that he knew he needed to keep him going.

By the time the stars began paling against the increasing grey of the morning sky, Einar had covered quite a distance form the scene of the blast, following the tree covered ridge far back into the wilderness area, descending once and climbing an adjoining ridge when his own threatened to take him too far above treeline into a snow-choked basin where there would have been no cover from the inevitable air search. Stumbling along cold and exhausted that morning, leaning heavily on a spruce stick to remain upright, he wondered why there had as of yet been no sign of an air search. Are they waiting to see if there is a body? The sun was about to rise; a glow that had begun as a cold but promising green, highlighting the stark forms of the stunted, wind-twisted little sub alpine firs had grown on the distant horizon, white, yellow, then the brilliant orange of coming day, and Einar allowed himself a moment to sit on a bit of exposed rock at the edge of a boulder field and watch the transformation, blinking into the sunlight in near disbelief after an incredibly long night. He had not meant to sit for long, but before he knew it minutes and then an hour had passed, the sun climbing higher in its path and finally beginning to provide him with the tiniest hint of warmth. Einar, dozing with his elbows on his knees and his forehead pressed against his hiking stick, was jolted back to wakefulness by the screech of a surprised pika, discovering his presence as it emerged from its rock den to bask in the morning sun. He shook his head, staring at the small round rabbitlike creature as it criticized him from a nearby boulder. “What? Can’t you share one of your snow-free boulders and a little sunlight with me, little one…you probably have a den full of food and a warm, dry bed back there in those rocks. This is all I got this morning. I need it.” Need you for food, for that matter… he thought to himself as he sat shivering in the weak sunlight, wondering how he might be able to trap the little creature which, while sometimes mistaken for a rodent, was actually part of the rabbit family. A deadfall would work, but how am I going to make a trigger, without a knife or even that sharp piece of quartz I had before? He knew he needed iron rich foods--pika meat would be a good start--if he was to begin recovering from his blood loss and regaining some strength. Looking around, he saw that a number of the surrounding boulders had sharp, fractured edges that he might be able to use to rub and scrape the necessary notches into a few sticks, but all of the ones that stuck up out of the snow were way too big to pick up. OK. So I bring the sticks to them.

He found a dead fir, broke off a few of the smaller branches, kept breaking them until they were the right lengths to form the three parts of a figure four trap trigger, and carried them over to one of the exposed edges of jagged rock. It took him quite a while to create something he was satisfied with, struggling with his numb, battered hands as well as the inadequately sharp edge provided by the broken granite boulder. Tentatively setting up the trigger without putting much weight on it, he was pleasantly surprised to see that it would probably work. OK. Bait? Pikas, he knew, did not hibernate, rather retreating to their dens in the rock to live off of grass, flowers and other vegetation that they had carefully cut, dried and stored throughout the summer. So this little guy is probably hungry for a taste of something fresh and green, after a winter of hay… Searching among the snow covered rocks for any sign of plant life, he found a few tiny alpine sorrel leaves, just beginning to emerge from the rocky soil on the sunny side of a granite boulder. Ought to like these. Come to think of it, I’d probably like them, too. He chewed a couple of the succulent leaves, refreshing and tangy with oxalic acid. He knew that, while the sorrel could make for a nice snack, you shouldn’t eat too much of it raw, as the oxalic acid could eventually be rough on your kidneys. No chance of that, right now. These few leaves are all I see. Carefully setting up the trap on a nearly flat topped rock not too far from the place where he’d seen the pike, Einar eased a flat slab of rock down onto it, disappointed when his clumsiness caused him to set it off, starting over several times before finally succeeding.

Carefully backing away from the deadfall, Einar retreated into the trees to wait, hoping his presence and activity had not scared the creature away from the area for the day. He doubted it. Pikas are pretty precocious little beings. Several times as he had traveled the high country that winter he had seen pikas emerge sleek and fat and content from the rocky fastness of their winter shelters to lounge on boulders, sunning themselves and picking at the orange and green lichen that grew on the granite. Once or twice he had seen their dens, had even broken one open once in search of food, but it had not really contained anything he could eat, and he felt bad about disturbing the little creature’s winter store. Along with the assortment of dried grasses, bistort flowers and clovers in the little shelter, he had seen the skulls of several birds, neat little holes chewed in the backs of them where the bone was the thinnest, and he supposed the pika had stored birds it found dead throughout the year, eating the brains for fat during the winter. Smart critters. Come frost next fall, I’m gonna be sitting on top of a heap of good food in a nice safe hole somewhere like those guys do, warm and dry and ready and not needing to run and starve all winter like I did this year. One season of that was quite enough… It was a nice dream, anyway, and helped warm him just a bit as he sat there wet and freezing, waiting and hoping for his lone deadfall to produce a pika so he could eat.

He waited there for several hours, creeping out into the sun and curling up on a dry rock when the cold got the better of him, but seeing no more of the pika and beginning to think that he would have to move on, return to check the trap at some later time. The wind that swept up from the valley that early afternoon was a bit softer than it had been of late, and brought with it the faint smell of the awakening forest. Spring was coming. Had already come to the valleys. Einar, taking measure of his situation with an objectivity and detachment that perhaps ought to have alarmed him, knew that if he could make it through the initial search and avoid succumbing to the immediate effects of his injuries, and if there was not something more serious going on internally as a result of the fall that he was not yet aware of, he would probably live. As the snow receded, avalanche lilies and spring beauty, both of which had edible, starchy bulbs, would be up, and the rabbits and other small animals would soon become more plentiful, as well. If… He pulled himself upright, stuck a little glob of wet snow in his mouth and let the icy water trickle down his parched throat. Time to move.
 

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Mountain Critter
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Discussion Starter #7
Continuing along the ridge under the trees, Einar knew he must find some shelter before the sun went down and he again lost the meager warmth that the day had brought. He knew that he would probably be unable, without food or at least more rest, to manage another night of constant activity, knew the smartest--and certainly the most comfortable--thing would probably be to find a sunny spot and sleep for a few hours so he would be ready to keep active during the freezing night hours. But, weighing this need against the desire to put more distance between himself and a probable search, he decided to keep moving for awhile. At least it looked like his clothes were going to be mostly dry before darkness, and the cold, returned.

As he traversed the ridge, weaving his way in and out of stands of spruce and fir, Einar stopped now and then to harvest the stringy clumps of lichen that hung like hair form some of their branches. While the lichen was a common sight in certain areas of these mountains, there had been very little of it near his previous shelters, and he was glad to now find himself in an area where the it was apparently pretty abundant. Collecting the wispy green clumps and stuffing them in between his jumpsuit and sweatshirt for insulation, he ran through their many possible uses in his mind. Already he had used them successfully to slow the bleeding from his injured wrists and leg, and he knew that the usnic acid they contain is strongly antibacterial, effective against staphylococcus, streptococcus, and pneumococcus, as well as being antiviral, and would help prevent infection in his wounds. Wish I’d had a bunch of this stuff back when I was having to use that improvised snow boot. Just might have kept me from getting frostbitten toes. And I know some of the Indians ate hair lichen, too, but I’m pretty sure they always boiled or steamed it for quite a while first to neutralize the acid. Seem to remember hearing that some of them would add ashes from the fire to the boiling water, since they’re so alkaline and would get rid of the acid quicker than water alone. But he knew that it would probably be a few days, at best, before he was boiling anything, maybe a good bit longer if there were signs of an active search that made a fire too risky. And in the meantime, terribly hungry after his climb and the miles traveled over the previous night, he stuffed a wad of the dry lichen in his mouth, added a little clump of snow, and chewed. For quite some time. The stuff was tough, stringy and very bitter, but once he’d got it down, Einar reached for more and repeated the process over and over, keeping at it because the bulky lichen made his stomach feel less empty and, he hoped, might yield enough nutrition to keep him going for awhile. It wasn’t long though before he was doubled over with stomach cramps and then nausea, and he began to think that there was probably a very good reason the Indians had boiled the vile stuff before using it for food. Despite the nausea, he was able to keep his meal down, and was soon up and moving again despite the continued cramping, collecting more of the lichen as he went.

Needing shelter and a place to wait out the air search he still expected to see, Einar really wanted to go either to the rocky cavern behind the waterfall where he’d spent the latter part of the winter, or to the mine tunnel he had discovered on the way to Liz’s, but for the moment chose to stay far away from the mine tunnel, because it was not that far from the area of the blast. Looking up at the surrounding peaks to get his bearings, he set off in the late afternoon sunlight, intending to use what was left of the day to make as much progress as he could towards the cavern. If he could reach it, and if searchers had not somehow discovered it first, he would be able to retrieve his sleeping bag and rabbitskin blanket at least, which would prove very helpful, as he still had several long cold months ahead of him before summer really came to the mountains. He’d be lucky if all the snow was gone by late June, the way things were looking. As he walked, he thought of all the things he’d packed up and taken with him--and subsequently lost when he was arrested and unable to return to his cached backpack--that fateful morning he had set out for the ranch house--his tin can cooking pot and stove, extra clothes, socks, snare wire, knife, fishing kit--almost everything he owned, actually. Wish I had a way to get some of that stuff back. Getting kinda tired of having to start all over again so many times…Oh well. Comes with the territory, I guess. At least he would have a way to keep warm at night, once he retrieved the sleeping bad and blanket. A huge improvement over his present situation.

Reaching a ridge opposite his old shelter near dusk, Einar, very tired and anxious for the warmth of the bag and blanket, considered heading straight down and across the gulley without delay. He made himself wait, though, sitting under a tree and watching the area for some time before satisfying himself that nothing was amiss, that no one was down there waiting for him behind the waterfall.

