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…
· · · ·
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.
*Book One of this story can be found: