I slowed down enough that I was finally able to stop on a small rock about half the size of my boot that was sticking out of the scree. That’s when I realized that the sharp rocks had torn my clothing and left several cuts throughout my legs, forearms, and hands. Where there once were calluses on my hands, there were now pieces of scree imbedded.
At this point I didn’t feel that I was in any real danger even though another 100 yards and I would have dropped off onto the sharp, jagged boulders below.
Somehow my bow had stayed with me. My hand must have been between the string and the riser. Keeping one foot on the small rock, I took my back quiver off and tied my bow to it. I turned around on my hands and knees and started crawling back toward the top. I only made it about four or five feet from the small rock and then slipped again out of control back to the rock, grabbing it with my hand.
That’s when I realized that I was in real trouble. There was no one around who could help. I figured that by now, Lester was miles away and wouldn’t hear me even if I tried to call for help.
I worked my way to get my footing back on the small rock and finally managed to get “perched” back on it. I kept moving from one foot to the other as my leg muscles were getting fatigued from the awkward position I was crouched in.
I kept telling myself not to panic. I was trying to control my breathing. It was as though I was starting to hyperventilate uncontrollably. There was no way out. I figured at this point, my destiny was to slide down the scree off the cliffs to the jagged rocks below. I tried thinking of other things to keep myself calm. All I could think about was my family and what it was going to be like for them without me. I said a few prayers, asking the good Lord to watch over them. At that point I knew that it wasn’t the fear of dying that was bothering me; it was leaving my family. I kept trying to figure ways out of the situation.
There was a large boulder about 300 yards below me that was big enough to stop my fall if I could control my slide to it but either side of it and I was off the cliffs. I thought if I would hit that boulder, that maybe I would only end up with a broken leg or arm, but the more I thought about it, I figured I would probably die of exposure through the night if they couldn’t find me. At one point my mind was telling me that I might as well just give up because there was no way out and I knew I couldn’t hold myself on the small rock forever. I started thinking more about my family and how nice it would be to see my grandchildren grow up.
And then the thought of leaving my wife Karen became overwhelming. That’s when I made the biggest decision of my life. If I was going to die, I was at least not going to give up without a fight.
Again, I turned around and instead of being on my hands and knees, I was using my fingertips and the toes of my Meindl boots, much like a spider crawl I did when we were kids.
I started working my way back up the scree, putting my boot tips and my fingers in selected spots as I was climbing. I got past the spot where I had crawled to the first time on my hands and knees and I thought to myself that I might have a chance of making it but in reality, at any given second, I was going to be slipping uncontrollably to the cliffs below. I kept climbing at a left-hand angle, heading toward the washout. I figured if I could make it there, the worst thing that could happen would be that I would spend a cold night on the face of the mountain.
I was about half way there, slowly working my way, when the stress got to me and I started to laugh to myself. I told myself I was laughing at the “face of death”. The whole way working myself up, I kept trying to think about other things rather than the situation I was in and how nice it would be to have my wife’s arms around me again. Step by step, fingertip-by-fingertip, I was getting closer to the washout. The toughest part was keeping myself in control when I got close because I wanted to hurry and get to a safe spot, but I knew one false slip and it was over.
When I made it to the washout, I felt as if somebody had given me a gift. But there were still other obstacles to overcome. The water had washed out the scree and made several drop offs, but at least if I fell off one of them, I would only land in the center of the washout. The farther down the mountain, the bigger the drop offs got so there was still only one way to go?and that was up.
As I worked my way to the top, the sun was going down and darkness would soon follow. I kept moving at a pace that wouldn’t exhaust me. I was already fatigued from the last few hours since I had slipped off the sheep trail. Finally?the last step from the washout to the grass on the plateau! I knelt down and thanked the good Lord for giving me a chance to see my family again. But within the next 10-15 minutes, the adrenalin must have started wearing off?I started shaking uncontrollably?I knew that I had to start walking down the grass slope to get back to camp. The cool night air was settling in and I could feel it.
When I was about ¾ of the way down the mountain, I could hear Lester yelling my name at the top of his lungs, in the darkness. The mountain steams below were making so much noise that I knew he couldn’t hear me. I kept making my way carefully toward him in the rough terrain knowing that I didn’t want to make any more mistakes coming down the mountainside.
After meeting up with Lester and the horses, he couldn’t stop swearing at me. He was upset because he couldn’t get back to camp before dark and be with Molly and eat a good supper. After all I had been through, I was still pretty calm at this point because I was just happy being alive. I said it was no “big deal”. We could just build a campfire right here and head back in the morning. He was furious!
That’s when I told him to, “shut his mouth and that from now on?he was going to be one step in front of me” because he could have warned me about the scree and the dangers I was facing by crossing it. He still wanted to head back to camp, so for the next three hours we worked our way back through the dark timber trying to find the main trails along the streams. We arrived in camp late that night. It felt good to crawl into my sleeping bag.
The next morning my whole body hurt. The muscles of my hands were clenched tight and it hurt to open them. I could especially feel my fingertips because there was no skin left on them. There were several cuts and bruises all over the rest of my body. The rest of that day I spent in camp getting my thoughts together, making sure that my archery equipment was still shooting properly, and trying to recuperate.
The following morning we were climbing the mountain again on horseback but now the weather had changed dramatically. It had snowed that night in the higher elevations and the weather was getting bad. Fog was moving in from peak to peak making it difficult to spot the rams.
We spotted one group that had a large ram in it. We decided that I would try and get ahead of it and Lester would push it to me. When I was getting into the rock outcroppings on the side of the mountain, I realized that I didn’t know what was under my feet.
I froze in my tracks and realized that I had a fear of heights that I never had before. I sat down on the ground and told myself that if I didn’t walk out to that rock outcropping that I may never have the fortitude to do it again. It took about a half hour to 45 minutes of trying to keep myself from turning back. Finally, step-by-step, I worked my way into the ambush position.
I stayed tight into the rocks waiting for the rams to walk past me, but there was nothing. Finally Lester came and told me the rams had gone up over the top before they got to me. The fog was worse. We decided to head back down to camp and wait it out. The next five days were spent in camp waiting for the weather to clear but it didn’t happen and I was finally forced to give up the hunt and go home.