Struggling down the steep slope into the gulley and back up to the little opening in the rock behind the waterfall, whose ice was beginning to rot and flow again with water from the melting snow, Einar ducked behind the fall, doing his best to stay dry as he entered the cavern in the rock behind it. The rock, which had been icy all winter, was now in places damp and slick with mud, and he moved very carefully to avoid falling and sliding out under the falling water. Reaching the area where he had spent much of the winter, he poked around with his boot, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dim light. His foot bumped against something lightweight and rounded, which went rolling away in the darkness. Searching for it, he found one of the empty Nutella jars he had carefully cleaned and saved after eating its contents that winter, planning to use it to carry water on his trapline next summer. Some sharp-toothed animal had apparently picked the jar up in its jaws, squeezing it and causing the lid to come off. He could feel the jagged places where its teeth had pierced the plastic. Won’t be using this one to carry water… The jar brought back thoughts of food, reminded him how hungry he was, and he tried unsuccessfully to get his mind on something else. No use. Visions of full jars of Nutella, Liz’s chicken casserole, and big bowls full of steaming split pea soup flashed through his head unbidden and quite unwelcome. Quit it! He told himself. You can eat later. What you need now more than anything is a good warm night’s sleep. Which, despite his cramping stomach, he knew was the truth. He was too tired to think, to stand up straight, and he believed that, unlike a hot meal, a night’s sleep was at least within reach. Right there in the back of the cavern. Though the shelter was damp and humid with mist from the awakening waterfall, he was hopeful that his bedding, stashed far back in a rock crevice, would be dry. Better go find it before it gets totally dark in here.


Finding his way to the sheltered crevice where he had stashed his bedding, Einar felt around until his hands came in contact with something soft, grabbing it and dragging it out into the weak daylight, not wanting to believe what his senses were telling him. The sleeping bag was in tatters, shredded and torn apart by some animal, its down filling scattered and trampled all over the damp ground, and the rabbitskin blanket seemed to have fared even worse, some of the rabbit hides partially eaten by whatever hungry creature had raided his shelter. After staring at the wreckage in disbelief for a minute, shaking his head and laughing the broken, humorless laugh of a man who has reached the end of his rope one too many times and doesn’t really care anymore what comes next, Einar told himself in no uncertain terms to snap out if it! Get moving! Night’s coming and you got work to do. He forced himself up, returned to the crevice, dropping to his knees and starting to gather the fragments of fur and canvas, working fast to counter the scared, sinking feeling in the pit of his empty stomach. He had really been counting on that warm night’s sleep.
 

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Mountain Critter
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Discussion Starter #9
That night Einar crouched on the tattered canvas remains of his sleeping bag, his head and shoulders covered as well as he could manage with the remaining rabbit skins, and choked down some more of the lichen, attempting to quiet the painful rumblings in his stomach. Before entirely losing the light, he had explored the corners and crevices of the little cavern, finding in one sheltered area a scattered pile of bones, rabbit, mostly, it looked like, and one distinct furry track preserved in the mud that he was pretty sure was lynx. He picked up the cracked bones one by one, hoping to find one that the cat had overlooked and obtain a bite or two of marrow, but the creature had been hungry, too, and quite thorough. Nothing. Got to have something soon. Some meat, hopefully. He knew he was badly anemic from the blood loss, that things would not really improve for him until he found a way to reverse that. Well. Tomorrow…

As the night went on and the dripping waterfall froze up, Einar dozed off and on, waking when the cold became unbearable to stand and stomp his feet and beat his elbows against his sides in an attempt to generate a little heat, angry that the handcuffs kept him from swinging his arms back and forth across his body to aid in the process. Tomorrow these must come off… After a couple hours of this, all he wanted was to get away from that damp, humid place, convinced that while the cavern had made a fine winter shelter, it was no good now that the water had begun to flow. During one of his wakeful times early in the night he heard, muffled by the surrounding rock, the rumbling of a helicopter as it passed low over the ridge. He expected that it was probably connected to the search; by the time it made a third pass, he was certain. So. They must have decided there is no body back there in the gulley. Guess I’m stuck here for the night, at least.

Too cold to immediately sit back down and try to sleep, Einar limped over to the opening in the rock and looked out. The night was bitterly cold, the harsh white landscape illuminated by a waning half moon, and as he looked out across the gulley, Einar thought he saw movement. Straining his eyes in the dim light and focusing off to one side, he could pick out a shadowy form making its way up over the snow of the gulley. Before long the creature emerged from the shadows, showing clearly in the moonlight. The lynx! His first thought was that the creature seemed to be headed his way, and that it was a potential source of food. He shook his head. Do you really think it’s a good idea for a half dead guy in handcuffs to choose to wrestle a full-grown lynx, Einar? No…but I’m gonna be all the way dead here before too long if something doesn’t change. Got to go for it. He considered waiting with a large rock and attempting to hit the creature in the head with it, but knew that in the feeble light cast by the moon and with his cuffed, clumsy hands, such an attempt was almost certain to fail. And there would be no second chance. Got to get my hands on it… Positioning himself in the shadows to one side of the opening in the rock, he clenched his chattering teeth and fought to control his shivering breath as he waiting for the animal’s approach, knowing that lynx have an incredibly sensitive sense of hearing. As the lynx began the final climb up to the cavern, Einar could see that it carried an animal in its jaws--something brown and weasel-like, but not an ermine, because they were still white for the winter. The cat was large, probably a male, and to Einar’s dismay he realized that it probably weighed upwards of thirty pounds. Seeing what he was up against almost made him reconsider, but knew he must have food, and more protection from the cold, if he was to survive these freezing nights. Here, kitty…

The lynx paused just outside the opening, cautious of the human smell in the cavern but having grown somewhat accustomed to it in the days after Einar left, as it had sheltered there and eaten his rabbitskin blanket. As the animal passed through the crevice, Einar threw himself at it, grabbing for its head in the hopes of being able to quickly snap its neck, but missing, ending up with two handfulls of fur and thirty pounds of writhing, scratching furious lynx beneath him. He quickly got a good grip on the fur on either side of the cat’s face, and held on for all he was worth as it wormed its way out from beneath him and began slashing at his arms with its claws. Einar knew he must get the cat back under him, that his only chance of ending the struggle successfully was to press it into the ground and somehow cut off its breathing. The two of them rolled over and over on the half frozen mud of the cavern floor, Einar wishing his hands were free so he could grab at least one of its front feet and control the claws. The cat kicked viciously at him with its hind legs, gouging a deep row of bloody trenches down one thigh and almost causing Einar to lose his grip before, with one tremendous effort, he flipped over and pinned the animal to the rock, bearing down with the handcuff chain until finally it stopped struggling. Einar collapsed on the muddy rock beside the dead cat, panting for breath and pressing his damaged leg to slow the bleeding.

He found a sharp granite flake and with great difficulty cut through the fur and skin of the lynx’s throat, catching some of the resulting blood in the empty Nutella jar, which, while it had holes near the top of it, was better than nothing. Exhausted and knowing he badly needed the iron, Einar sipped from the jar, leaving the remainder in the container to freeze for the next day.

Einar was bleeding from numerous deep scratches on his forearms and torso, and dragging himself out into the moonlight so he could see what he was doing, he took a minute to press clumps of lichen to the worst of the scratches, binding them with strips of canvas from the ruined sleeping bag. Totally spent, he crawled back to the pile of shredded canvas, pulled the still-warm body of the lynx over himself, buried his fingers in the fur of the cat’s stomach, and slept.

A helicopter woke Einar that morning well after dawn, and he lay blinking in the glare of the sunlight that streamed in through the opening in the rock. Bone cold and shivering, he tried to rise, realizing then that he was terribly stiff from the cat scratches, angry red welts with white centers running along his arms, chest and one leg, so swollen that he could hardly bend his left arm. He was glad, then, for the cold of the night, knowing that without it the reaction would likely have been much worse. Dragging himself into the patch of sunlight, he changed the blood soaked lichen on the worst of the wounds, wishing he had something to disinfect them with, looking out at the snowy world outside the cavern and working to get his hands flexible enough to begin gutting and skinning the lynx. Now for breakfast. Going to be interesting, trying to skin this critter with a granite flake…

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As Einar set about searching the cavern for the flake of granite that would best allow him to begin the job of gutting and skinning the lynx, he wondered whether perhaps this cat might be one of the same ones that had torn up so much of his bear meat back at the ledge the previous fall. He wasn’t sure exactly what their range was, but thought it possible. Well, either way, you’re my breakfast, now. He had eaten lynx a few times in the past and liked it, though not recently, at least not that he would admit in public, since the lynx had been granted protected status. Ha! Think the Division of Wildlife is probably the least of my worries at the moment, though…
He had discovered in the daylight that the lynx’s prey had been a pine marten, which, while it wasn’t a species that would have been his first choice as a food, was a welcome bonus at this point, as anything edible would have been. And he was delighted to have the sleek, glossy dark brown pelt, which would go a long way towards keeping him warm. He was already picturing a hat, a Russian style hat with big warm ear flaps, because he was pretty sure he had a little frostbite on his ears after the previous night. Hmm. Now that’s pretty ambitious, Einar. But I’ll find some way to attach it to my head, anyway.

He began working to gut the animal, using the granite flake, pounding it with another rock to make progress, again wishing he was rid of the cuffs so he could use his hands normally. Frustrated at his slow progress in making the necessary cut along the cat’s underside, he paused, studying the cuffs and searching around the cavern for anything he might use to pick them. OK. What’ve I got here? Sticks…I know they’d just break before doing me any good. Bone splinters? I could try that. He made his way stiffly back to the pile of chewed and split rabbit bones, sorting through them until he had found several longish splinters of different shapes and sizes, returning to sit in the sunlight and attempt to free himself. Rubbing and scraping the tip of one splinter on a piece of granite to reshape it, he was hopeful that the tool would allow him to make some progress. It broke, though, the first time he tried it, his clumsy hands preventing him from using the precision and care necessary to the task.

