A fun day of skiing turns ugly. Now it was a matter of survival.
Hank Brower was an avid cross country skier. He hit the snow covered trails whenever he could.
The coming Saturday was forecast to be bright and sunny. A rare February occurrence where he lived. It would be a beautiful day for a trip to the snowline where Hank and a friend planned to get in a full day of cross country skiing.
As Saturday arrived, the forecast held true. The two planned to hit the road early. They would head for a favorite logging road which was closed for the winter. The road made for a nice wide trail that few people utilized.
At the last minute Hank’s friend cancelled out. Something had come up and he couldn’t get out of it. Hank decided to go it alone.
Once he arrived, he parked his car at the gate that blocked access to the logging road. He was familiar with the area. He had been here several times before and knew the climb up would give him a good workout. The easy down slope on the way back made the climb worthwhile.
He grabbed his day pack, strapped on his skies and headed up the pristine trail. Hank had gone a full five miles before he stopped to eat his lunch. As he sat and gazed over the valley below he noticed the growing cloud cover but didn’t give it much thought. The forecast hadn’t called for any sort of snowfall. He only hoped the clouds wouldn’t block the sun.
Forecasts can be wrong and on this day it was. Within thirty minutes the weather had changed drastically. An unanticipated arctic blast and heavy snow had arrived much earlier than predicted. Hank decided to cut his lunch short and head back to his car. After two miles he found himself in whiteout conditions. He could no longer see the trail.
He decided the best thing he could do was find cover under some trees and wait out the storm. He hoped it would blow over in a couple of hours and he could get back to his car before dark. About twenty yards off the road he found what he was looking for. A small rock ledge under some trees that shielded him from the wind and the snow.
The temperature had dropped to a bone chilling cold. After an hour of waiting it out, the snow was still coming down hard. Hank was getting cold and knew he needed to build a fire. He cleared a small area and gathered what dry tinder he could find. It wasn’t much. Dry wood was even more scarce. He gathered whatever he could find. Once everything was set, he dug in his pack for the small cedar fire starter and a container of waterproof matches he always carried.
A small fire soon gave a little relief from the biting cold, but the small amount of dry wood wouldn’t last long. Within a few hours he was burning damp wood he had placed close to the fire to dry.
The storm continued to howl as the sun began to set. It looked like he would have to spend the night. He wasn’t prepared for this. His clothes weren’t heavy enough for freezing nighttime temperatures and he wasn’t carrying a sleeping bag. He did have an emergency space blanket. He wrapped it around himself as best he could.
By midnight his meager supply of burnable wood had ran out and the fire was down to a few glowing embers. Hank knew he had to keep himself awake. The last thing he wanted to do was fall asleep and freeze to death.
Luckily, his friend knew where he was going. Being off the trail, spotting him would be difficult. He figured he was going to have to ski out once the snow subsided.
He stayed awake for hours as the storm raged on. Some time toward early morning sleep overcame him.
The storm raged on.
Two days later he came to enough to realize a hound dog was licking his face. Several men quickly came into view as they worked at reviving him.
“It’s a good thing you had this fire going or you’d be froze to death by now,” commented one of the rescuers.
In his delirium Hank noticed the small fire and the stack of dry wood next to it. He was too weak to respond.
The creatures small bright eyes peered through the low brush as Hank was carted away on a stretcher.
As soon as everyone had left, he made sure the fire was out and then went about his business.
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