February 3, 2016, 1:37 a.m.
It took a good half-hour, but the sardines and energy bar restored Clive’s warmth a little and, likewise, his dwindling cognitive abilities.
He occasionally used the shaft of his ice axe to poke holes through the snow accumulating above his head like a cottony ceiling.
The intermittent spasms of shivering followed increasingly more extended periods of peace. This comfort lured Clive toward sleep – one he knew he may not wake up from.
It was essential to allow his memories to keep him awake as long as possible.
He mentally revisited the many family vacations with his wife and son. This made Clive miss them all the more.
He dreaded telling them about the brain tumor. His son had gotten married the previous year, and his grandchild would be born in a few months. He desperately wanted to be there for the event, but the odds were against it.
Not falling asleep was Clive’s biggest challenge in the hours ahead.
He kept his hands close to his body and was able to flex his fingers. However, in the unlikely event he should survive until morning, he worried that his feet may not function well enough to get back down the mountain.
He wondered aloud if his toes were frostbitten. Maybe. They were undoubtedly numb. He would know for sure when they warmed up again, as there would be pain.
February 3, 2016, 3:53 a.m.
Clive nodded off, awakened only by a round of violent shivering. He counted backward from a hundred and realized that he didn’t hesitate or get confused – he still had his wits.
His memories took his mind off the brutal cold and carried him back to an incident in the Big Bend area of Texas. Clive wandered around the country after getting back from Vietnam, mostly backpacking off the beaten path, bushwhacking if you prefer.
It was midafternoon, and he was hiking along the rim of a canyon. He could see the Rio Grande in the distance, but the heat haze rippling off the barren surfaces distorted much in his view.
Looking down into the canyon on his right, he noticed a trail about 400 feet below him that came directly up from the river. He wondered why this trail was not on his topo map.
While scanning the trail, the otherwise motionless landscape suddenly came alive. Clive saw two beefy figures wearing Stetsons standing in the path facing two slimmer figures walking towards them.
He grabbed his binoculars and took a prone position on a rock that jutted out over the canyon. He could clearly see that the smaller figures walking towards the two men were a tall, thin, redheaded woman and a dog, a German shepherd.
Clive’s heart raced when he saw the woman suddenly turn and run. One of the two men in Stetsons gave chase and caught up with the woman who was burdened by a large backpack. The brutish man slammed her to the ground.
The German shepherd went after the woman’s attacker. A shot rang out, and the dog immediately went down, yelping pitifully and trying to regain his feet. The shooter walked up to the dog and leveled several kicks at his ribs, then emptied another round into the woman’s defender, silencing him.
Clive knew that this was not going to turn out well. These two men were ruthless.
He backtracked until he came to a steep ravine and managed to work his way down to the trail. Staying in the brush and moving as quietly as possible, he made his way toward the violence.
When he came upon the scene, both of the “scrub bubbas” had their backs to him. One was occupied with keeping the woman pinned to the ground. The other stood watching with the carbine resting on his shoulder.
The woman was struggling valiantly against her attacker.
The man with the rifle began urging his partner on with shouts of encouragement. Fortunately for Clive, they was making so much noise that neither man heard him approaching with an Army Issue Colt 45 in his hands.
Clive pressed the gun’s muzzle against the back of the cheerleader’s head and told him to drop the rifle, kneel down, and look straight ahead. He then stepped back a few paces as the other man got off the woman.
Clive turned the weapon toward him and shouted, “Don’t bother, you won’t be needing your trousers.” He further ordered the man to kneel beside his partner, facing away and don’t look back.
He then asked the young woman if she was OK. She stood up, brushed herself off, and replied, “Yes, thank God.”
Then she walked back to where her dog lay. With tears streaming down her face, she knelt beside her companion, gently running her hands along his body.
Standing back up, she looked at Clive and said firmly, “My name is Emily; what do we do now?”
“Well, Emily,” Clive told her, “We need to take care of these guys and get the hell out of here.” The men hadn’t said anything yet. They both just looked straight ahead.
Clive instructed Emily to open his pack and get out the climbing rope. He then ordered the men to sit back to back.
Clive asked Emily if she could handle a gun. “Sure,” Emily replied, “My dad’s a cop. He made sure his wife and daughters knew how to use every gun in the house.”