Einar knew that at least part of his clumsiness and the cloudiness that continued to plague his mind was due to hunger, so, putting aside the cuff removal project for the time, he returned to the cat, finishing the cut and gutting it, enjoying a breakfast of half frozen but iron and calorie-rich lynx liver. Finished eating, feeling stronger and less shaky, he again concentrated on the cuffs, knowing that he had to get them off, had to have full use of his hands if he wanted to last very long. Can’t picture how I’d ever manage a bow and drill fire with these things on…maybe a hand drill? Might work. Might just have to try that. Because so far his efforts to unlock the cuffs had been entirely unsuccessful. Frustrated, he raised his hands over his head, slamming them down on either side of a sharply fractured, angular chunk of rock in an attempt to break the stout little chain that linked the cuffs. No luck, just a fresh trickle of blood from his battered wrists. He groaned, tucked in some fresh lichen to help control the bleeding. If I just had an extra set of hands…one extra hand, even, I could bash that chain with a rock until something came apart… He went back to trying the little bone shims, shaping a new one and painstaking manipulating it in an attempt to unlock the cuffs, stopping only when his hands finally cramped up to the point that he could no longer grasp the tools. Alright. Take a break. Back to the cat. The lynx, being half frozen, proved difficult to skin, as he had expected, but things began going much better after he had the idea to use the lid of one of the damaged Nutella jars as a skinning tool, breaking it with a rock in the hopes of obtaining a sharp edge. The white plastic fractured easily in the cold, and the resulting tool, after he had ground it a bit against a rock, proved very helpful as he carefully separating the furry hide from the animal, working hard to keep it as intact as possible, needing every inch of it for warmth. Finally freeing the hide, he laid it carefully on a dry section of cavern floor, thinking to himself with some measure of satisfaction that apparently there really is, as they say, more than one way to skin a cat …because this sure isn’t the method I’d have chosen, but it kind of worked.

Severing the hind quarters of the cat with a rock, he piled the meat on the hide, adding the head, which he had lacked the tools to successfully skin, to the pile. He knew he would be wanting the eyeballs, and probably even the brain, before many days had passed. He then tied the legs together, creating a bundle that he could sling over his shoulder as he traveled.

He gathered up all of the remnants of his sleeping bag and the fur scraps from the blanket and stuffed them inside his jumpsuit, tearing a long strip from the tan canvas to use as a belt, so the fragments would not fall down his pants as he walked. Searching the cavern in the daylight, he found one undamaged Nutella jar--the animal, whatever it had been, must have given up after finding the first couple empty--that he stuck in one of the sweatshirt pockets for future use. Hey, at least I’ve got a warm vest, now, with all this insulation stuffed in here. Really wanting to be rid of the cuffs before leaving the shelter of the cavern, Einar again concentrated on picking the lock, twice thinking that he almost had it, but finding himself each time unable to complete the task because his hands were shaking. The third time he put all the focus and concentration he could muster into the task, but tried a little too hard and the bone shim jammed and broke off in the lock mechanism. No, no, no! Not good at all! He shook the cuffs, slammed them against a rock in an attempt to dislodge the bone fragment, tried retrieving it with another bone splinter. The thing was really stuck. Well. Einar shook his head, stood, returned to his preparations for leaving the cavern. What else can you do?

Preparing to duck out under the waterfall and be on his way, Einar thought he heard the rumbling of another helicopter, couldn’t be sure because of the noise of the water, waited until it grew louder and he was certain. The chopper, though low, did not circle the area or double back, and he was pretty confident that, though they were actively searching, they had no real idea of his location. Let’s try to keep it that way. Time to move, get further from their starting point.

As Einar walked he harvested and ate more lichen, and it seemed that each time he made a meal of the tough stringy stuff, his reaction to it was a bit less strong, the nausea more manageable. He wasn’t sure that the lichen was actually doing him any good, and not entirely certain either that it was doing him no harm, but the less empty feeling it temporarily gave his stomach was certainly welcome. Seriously concerned about his ability to remove the jammed cuffs without more tools, he knew he had to stretch his food supply as far as he could, knew that obtaining food would continue to be a major challenge as long as he lacked the free use of his hands. Heh! One advantage, though…I guess I really only need one mitten…
 

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Mountain Critter
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Discussion Starter #11
Einar needed shelter, something dry and secluded that would shield him from the air search and allow him to stay put and recover from the blast and his fall. He’d so far barely had the chance to stop and catch his breath, let alone begin heading in the right direction. He hoped also to be able to have a fire in a few days, when things quieted down some. Would be a really good idea to be able to heat some water to clean up all of these dings and dents, maybe throw in some Oregon grape root if I can find some in an area that’s started to melt out. Don’t need to be dealing with an infection right now, on top of everything else. And while he had eaten the lynx liver raw without too much concern, the meat was another matter, because he had heard of people becoming infected with trichinosis from eating raw or undercooked cougar in recent years, both in Canada and the American Northwest, and that was not something he wanted to risk, if there were other alternatives. He knew the chance that he would encounter a problem was probably slight, told himself that he was being overcautious, (not usually a problem of mine…) but decided that if he could, he would wait on the lynx until he could have a fire.

The second mine tunnel he had previously discovered was still out as an option for immediate shelter, since returning to it would mean heading in the direction of the search, rather than away from it. The timbered ridge he was currently following, if he followed it back into the wilderness area, ascended fairly quickly, terminating in a red, cliffy bluff, high and windswept and devoid of trees on the top--not a place to spend much time when there was an air search on--but he knew that down on the other side of the ridge, below the barren crest and the red, eroded cliffs of sandstone, were a number of small basins, surrounded and concealed by black timber. Far from roads and even established trails, the high basins were not places that a casual hiker was likely to stumble across. Some of them, as he remembered, had good southern exposure, and, before long, the snow should begin to leave areas of them, allowing him access to the several varieties of spring plants with starchy tubers, that would help stretch his food supply. The more he thought about the little basins, the more the image of them grew in his mind as a place of refuge, of safety, a place where he could perhaps set himself up for the longer term, avoid contact with people who might endanger his continued existence, and finally quit running for awhile and catch his breath. The secluded, timber-filled valley below, replete with numerous small creeks and seeps, could provide him a good place to set up a number of snares, and, before long, to perhaps take some larger game. Home, maybe. Would sure be good to stay put for awhile somewhere where there was more to eat. First, though, to cross that ridge.

It took Einar, stiff and hurting from the previous night’s battle with the lynx, longer than he had hoped to reach the point on the ridge where the timber petered out and the open slope began. The scratches left on his legs by the claws of the cat’s powerful hind feet crossed his knee in a couple of places, making it very difficult to bend. The swelling had not gone down much, the scratches seemed red and inflamed, and he worried about infection.

The sky had grown overcast as he climbed, and though there did not appear to be an immediate threat of snow, the wind had picked up significantly, and he had not heard an aircraft for some time. Good. Means I can go ahead and cross, hopefully find some good shelter before dark tonight… Crouching against a stunted little fir up near treeline, Einar allowed himself a few minutes to change the lichen dressings on his scratches and the injuries on his wrists and leg, melting snow in his mouth as he worked to help quench a growing thirst.

Passing the tumbled boulder ramparts that guarded the wide, treeless area that ran along the top of the ridge, he started out into the open, suppressing the prickly feeling that crept along his scalp by telling himself that there’s no way they’ll be flying in this wind. Einar had developed quite an aversion to open areas, and hurried to cross this one as quickly as his condition would allow. The snow of the ridge, swept by near constant high winds over the winter, had been packed and sculpted into a continuous series of hard little ridges--known as sastrugi--that would have made skiing difficult, if I was lucky enough to have skis…

As he went on, Einar found that the wind on the ridge was an incredible force against which he could hardly remain standing, let alone make much headway. It whistled and blasted over the stark landscape with a violence that took his breath and slowed his progress tremendously, whipping up the newer snow into a near whiteout. After being actually knocked off his feet more than once by the wind, he ended up crawling at times out of sheer necessity lest he be blown off the mountain, the cold wind sapping his strength nearly to the point of collapse by the time he was halfway across. he couldn’t feel his hands, his face and the entire windward side of his body was numb as the wind flowed right through his inadequate, mostly cotton clothing. Einar stopped, fumbled with the tied legs of the lynx hide, dumped the meat out of it onto the ground, in desperation threw the hide over his head and shoulders, drawing it tightly around his neck and huddling there for a minute trying to feel a little warmer, but without success. Eventually he made himself get up and go on, doggedly clutching the fur with his cuffed hands, knowing that once he dropped down off of the ridge, the wind ought to be far less, remembering seeing some huge angular boulders near the dropoff that might well serve as temporary windbreaks. He had not gone far before a thought occurred to him, a dim, fuzzy thing on the edge of his consciousness that told him that something was wrong, that he was making a big mistake. He stopped, looked around him to see what it might be, but the blowing snow limited his world to the three foot circle of wind-packed white directly around his boots. So, knowing all too well that he would soon reach the point where useful work become impossible and his mind too clouded to realize it in the cold, he went on, silencing out of necessity the little voice in the back of his mind that told him he was messing up by doing so. The sight of his boots, black in a world of swirling, blinding white, seemed at times to be the only thing that kept him tethered to reality as he traveled, reminding him that there was, indeed, a world waiting for him out there beyond this place of seemingly limitless, all encompassing whiteness and wind and crushing, bone-freezing cold. Then he remembered. The meat. He hunted for it then, doing his best to retrace his steps, stumbling around in circles, knowing he must have it or die, but beginning to think that if he kept up the search for too much longer, he might actually die trying to find it. Finally, unsuccessful and growing colder by the minute, he decided that he must go ahead and start down, but he couldn’t remember which way he had come from, was totally disoriented in the swirling whiteness. Fighting hard to hold a growing panic at bay, he sat down, drew the lynx skin tightly around his head and shoulders, and tried to think, desperately searched his mind for any tidbit of information that might tell him which way to go. Please show me… OK. Ok, the wind. Climbing the ridge, the wind had been from his right, as the greater numbness of his right leg and arm could well attest. So. Put the wind on my right again. And go. Go…! Stumbling, he forced himself up, staggered in what he hoped was the right direction.

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Einar, doing his best to keep the wind to his right and hoping that it was not periodically changing direction and throwing him off course, kept pushing his way across the open slope towards the shelter that he knew lay beyond it. Focused on his boots, he almost ran into the head-high, rectangular red boulder as it loomed up out of the swirling snow. Leaning heavily on the massive chunk of sandstone, catching his breath for a moment, he knew there were none like it on the wide expanse of the ridge, knew he must finally be near the sharp dropoff that marked the edge of the ridge. Careful, now. Got to find a way down between these cliffs. The visibility already improving a bit, Einar could just make out a steep but not unmanageable slope directly before him, and he descended slightly from the ridge, and suddenly found himself walking out of the squall into nearly still air and the last slanting rays of evening sunlight as they pried their way out from beneath the descending cloud cover, the sun preparing to slip beneath the horizon. He realized then that it had never been snowing at all on the ridge, that the whiteout had consisted entirely of already-fallen snow being whipped up by the incredible wind. Looking back, he could see a long streamer of snow curling off the ridge, white against the darkening sky. He sank to the ground, blinking into the sunlight, staring out at his suddenly expanded world, tremendously relieved at the cessation of the wind. Far below, he could see the basins that were his intended destination, a bit of exposed ground already showing dark against the snow in one of them. Alright. Down into the trees. Sitting there in the sunlight, Einar briefly considered returning to the ridge to search for the lynx meat, but, looking behind him, saw that the wind was as intense as ever up there, and with darkness approaching, he quickly decided against it. Go down. Got to be a little warmer down there in the trees. That night he spent beneath a spruce some distance down the slope, stuffing a clump of lichen in his mouth before settling in, on the general principle that it is a good idea to eat something every once in a while, even if it is just a wad of tough, bitter tree hair, and finding himself too tired to do anything that night about the pine marten that he was glad to find still attached to his improvised belt. Huddled against the spruce trunk with the lynx hide over his head and shoulders, the seconds dragging by as he waited for the sky to begin graying with morning, Einar dreamt fractured, disjointed snatches of dream as he shivered through the night--visions of the valley, fire, food, of Liz, even, ran through his head, but his periods of sleep never lasted long in the cold, and the dreams just left him wishing for things he knew he could not have, made it that much harder to return to the reality he found himself in when he inevitably woke minutes later. Bitter joy…brittle joy…you’re not part of my world right now. Stop taunting me. Leave me alone. And eventually it did, the dreams ended, and he was again alone with the cold and the darkness and the unbearably, immeasurably slow passage of time. It was a very long night.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
The night ended, though, as even the longest of nights always eventually do, and Einar, knowing he must move and that first he must eat, set about looking for a way to skin or at least cut open the pine marten that he had tied to his improvised belt the day before when he left the cavern. The creature had not fit in the lynx-skin pack with the other meat, which had seemed inconvenient at the time, but now pleased him. As much as a person could be pleased about anything after a night like that. After a number of failed attempts, he managed to make a cut along the belly of the half-frozen marten using the broken Nutella lid, glad that, though the meat had ice crystals in it, it was not frozen solid. He was able to remove and eat some of the internal organs, continuing his meal by worrying back the skin and tearing off rough strips of the meat with his teeth, terribly grateful for the food, but thinking that he was getting pretty tired of freezing and starving and existing like an animal all the time, and a poor one, at that. So how long does this go on? How long you gonna keep living like this, Einar? And, as he stiffly gathered his meager possessions and prepared to move on, the only answer that would come to his mind was as long as it takes…

The journey down the timber-choked slope to the first of several basins he intended to look at that day was not an easy one, his progress hampered by numerous fallen trees whose trunks crisscrossed one another and were in places stacked several deep. It looked like a great wind had come through at some time in the past, toppling and breaking many of the trees. Eventually though, after going off course several times in the heavy timber and once ending up having to cross a deep, steep walled gulley, he saw not too far below him the little spine of rock that he had chosen as a landmark for the first of the basins. Reaching it, he waited cautiously in the trees for awhile, reluctant to leave their cover and explore the small meadow, parts of which were beginning to show brown with the emerging dirt as the snow receded. The day was still and calm if not sunny, and several times on the descent he had needed to seek refuge beneath thick trees as a helicopter or small plane passed over. So, not wanting to leave tracks for them to see in the open meadow, he skirted around it, keeping to the trees and heading for the rocky escarpment that he had seen from above. Which was a good thing, because he would have walked right past the cabin without ever seeing it, if he had chosen to cross the meadow.

At first, seeing what appeared to be a manmade structure over against the rock of the ridge, he doubted his eyes, thought he must just be seeing a pile of fallen trees, but there was something too regular about the shapes he was seeing through the trees, something too orderly, and he detoured from his course, heading over to the base of the ridge to take a look. Half buried in the melting snow, the roof long gone from much of the structure, sat a rough cabin, its logs clearly hand-hewn and quite old, but stout and apparently not too badly rotted. Most of the roof had caved in and long ago rotted on the floor, but the roof beams still lay across the logs, and in one corner a roughly four by four patch of roofing material remained, providing a small sheltered spot beneath, nearly free of snow under the additional protection of the heavy evergreens that loomed over the little structure. Wary, but realizing from the lack of tracks that no one had been to the cabin for the second half of the winter, at least, Einar made his way to the protected corner, scratching around in the shallow snow on the floor, turning up several old square head nails and a thick piece of blue glass that appeared to have once been the bottom of a bottle. Immeasurable wealth to a man who two minutes ago had owned nothing but a broken Nutella lid and a half eaten marten carcass. Glancing around, he saw several sheets of tin, apparently nailed to the walls at some point to help keep out the wind, and he could only imagine what other treasures might lie hidden beneath the snow. Einar could think of only one reason that a person--other than himself, perhaps--would have gone to the trouble to build a cabin in this remote and nearly inaccessible location, and, heading for the ridge some fifty yards behind it, found his suspicions to have been correct. There in the rock of the ridge, some fifteen feet up from the forest floor and concealed from the air by several ancient-looking spruces, the darkness of a mine tunnel awaited his exploration.

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Einar could tell from the extent of the tailings pile beneath the dark opening in the rock that this tunnel had been worked for far longer than the two previous he had taken shelter in. The remnants of an old ore chute, some of the tin still in place, could be seen to one side the tailings pile, dilapidated and mostly fallen apart, but surely a source of much salvageable metal. Climbing the tailings pile, he kicked at some scattered rocks that had fallen at some point from the ceiling of the tunnel, partially blocking the entrance. They were covered with dust and a thin coating of calcite from water that in the warmer seasons must drip from the moss and dirt above the entrance, and did not appear to have fallen recently. Got to be careful, though. Not sure how stable this thing is. In his experience, he had found that it was usually reasonable to trust the stability of any tunnel that had not been timbered by the original miners, but the quantity of fallen rock gave him pause. Waiting just inside the tunnel mouth for his eyes to adjust to the dim light, he hoped that the tunnel would be habitable, because he knew it would actually provide better shelter from the wind and weather than the remains of the cabin, especially for the next couple of months when snowfall and below-freezing temperatures would still be commonplace occurrences. Exploring his immediate surroundings, Einar found the tunnel floor, once he was in a few feet, to be dry, dusty, and, with the exception of the first yard or so, not overly cluttered with fallen rock. Good. I may leave all that debris, maybe even add to it to discourage anybody who might be passing by from exploring very far in. ‘Cause I sure hope this is going to be home for awhile...

Shuffling around in the dark, his foot snagged on something, and he caught himself just short of falling. Carefully he freed his foot, felt around until he found the thing that had snagged him. It was cold, metallic-feeling, about half an inch in diameter, and seemed to be twined or twisted like rope. Steel cable! He had seen long abandoned, rusted coils of similar cable at many other old mine and sawmill sites in the past, had cautiously used cable that had been bolted into a rock wall rock and abandoned in some past time as an aid in descending a steep patch of rock a time or two, but never had he been so glad to see it as he was at that moment. OK. Finally gonna get out of these awful cuffs! He grabbed the cable, tugged at it to free it from the dust of the tunnel floor, but found it held fast by some force that was not obvious to him in the near total darkness of the tunnel. Feeling along the slightly frayed steel, he found the place where it disappeared into the ground, dug around it with a sharp rock, pulled again. Nothing. Got to break off a piece, then. The stuff was quite strong, though, the strands held fast to each other by a thin coating of oxidation, and Einar tried without success to pry up one strand so he could work it back and forth and eventually break it off. His repeated attempts were just tearing up his hands, as his somewhat numb fingers were sliced and bloodied by sharp slivers of steel that stuck out in places form the cable. Once more he struggled to free the whole coil, getting a loop of the stiff metal around his leg and straining forward until with a scrape and a rattle, the entire mass of cable came loose, sending Einar sprawling on his face in the dust of the tunnel. Picking himself up, he hauled the cable out to the entrance where there was more light, but stayed inside where it was dry, worn out by his efforts, but happy that, for the first time since starting up the windy ridge the previous day, he was almost warm.