“Great,”said Clive, “I’ll tie these fellows up together. If they so much as blink, shoot them both, empty the clip.”
Clive had learned every knot and rope trick in the book as an Army Ranger. In a matter of minutes, he had them tightly bound together.
Their boots would be taken away, so they couldn’t follow Clive and Emily in this hostile terrain – if the men managed to free themselves.
After returning the gun to Clive, Emily asked him what he wanted her to do. He told her to go back to her dog and retrieve his collar. “We can’t leave anything here that can be traced to us,” he added.
On her short walk back to Shep’s body, she noticed a military-style Alice pack setting just off the trail. When she dragged the pack out onto the trail, one of the men snarled, “Don’t touch that pack; you don’t know who you are dealing with. We’ll track down the both of you.”
Clive thought a moment; what had he and Emily stumbled into?
He opened the camouflage pack, and it was crammed with stacks of hundred-dollar bills. He knew now what was going on and what this meant. He studied the smirking men for a few moments, realizing that there was only one option left.
These weren’t just a couple of Texas yahoos assaulting a young woman hiking alone in the scrub. They were buying drugs. And, odds are that somebody from a Mexican drug cartel would soon be coming up the trail from the River.
These vile men had forced Clive and Emily into a situation where there was only one way out. Clearly, Emily was a strong person; he reckoned that she knew that their lives were in danger and desperate measures were called for.
Emily looked Clive straight in the eyes and asked, “Are you going to take this money?” He responded without pause, “Hell no, I’m not a thief, are you?”
“No,” she said emphatically, “I just wanted to make sure what kind of a guy just saved me from who knows what. Let’s get out of here.”
He turned to Emily and said, “Get your backpack on and start walking up the trail. There is a ravine on your right a couple hundred yards up the trail. Go back into the ravine out of view and wait for me.”
He saw something in Emily’s eyes that indicated that she knew what Clive was about to do and that it had to be done. Without hesitation, she slung her backpack over her shoulder and took off up the trail.
Clive walked back to the men, and one of them said smugly, “I see you have come to your senses. Untie us now, or you’ll be sorry you ever got involved.”
Clive did remove his climbing rope from the two brutes, but they never knew it.
After returning his knife to its sheath, Clive used sagebrush to sweep the few partial tracks leading up the trail to the ravine. The rocky surface of the trail was a blessing.
When he caught up with Emily, he led her up the steep rocky slope and onto the overhanging rock. He cautioned her to lie down beside him on the rock and cover anything that could reflect the sun.
From their perch, they could see the trail coming up from the river. They waited less than 20 minutes before two figures appeared on the trail. One had a backpack on.
Clive and Emily observed the two Hispanic men suddenly stop when they came upon the drug buyers lying on the ground. They appeared to be having a conversation but suddenly started exploring the area, stopping at the dog then returning to the Texans.
The drug runners were apparently trying to figure out what had happened. Once satisfied it didn’t involve the two personally, they started back down the trail from where they came.
They watched the men until they disappeared. The drug dealers were both carrying backpacks now. One was camouflage.
Neither Clive nor Emily spoke of the incident or talked to one another again.
February 3, 2016, 5:25 a.m.
Clive was lost in his memories and failed to notice the storm had stopped. Daylight was streaming down into his burrow in the snow. His spirits rose when he successfully crawled out of the hole and was able to put his full weight on his feet.
His toes were still numb, but he summited with a bit of help from his ice axe in less than an hour. The day was incredibly clear. He could see all the way to Northern Ireland from the top of Ben Nevis.
This would be Clive’s final summit. He briefly took in the view and started down. When he got home, he would immediately start packing for Alaska, spending the next couple of weeks with his family.
There was much to discuss.
April 12, 2016
Concluding his interview with Outside magazine, Clive added the following summation of his life. “My life is not about the number of mountains I have climbed. Hell, I can’t even remember their names anymore. The real question is whether I was a worthy man, a good person. Well, in the end, I guess it just depends on who you ask.”
Clive Wilson died a few days later. His outdoor funeral was attended by hundreds of family, friends and fellow climbers. In the very back of the crowd, all alone, stood a tall redhead with a single tear running down her cheek and a secret in her heart.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.