In the dim light that shone in from outside, he could see that the cable, while clearly old, was not terribly rusty, having been protected from the worst of the moisture by its location inside the tunnel. The black oxidation that bound the strands together was worst on the top, and, turning it over, he found metal that was barely covered with a light grey film, the strands still separate. Good! Pulling one of the square head nails from the cabin out of his pocket, he began prodding at one of the strands, finally getting it up far enough that he could grasp it and pull. Alternately shoving and prying with the nail and pulling with his fingers, he was able to separate a several-inch long section, which he bent back and forth in an attempt to form a weak spot so it could be broken loose. The metal, after a good bit of work, began developing a white spot at the bend, and he finished it off by laying it on a rock and striking it with another. OK. Now for a bit of concentration, a bit of delicate work, and I’ll have my hands again. Resting for a moment, though, he could see from the shaking of his hands and the dizziness that had come over him that any amount of concentration and delicate work just then would be a severe challenge, at best. Better eat something. Which, at the moment, meant some more half-frozen pine marten. After letting a few bites of the tough, icy stuff settle in his stomach for a minute, he was feeling steadier and ready to attempt the task. The fragment of bone shim that had broken and lodged in the locking mechanism of the cuff proved quite difficult to remove, even with the length of wire, and Einar poked and prodded at it for some time before finally thinking to create a little hook at one end to reach behind the fragment and grab it. Success! It took only a few minutes after that for him to manipulate and release the lock mechanism.

He spread his arms wide, took a deep breath and stretched, allowed himself a little whoop of triumph before getting down to inspecting his badly damaged left wrist, which was swollen and red and deeply lacerated from the metal of the cuff. He was pretty sure there was some frostbite in the mix, too, after the skin being in constant contact with the cold metal over the course of several freezing nights, but with all the other injuries, he couldn’t be certain. The second cuff went easier now that he had the hang of it, and soon he was free of them entirely. His inclination was to toss the vile things as far as he could into the trees, wishing never to see them again, but he stopped himself, knowing that a man is his situation could not afford to dispose of anything as potentially useful as the steel cuffs. He set them on a large flat rock some distance inside the tunnel mouth, adding the coil of cable to his little stash. Back outside in the daylight, Einar decided that his best course of action would be to gather as much dry evergreen duff as he could find around the trees that had begun melting out, and heap it in the tunnel so he would have some chance of keeping warm when night came. Jubilant at his newfound freedom of movement and the wealth of his discoveries that day, he bounded down the tailings pile into the forest below.

As he headed for a nearby spruce in search of dry needles, Einar was sent scurrying and stumbling back up to the tunnel by the distant rumbling of a large helicopter. Crouching in the shadows, badly winded and gasping for breath as the chopper thundered low over the basin, he was reminded that, though his situation had improved considerably with the discovery of the cabin and tunnel and the removal of the cuffs, he was still only a few days out from an escape from federal custody, that he was injured and again almost out of food, that his situation was still extremely precarious.

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Down at the FBI command post in the valley, a massive new search effort was being organized, but this time there were no press releases, no news conference, just a new fence put up between the old feed store and the highway, to keep curious onlookers at a greater distance. When officials did comment publicly on the case, the word was still that they believed the subject to have perished in the blast, but they knew quite well by the morning of the second day that there was no body to be found down in the gulley. The air search was pursued with a renewed intensity as they hurried to put an end to the manhunt before the snow melted and their subject found himself with far more travel options in the high country, and themselves with an infinitely greater area to search.
 

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Looks like the chase is on.

As an aside, really gave me a strange feeling reading about the cabin/mine shaft.

My buddy and I stumbled across almost the exact same scene/situation, in the mountains of Colorado. Cabin didn't have tin inside though.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Unable to even contemplate fire for the moment due to the air search, and knowing that he badly needed to be warm and to sleep after his days of harrowing travel since the blast, Einar worked to gather all the dry spruce duff he could find, which wasn’t much. While the snow was gone in places, most of the exposed needles were still cemented together by ice left behind by the disappearing snow pack, and were not helpful to him in keeping warm. What he really needed was a fire, but he had counted four helicopters in the last couple of hours, and numerous small planes that slowly crisscrossed the valley, limiting the amount of time he was able to spend out of the shelter of the tunnel. Confined frequently to its darkness, Einar set about organizing the place as well as he could, laying all of his possessions on a flat slab of rock, looking them over and trying to come up with a plan for keeping himself going as he waited for spring. While he finally had shelter from the wind and the ongoing search, he still lacked a way to keep warm at night, pending his decision that it was time to again have fire. So. Need more food if I’m going to be short on warmth. Wonder if I can use some of these cable strands for snares? He expected that they would not be flexible enough, but decided to try and separate one anyway to experiment with.

In the meantime, he was hungry, and decided to find a piece of tin that could be made to serve as a skinning knife, and finish removing the marten hide. Need that hat. Hat would help a lot, especially at night. Returning from the old ore chute with a suitable-looking scrap of metal, he took the time to collect more lichen from the surrounding spruces, looking forward to soon being able to boil it to neutralize some of the bitter acid that continued to nauseate him somewhat whenever he ate the stuff. And there’s always spruce bark like I did up at the other tunnel, once I get a fire so I can roast it and make it chewable…

Heading for the tunnel, Einar had an idea. He had seen some fallen aspens as he skirted around the open area of he basin and returned to them now, seeing loose, hanging bark on several of the leaning trees that had caught on their way down. Pulling off great strips of the black inner bark, he coiled it up, returning to the tunnel ahead of yet another helicopter whose distant rumbling he had been hearing for some time. His initial thought had bee simply to pile the bark up on the tunnel floor to better separate him from the heat-leaching rock as he slept, but, seeing the substantial quantity of bark he had hauled back and realizing that there was far more where that had come from, he wondered about the possibility of creating some sort of rough overcoat or blanket from the fibers. I know some of the Indian tribes using different kinds of grasses to make sleeping mats and coverings--duvets, I think, was the word the French trappers used for them. Maybe I could do something similar with this aspen bark. And he remembered hearing that the Oetzi Ice Man, found mummified on a pass in the Swiss Alps after apparently perishing there one winter over 5,000 years ago, had been wearing a woven grass cape in addition to his goatskin leggings and jacket. I’m no weaver, but anything at all would help at this point. It sure doesn’t have to be pretty. Uncoiling the strips of bark, he laid the longest of them side-by-side on the dusty floor of the tunnel, creating a patch that was about three feet wide by five long. Taking one of the shorter strips, he began weaving it into the longer ones, over, under, over, until he reached the last long strip. He continued in this way, continually pushing the long strips together to tighten the weave as he worked, finally stopping when he ran out of short strips. Hmm…gnarly-looking thing, but I think it may actually work. Poking his head out of the tunnel and listening intently for aircraft before leaving its concealment, he headed down to the aspen grove to collect more bark, returning to finish the blanket. As he worked, the thought occurred to Einar that he could more than double the protective properties of the blanket by weaving a second layer, stuffing the inside with some of the remaining rabbitskin fragments from his damaged blanket, canvas strips, spruce needles, and anything else he could come up with, before somehow attaching the two layers, like a quilt. Ha! Like a quilt…can’t say I’ve done any more quilting than I have weaving, but I bet I can figure something out… The weaving took longer than he had thought it would, and by the time he had worked his way halfway down the length of the blanket, the sun hung low in the sky, not far from touching the spiky spruce tops on the other side of the basin. Ok. Now all I need to do is finish this thing, somehow get ahold of some goatskins, and I’ll be almost as well-off as that Ice Man...before he died on the pass and got mummified, that is. Now though, I’ve got to eat.

Having finished off the marten as he worked on the bark blanket, Einar set out in the last hour of sunlight to hopefully find some more food. Descending down into the little basin below the cabin and tunnel, he saw that a large area of it had recently begun melting out, white stringy snow mold still covering the surface of the springy, tundra-like ground as it awoke and prepared for spring. At these elevations the growing season--the snow-free season--was so short that everything happened very quickly during the few months of warm weather--plants emerging, flowering and dropping their seeds just in time for the snow to again begin falling. Carefully inspecting the barely thawed ground, Einar discovered a number of avalanche lilies, their green leaves just beginning to emerge. He dug down beside the leaves, scratching at the icy soil with a nail and resolving to soon find or create a better digging tool from the scattered metal debris around the tunnel or cabin. The shallowest of the roots were several inches down, and with difficulty he extracted several of the long skinny white tubers from the dirt, cleaning them on the remains of his jumpsuit pants before eating them raw, right there at the edge of the meadow. Einar knew that the roots contain a carbohydrate, inulin, that is not digestible in its raw state. Cooking the bulbs would convert the inulin to fructose, readily usable as energy. Einar, though, was certainly too hungry to wait another day or two for a fire, and hoped the roots might provide him at least a bit of nutrition in their raw state. He finally stopped digging and eating when the sun went down and he began to get too cold crouching there on the damp, half frozen ground. Retreating to the tunnel, he curled up on his side on the meager pile of dry spruce duff he had managed to collect, pulled the lynx skin and the half finished blanket over himself, and slept, shivering before long, but certainly warmer and able to sleep for longer at a stretch than he had been since the blast.

Einar woke thirsty in the predawn darkness, his need for water so pressing that he dragged himself out of his bed to creep out through the tunnel mouth and collect a handful of snow from the slope outside. The morning was clear and very cold, the stars casting a pale light on the remaining snow of the basin, and he hurried back into the tunnel, quickly wrapping up in the lynx skin and draping the stiff aspen-bark blanket over his head and shoulders, shivering as he melted his handful of snow and let the water run down his throat. Despite the cold, Einar’s face felt hot and flushed, his throat parched and his head light and dizzy. He was pretty sure he had a fever. Must be those cat scratches finally getting the best of me… He had taken as much care as he was able of the injuries from the struggle with the lynx, but there had been only so much he could do, and with the woefully inadequate food supply and near-total lack of sleep he had been dealing with since the blast, he knew his immune system couldn’t be operating at 100%. His left arm throbbed painfully, and gingerly probing it with his finger, Einar found it to be swollen and tender. Great. Guess the usnea lichen must not have been enough. Gonna have to find…something in the morning, some Oregon grape or something. Got to stop this thing right here. When it gets light… Suddenly very dizzy, he lay back down. Shivering in his improvised bed that morning, his fever high enough at times that he was delirious, Einar was aware whenever it subsided enough for him to have lucid thoughts that he was in trouble, that he had better think of something quickly and act on it as soon as it was light.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
When at last he looked up and saw the glow of morning in the tunnel mouth, Einar rolled stiffly out of his makeshift bed and inspected his arm in the daylight. He found the area of the scratches to be puffy and inflamed, angry red streaks extending outwards from the ends of the scratches. Those weren’t there yesterday. Not good. He knew evergreen pitch was antibacterial and could be used to help prevent infection in scratches and scrapes, but figured that his current problem had unfortunately already gone way beyond that point. What he really wanted was some Oregon grape root, so he could take some of the tea (uh…how are you going to make tea, without a fire or a way to hold water…?) internally, as well as washing the site of the injury with it. The fever was coming and going, and, with the morning breezy and cold, he did not want to risk wandering around and getting his clothes wet just then under such conditions. Deciding to wait in the tunnel out of the wind until the sun was up, at least, he worked clumsily on the blanket, struggling to focus on the weaving through the waves of dizziness and nausea that seemed to accompany the fluctuating fever. Seeing sunlight through the tunnel mouth, he waited for a time when the fever again seemed to be subsiding before leaving the shelter, the lynx skin wrapped around his shoulders against the cold.

Making his way around the edge of the meadow, Einar methodically searched the base of every tree and boulder where the snow had begun melting out, but found no Oregon grapes. He wondered whether he was perhaps too high, or maybe just over on the wrong side of he basin. Better head over and check out the other side. The fever returned as he walked, and he sat down after nearly blundering headlong into a tree in his dizziness. After staring dully about for some time at the swirling and undulating forms of the surrounding trees and ridges, Einar began eating snow to cool himself, and, finding that it felt good, lay down on his back in the snow, his damp clothes steaming gently in the crisp morning air. Some minutes later he sat up, shaking and very cold, the fever for the time broken and his mind once again clear and able to function rationally.

OK. Quick. Do something. This is really getting worse fast. Stumbling to his feet, he glanced around for anything that might help. Got to reverse this infection, but have to control the fever some, first, or I’m gonna end up doing something really stupid while I’m delirious, not get the chance to try and deal with the infection. A small grove of aspens stood nearby, and he chose a small tree, scraping and digging at the bark with one of the nails in his pocket until he could pry back the white outer bark and reveal the inner layer, the same one he had used for the blanket, but fresh and white instead of dried. Pulling out a strip of the tough slippery stuff, he chewed it, adding a little snow to help the juice go down. He knew that the aspen bark, like that of the willow, contains salicin, and also populin, both of which can help to break a fever. Don’t think the stuff is as concentrated in aspens as it is in willows, so I’d better chew a bunch of this, he thought, scraping and prying to reveal more inner bark. Having done what he could for the moment about the fever, he continued the search for the Oregon grapes that he hoped might help reduce the infection.

Not far from the aspen grove, he saw something strange sticking up out of the snow, and, going over to investigate, found a dead porcupine, desiccated and partially eaten from beneath. Flipping it over with a stick, he wondered what might have killed it. Einar carefully set about collecting a number of the quills to take back with him, intending to return later with a strand from the steel cable so he could safely haul back the entire carcass. As he worked, he remembered hearing once that the waxy grease that coats the quills and makes up about ten percent of their volume has strong antibiotic properties, to protect the porcupine from infection when it falls from a tree and stabs itself on its own quills. Hmm…Never heard anything about humans using this as an antibiotic, but I guess I’d better give it a try. Rubbing several clumps of usnea lichen over the animal’s quills, he rolled them up to keep them clean before stowing them in his sweatshirt pocket. His idea was to bind these to the infected area after hopefully treating it with Oregon grape root. Inspecting the arm again, he could see that, though the fever had not been back for awhile, probably due to the aspen bark, the redness and inflammation was spreading. He had an idea. Sitting on a rock, he carefully cut the barbs off of several of the quills before wrapping them in lichen to keep them clean and stowing them in his pocket. This may give me a way to deliver that antibiotic porcupine quill grease down where I really need it…Seems like a bad idea to go sticking anything at all in there, but this thing’s spreading, and I’m flat out of ideas. Do nothing, and I die. Got to try it. First though, to find some Oregon grapes…

He wandered over to the base of the rocky spine that ran all the way back down to the tunnel and cabin, knowing that often in the past he had found Oregon grapes growing among rocks, and hoping that the lack of snow on the exposed rock might increase his chances of finding some. Searching for quite some time without success, he finally found his way into a protected little alcove in the rock, and found a number of the plants growing out of a crack on a narrow ledge several feet up from the ground. Working carefully to avoid breaking off and losing the roots down in the rocky cleft, he pulled up several of the plants. OK. You’re obviously not making tea, so better just chew a few of these. Which he hurried to do, swallowing the resulting bitter yellow juice. Einar then chewed a couple more of the roots, spit out a mouthful of juice into the snow, packed the snow against his infected forearm and held it in place with a wad of lichen, waiting until the searing pain subsided and the skin, at least, became numb. He then took the three quills that he had cut the barbs off of, and poked them down into the most inflamed-looking areas of the arm, leaving them for a couple of minutes, trying to breathe slowly and not pass out from the pain. Then, removing the quills, he packed the area with another batch of Oregon grape root infused snow, not leaving it on for quite as long this time.

He sat there catching his breath in the little alcove of rock, realizing that it blocked almost all of the wind, while reflecting sunlight on him from three angles, warming the air. The pain beginning to subside, he swayed and dozed in the sun, face upturned towards its warmth, letting it begin to erase some of the pinched whiteness of the long hard winter. At last giving in to his weariness and languor, Einar lay down on his side to sleep, finally warm, not just not freezing at the moment, but truly, wonderfully warm. He dreamt as he slept, as his body fought to overcome the infection that had begun in his arm and spread to threaten his life, and in a dream he saw the old cabin, fixed up with a new roof of spruce poles, salvaged tin, bark and moss, smoke curling out of the chimney, and he realized as he approached that he carried a deer quarter slung over one shoulder, a bow in his hand. He limped still as he walked along the floor of the basin, but walked well and strongly nonetheless, breathing in the crisp evening air and hungrily anticipating a good supper after a day of hard work and far travel over the spruce-covered ridges. As he neared the cabin, the door opened, and Liz came out to meet him, the warm homey smell of something baking following her out the door, a lamp glowing in the window in the fading light of a fall evening. Liz… He woke, rolled over. Fever must be back, Einar. Get that nonsense out of your head. Not ready to be awake yet and kind of wishing he could get that dream back for a moment, he stared sleepily at a few wispy little clouds that were making their way across the bright afternoon sky, hearing water drip as snow began to melt on the rocks up behind him. Nearly asleep again, he was jarred out of his reverie by the thunder of a National Guard helicopter that suddenly emerged from over the ridge not three hundred feet above his head, sending him scrambling for the rock of the ridge. Einar had not heard the chopper until it was nearly on top of him, and he pressed himself against the cold rock, hoping it was enough to conceal him, hoping that he had not left a bunch of visible tracks in the snow as he he’d stumbled around earlier in his delirium…
 

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The chopper did not circle the basin, but continued on down towards the valley and followed it, remaining low. Einar waited for several minutes, plastered up next to the rock, crouching in a bit of shadow, before he dared to move. The basin was quiet; he heard nothing to indicate that the helicopter was doubling back, but he had a bad feeling about this one. That thing was awful low, and here I was right out in the open. How could they not have seen me… He hauled himself to his feet, feeling a little woozy from sleeping so long in the sun, but at the same time wonderfully rested and somewhat stronger. Good thing, because it looks like I’m about to be on the move again. He shook his head. Had hoped to be done with that for awhile. Stretching out his swollen arm and removing the lichen dressing, he found that it was still red and puffy, the places he had treated with the quills looking more inflamed than they had before, but the spreading red streaks that had worried him so much that morning seemed to be a bit shorter and less red, and he was hopeful that his experimental antibiotic was having some positive effect.

Evening was coming, and, operating under the assumption that he had been seen and that they would be back for him, or at least for a second look, Einar debated his course of action, trying to decide whether he should stay at the tunnel, or take advantage of the darkness to cover as much ground as possible in an attempt to get as far as possible from the place where he believed he might have been spotted. Don’t know how much sense that makes. I may be nearly blind at night, but those buzzards sure aren’t. Bet I’d show up real good to them against all this snow… He knew, though, that if searchers actually ended up on the ground in the basin, they would eventually stumble across the cabin and, very likely, the tunnel, and he could be trapped in there. On the other hand, he seriously doubted they would send in ground crews before further scouting the area from the air, in which situation the tunnel might be his best hope for avoiding detection that night.

Faced with the possibility of again having to run and losing his newfound bounty of mine debris, Einar set out at a brisk pace for the cabin site, intending to gather what he could and pack it in the lynx skin so he could, at least, take some of it with him if he had to leave in a hurry. Very careful not to leave tracks in open areas, he skirted around the open meadow, scouring it as he went for any tracks he might have previously left in the snow. Save for a little mark here and there where he had crossed a swath of snow with painstaking care on his way to dig avalanche lilies the previous day, he saw nothing. Doubt they’d recognize those little scratches as footprints. But then, emerging from the trees near the cabin and looking back across the basin, he saw the spot where he had stumbled out into the meadow that morning before lying delirious in the snow. The whole area was dotted and smeared with his clumsy, weaving tracks. It looked like an elk had been wallowing and rolling in the snow. Hope they think that’s all it was…

Prowling around the cabin, he dug up and pocketed four more nails, a larger metal spike of some kind, two small broken bottles, and a partially rusted sardine can that looked a good bit newer than the other items. Guess there has been at least one other person up here since the 1890s… He was sure there was more, but it remained buried beneath the snow for the time. Before heading up to the tunnel, he pulled a roughly one foot by two foot piece of tin from the underside of the remaining bit of cabin roof, bending it in half and tucking it under his arm. A small plane droned slowly overhead as he worked, forcing Einar to take refuge in the still-covered corner of the cabin. As he stood there waiting for the hum of the plane to fade into the distance, he could not help but think that the cabin, what was left of it, appeared pretty solid, that it would not be impossible to turn it into a very serviceable shelter once again with some work. The image from the dream had stuck in his head, and his mind was already busy with a number of things he could do, given a few basic tools, to make the place not only livable but quite comfortable. As the plane circled back and made another pass up the valley, a new roof for the cabin took shape in his head, a floor neatly tiled with pieces of flat grey shale from a nearby outcropping he had noticed that day in his wanderings--bet I could even use some of that shale to build a Russian stove, make some mud and spruce needle mortar to hold the thing together, really keep this place warm next winter--and translucent but insect-proof coverings for the two small window openings, made from the stretched and dried stomachs of the deer that he would take with the bow he hoped to make as soon as things settled down. The roughly hand-hewn logs were massive, many of them well over a foot in diameter, and the more he studied the cabin, the more he had to admit to a growing admiration for the men who had built it, using rough tools and, and, at most, the help of a mule or two to haul the heavy logs.

The plane had finally moved on, and Einar, beginning to shiver in the evening chill as the sun went down, knew that it was high time for him to move as well, and hurried up toward the tailings pile. While the cabin plans had provided fodder for some pleasant daydreaming, he knew that for someone in his position, setting up a permanent residence as he was now contemplating probably meant inviting disaster. You gave up the chance at a settled life like that a long time ago, Einar. You’ll probably spend the rest of your life--however long that may be--moving from one place to another and watching your back trail like the hunted creature you are. And he knew it, accepted it, knew it was part of the price of remaining free, but hey, can’t a fellow dream now and then… Yeah, maybe, but not right now. Got to get moving.

Back at the tailings pile he quickly surveyed the available mine junk, snagging a two foot long iron rod that appeared to have once been part of the ore chute, another small piece of tin, and, to his delight, a much-rusted Pulaski head, some rotted fragments of the wood handle still clinging in place. He saw more that he would have liked to take, assuming he might not be able to return to the basin, but the lynx skin could only hold so much, and it was all he really had to carry things in. He had not even had time to make any cordage that he might use to sling additional items over his shoulders. Hauling his newfound treasures up to the tunnel, he worked to tie them up in the skin, tossing in the handcuffs and marten bones, leaving a couple of the bones out for his dinner. Coiling up the steel cable as well as he was able, he secured it by wrapping the coil with a loose strand, tossing it over by the lynx-skin pack. OK. That’s it. Guess I’m ready. He was still inclined, though, to spend the night in the tunnel, fearing the possibility of being surprised out in the open on the snow that night if another helicopter popped up over the ridge. So, settling in near enough to the tunnel mouth to hear what was going on outside but far enough in to remain out of the dampness of the entrance, he draped the marten hide fur side down over his head for warmth, tying two of the legs under his chin and crouching on the pile of spruce duff, pulling his roughly woven aspen bark cape close around his shoulders. Ravenous after his day of activity and no food, he broke open a couple of marten leg bones with a rock, slowly scraping out and eating the small amount of fatty marrow that they contained, stretching his meager meal as long as possible and already knowing that he was really going to really miss the added warmth of the lynx skin that night.

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Huddled inside the tunnel that night, straining his ears for the sound of approaching aircraft, Einar ran through various scenarios in his mind, trying to decide which was the most likely. He knew that it would be a major effort for ground crews to hike into the basin at this time of year, and wondered if they might be flown in by helicopter. I’m pretty sure the closest place they could land that thing is the top of the ridge… And, as far as he knew, the constant high winds that swept that high open place would probably make it an impractical landing spot. Every time he had looked up at the ridge over his past two days there in the basin, Einar had seen quite a plume of snow streaming off of its craggy edge. So he guessed they might have to hike in, after all, unless there were nearby terrain features he was not aware of that would allow them to land closer. Which was entirely possible. He really wished for a map, wished he was more familiar with this side of the ridge.

With the exception of one small plane that seemed to be following the course of the valley, Einar heard no nearby aircraft that night, and by the time the patch of blackness in the tunnel mouth began paling, he was beginning to seriously question his previous night’s resolve to move on as soon as morning came. It bothered him that he seemed unable or unwilling now to follow through on a plan that had been pretty firmly set in his mind only hours before, that he was having trouble getting motivated to leave. It worried him, because always before he had found it easier to go than to stay in any given place if he suspected such a move was necessary, even back when he had been reduced to crawling by his injured hip. Watching morning creep over the basin outside the tunnel, he wondered if his new propensity for indecision was yet another lingering result of the head injury he had sustained in the blast and fall. He was still plagued by occasional dizziness, his head hurting frequently and waking him sometimes in the night to blinding pain and splinters of light before his eyes. He just kept hoping that things would eventually improve, and spent the early part of the morning struggling with the decision to go or stay. By the time the sun came up and there had been no sign of additional flyovers in the immediate area, he had convinced himself to stay, for the moment at least. Though there had been a couple of times in the night when he had felt a bit feverish and dizzy, Einar saw that the arm appeared to be doing much better that day, and hoped that he was out of the woods (Heh! Not the best analogy for you to use, Einar…) on the infection.


Cracking open the last two marten leg bones that morning for a totally inadequate breakfast after another long cold night, Einar knew that he must get more to eat soon if he wanted to be in any condition to run again, should it suddenly become necessary. What he really needed was a way to take some bigger game, now that the deer and even elk would soon be returning to the high country. While he supposed that it might be possible to snare a deer with some of the steel cable, the stuff was stiff, somewhat rusty, and very difficult to work with, and what he really wanted was to make a bow. He knew that, with the limited and less than ideal varieties of wood available to him up there--sub alpine fir and Engelmann spruce, to be exact-- his best bet would be to make a longbow, from a long branch or even a small tree his own height or slightly higher. The length would mean that the bow would not need to support as much draw weight, hopefully allowing him to take game without breaking the barely adequate wood of the bow in half. Einar had a vague idea of how to go about making a longbow, but knew that, never having actually tried it before, his efforts at first would be largely experimental. Better get some snares set out first, so I don’t starve trying to get this thing to work…

He began working to free another strand or two from the partially oxidized cable, finally working loose a three foot long strand. Pulling the smaller piece of tin out of the pack, he used a nail to repeatedly score then break off a small rectangle of it, hoping to be able to make a locking mechanism for the snare. The cable strand was so rigid that he doubted its ability to secure a rabbit without a way to lock and hold ground as the animal struggled and it tightened. Before shaping the tin, he worked carefully with the sharpest of his salvaged square-head nails, boring a small hole near each end for the cable to pass through, and a narrow slot down the center of the piece. Then, using two nails as tools, he bent the tin in three places, curling one end over a bit. Threading the cable through the improvised lock, he tested it, taking it apart and making a few careful adjustments before calling it good and starting on the next one. The single-strand cable did not grab all that well in the lock, the tin was somewhat brittle and not all that strong, and Einar didn’t know if the lock would work once, let alone multiple times, but he had to give it a try. He had been able to free enough of the single cable strand to make two snares. Two. Well, at least it’s something. He wondered what other raw material might exist that he could use for cordage. If nettles grew in the basin, and he suspected they did, they were still well-buried beneath the snow, and the aspen bark that he did have access to was not nearly strong enough to hold a struggling animal. Hmm. Hair? He reached up and pulled a little plug of hair from the back of his head where it was the longest, cording it and, liking the strength of the finished product, wishing he had not chopped off most of his hair before heading down to the ranch house the other day. Well, there’s still enough here to make it worthwhile. I’ll just have to splice the thing more often than I would have had to if it was longer. He used a sharply broken edge of the roofing tin to hack off some of the longer hair in the back, cording and splicing and ending up with several feet of thin cordage that, when he doubled it over and twined the two strands together, he believed would be strong enough for the job. Alright, well that’s three snares. Keeping well within the trees, he headed over to a little thicket of stunted serviceberry bushes where he had seen rabbit sign the previous day, and set the snares.


Now for the bow. Einar knew he needed tools to work the bow with, to split the tree or branch he hoped to find and shave it down into the right shape. Searching the area of the ore chute, he found a bar of roughly quarter inch steel which while black and rusty and somewhat pitted in places, seemed to have been more protected than harmed by the oxidation. It was about a foot long and three inches wide, with two holes drilled near one end. He wondered what its original purpose had been. Finding an appropriate piece of granite, he began methodically drawing the bar across it at an angle, over and over, slowly beginning to sharpen one edge. It took several hours, but he was eventually satisfied with the edge he had ground into the metal, knowing that while it almost certainly wouldn’t slice cleanly through a sheet of paper, he had at least created a useful tool for shaping trap triggers and, hopefully, the bow. Don’t have any paper, anyway… Which random thought caused him to wonder how he would go about making paper out here, if he ever decided that he needed it. An interesting project for more leisurely times…if they ever come.

The sharpened bar was stout enough that he believed it would even be helpful in splitting a tree for the bow, if he could get it wedged in and then pound it down with a rock. Next he started on the Pulaski head, removing as much rust as he could and sharpening the axe side of it on the granite slab. The tool needed a handle. If he could fit it with a handle, it would be tremendously helpful in cutting a branch or little tree for the bow, and hopefully later for cutting and splitting firewood. Heading up into the timber above the ore chute, he searched for an appropriate piece of wood. Several small aspens, one of them long dead and devoid of bark, stood there among the spruces, and while they were nearly the right diameter, he was pretty sure that they would shatter under the strain that would be put on them is used as axe handles. A bit further up, he saw a dead spruce, choosing and breaking a shiny yellow barkless branch some four feet up off the ground. Not entirely straight, but it’ll have to do… Working one end of the branch with his improvised knife, he fit it into the opening on the Pulaski head. So. Now I just need some water to soak this wood in, to get it to swell up and fit securely. He had seen one place in the melted out area where he had dug the lilies that had looked sort of marshy, and he headed that direction, hoping to find enough standing water to soak the handle and Pulaski head. Could use some more roots, too, in case the snares don’t produce tonight. Finding a muddy little puddle in the tundra-like soil, Einar broke the thin film of ice that had remained on it through the day, and submerged the Pulaski head and handle. Hmm. This’ll almost certainly freeze solid over night, but I don’t really have a better idea… First standing still and listening intently for approaching aircraft, he dug a number of avalanche lily bulbs, eating several as he worked, stopping when the sun set. He made a little detour on the trip back to the tunnel to check his snares, which were, as he had kind of expected, still empty. The discovery was a bit disheartening nonetheless, as he could tell from the way the temperature plunged as soon as the sun was gone that he was in for a much colder night than the last few had been. Sure would like a fire about now. That, or some more to eat. He shook his head, shivered at the thought of the coming night. Well. Tomorrow, I will start the bow.
 

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Mountain Critter
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The next morning, after stomping back and forth in the tunnel a few times to warm up and gnawing on the two half frozen avalanche lily roots that he had managed to save from the previous evening, Einar started across the basin to retrieve his Pulaski from the puddle, hoping it would be serviceable after a night in the water to swell up the new handle and make it fit securely. Limping stiffly through the trees at the edge of the meadow, alternately wrapping his arms around his middle and beating them against his sides in an attempt to get some blood flowing, he told himself that, if there were too many more nights as cold as the last one had been, he might just have to become nocturnal for awhile, keeping active at night and sleeping during the day when it was a little warmer. He checked the snares on the way over, but they were still empty and undisturbed, and he wondered if he would have to end up moving them before having any success. The puddle had, of course, frozen nearly solid, and Einar struggled to break the Pulaski free of its icy grip. He finally succeeded, bringing a chunk of ice and a rather substantial clod of dirt with it, which he beat off against a boulder. Well, unless it’s just frozen on, looks like this handle’s going to hold. Wasting no time and too cold to remain still anyway, he took off into the trees in search of a bow stave. Einar passed several small dead spruces before finally settling on a live one, about eight feet tall, expecting its wood almost certainly to be easier to work with the inadequate tools at his disposal. He chopped it down using the axe end of the Pulaski, pleased that the handle seemed to be holding. In the area he saw several other trees of similar sizes, and took the time to cut two more, expecting that he might not succeed on his first try at the bow. A major concern to him was the numerous branches that bristled out of the tree’s trunk, and the inevitable knots that he would have to work around. There really wasn’t any wood available up in his area, though, that did not present similar challenges, and hoping that he could make it work anyway, he took some time to remove most of the branches before hauling the logs back to the tunnel to begin his work.

Einar returned to the tunnel to get his improvised steel blade and a few sharply fractured rocks that he had collected and kept as tools, but it was cold in the tunnel, and he was having a very difficult time keeping any feeling in his hands as he began his work. He had an idea, took the tools and the two most promising-looking tree trunks, and made his way to the protected alcove where he had been surprised by the helicopter two days prior, glad for some shelter from the stiff morning breeze and seeing that the sun was about to rise over the ridge. Why freeze my hands in that dark tunnel when I can work out here in the sun? He wondered about using the Pulaski to split the log, but, afraid of damaging the wood, decided to try the blade, instead. Wedging it into a crack that already existed from where he had chopped down the tree, he wrapped one end of the blade with a coil of aspen bark fiber to protect his hand, grasped it tightly, and began hitting the other end with a rock. Very slowly the tree began splitting, and Einar worked the blade down one foot, then another, but by that point the could see that this particular tree was a lost cause. Though it had appeared good and straight, the wood was splitting in a gentle spiral, and he could now see that the grain was not straight. He expected this pattern had been caused by the wind or other conditions where the tree had been growing, and very much hoped that all three of the trees he had picked did not share this flaw. Abandoning the twisted tree, he started on the second, with much greater success. The split was clean and straight, and after some careful work he ended up with two long straight sections, one slightly thicker than the other. He set aside the thinner portion, wondering if he might be able somehow to split it further and use it for arrows…

Taking a seat on a half rotted log, Einar marked an area in the center of the stave where the handle was to be, then found two large rocks to wedge one end of the split trunk between, propping it on another and beginning to shave away at the stave with the steel blade, wrapping each end of it in aspen fibers to create handles of sorts. By that time the sun was up, and Einar watched it rise higher in the sky, anxious for the chance to finally begin warming up. He peeled off the bark, setting aside the slippery inner layer to hopefully roast and eat later, trying to dull the pains in his stomach by chewing on a wad of the slightly sweet stuff. He knew that the bow needed to thinner out towards the ends, but wasn’t sure how much thinner, so intended to just keep going until he thought it looked tight. Continuing his careful scraping, switching ends every so often, he debated whether to turn the log over, or do all the scraping on one side. Beginning to get a bit impatient and thinking the task might go more quickly of he alternated sides, he flipped the stave over and began shaving on the reverse side. Several hours later, having stopped only to eat the occasional mouthful of snow to ease his thirst, he finally finished the task to his satisfaction, painstakingly carving nocks into each end of the bow. Now for a string… As he worked, he had gone over and over in his mind what available material might be best used for the bowstring, and had not really been able to come up with anything that he was too excited about. Aspen bark cordage, he was pretty certain, was far too weak, and it was really the only source of fiber available to him. Except for my own hair… But he had already used most of that on the snare the previous day. Lacking a better plan, he went and retrieved the snare, stretching out the cordage and seeing that he had over four feet of it. Not enough, but it’s a start. Eventually getting the necessary length of cordage, he tested it for strength, figuring that it would probably do. He had been worried about the splices, but they seemed to be holding quite well. Very carefully he bent the bow, strung it, inspected his day’s work. Not beautiful, but looks like it ought to send an arrow downrange.

He drew it back carefully then, slowly, liking the feel of it, until the sickening sound of cracking wood told him that all of his work had been for naught. The stave had not actually broken in half, but it had been near enough. Discouraged, tired, his stomach empty and hurting, Einar removed the string, stabbed the wood of the now useless bow down into the snow and started back for the tunnel to retrieve the third tree and see how much he could get done on in it before he lost the light. Taking a slightly different path back to the tunnel and not paying as much attention as he ought to have been to his surroundings, Einar’s foot caught on something just beneath the snow, sending him sprawling. Picking himself up and brushing the snow out of his eyes, he saw that he had tripped over the desiccated and partially eaten carcass of a small deer. The creature’s hair was coming off in clumps, and it appeared to have been dead for several weeks, at least. Hard to tell in the cold weather, but it hadn’t been buried beneath too many snows since losing its battle with the waning winter. He wondered why it had been up so high, this time of year. You hiding from something, too? Didn’t turn out so great for you, huh? He prodded at the carcass with his foot, flipping it over and inspecting the reverse side. The coyotes had been pretty thorough with the carcass; the internal organs and the meat of the haunches were gone, but he saw that some shreds of meat, dried and shriveled, remained on the ribs and around the neck. And the animals had not bothered with the legs, at all. Pretty desperate for some nourishment by that point, Einar decided to risk eating some of the meat in its current state, figuring that it had probably never been much above freezing, and hoping that the creature didn’t die of disease. Letting a few fragments soften in his mouth, he set about inspecting his find, realizing that he had just stumbled upon an excellent source of material for a far superior bowstring to the one he had been planning to use. Struggling with the dry, hard skin of one of the deer’s hind legs, he finally succeeded in prying it back and gaining access to the dry, stiff tendon beneath. He knew that best of all would have been the long, tough sinew that ran along the deer’s back, but the coyotes had all but obliterated it in their quest for food. But he knew that with some work, he would be able to make a strong and quite serviceable length of cordage from the fibers of the leg tendons. Having swallowed the first batch, he pulled off some more shreds of frozen meat from the deer’s neck area, stuffing them into his mouth. He would much rather have cooked the meat, but was glad, at least, that it did not smell or taste at all decayed. He was reminded of stories he had heard of the selection and training routine for the Selous Scouts, a Rhodesian Special Forces unit from the days when there had still been a Rhodesia. Captain David Scott-Donelan, the main trainer for the scouts, had gone on to found a tactical tracking school after Rhodesia was taken over by the Communists. Glad the feds didn’t recruit him to track me down. I’d probably have been done for months ago. Part of the selection process for the Scouts had involved the candidates killing a monkey, hanging it from a tree for a week or two until the meat was good and rotten, then boiling and eating it, maggots and all. If he remembered correctly, only about twelve out of every one hundred and fifty recruits usually finished the course and went on to become Scouts. Well. I’ve still got it a lot better than those guys, all things considered. He started on another mouthful of dead deer.
 
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