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Jasper's Mountain - Part 4

Rachel Saylor

Jasper has been on the mountain far too long. He is unaware of how the hypothermia is quietly creeping up on him and is taking over his rational, capable body and mind. Only as his hands begin to shake uncontrollably while he tries to handle his canteen does he realize something is very wrong. He becomes aware of just how rapid and shallow his breathing is, which throws him into a fit of anxiety. It takes everything in him to calm down and remain composed. His eyes rapidly glance side to side, up and down, surveying the scene. The snow continues to fall from the foggy ceiling. There is not much to be seen on this white mountain top.

You can do this. You’ve been in worse conditions and more trying situations. Make a plan and act now.

Jasper focuses on inhaling deep, controlled breaths and exhaling through his pursed, blue lips.

Realizing he doesn’t have much time to rewarm himself before he loses control of his logic, he rules out the idea of making the what must be an 8 mile trek back to his cabin. Instead, he makes a plan to build a shelter on the mountain. He is desperate to at least hike back down the mountain, but understands he wouldn’t make it down in time and still have the energy to create a strong, warm shelter.

If you want to make it out, you are going to have to start building.

Jasper climbs down a tenth of a mile from the top to find some shelter within the trees. Reaching his numb and shaking hand into his pants pocket, he pulls out his large, sharp knife and slides it out of it’s sheath. He finds a low hanging v-shaped branch to cut down. Holding above the base of the branch with his left hand, he uses his right to set the blade hard against the end where it connects to the trunk of the tree.

Hold steady Jasper.

Back and forth, back and forth, Jasper pushes and pulls the blade hard against the branch. His heavy breaths fill the air and creates a rhythmic beat with the back and forth cuts the sound of the knife makes. Pulling the blade, deep breath in, pushing the blade, pursed breath out. Jasper’s focus heightens on keeping his hands steady, knowing how dire the consequences of cutting his flesh open would be. With one last push of the blade and exhaled breath, the branch falls to the ground and Jasper releases his left hand, places it on his thigh, and relaxes his shoulders forward. Carefully, he slips the knife back into its sheath and places it back in his pocket. He pushes his hands off of his thighs to stand up straight. As he stands, he lifts his head back to breathe in deep gulps of the frigid air.

After he catches his breath, he pulls the branch towards the base of the trunk that is facing down slope of the mountain that is a flattened area. He places the v-branch upside down with the tip pointing skyward. He then anchors a large branch from the tip of the v-branch to the ground, serving as the spine.  

He looks over to the right and sees another tree with low hanging branches. Methodically, Jasper snaps branches off in different lengths. He hauls the load of branches he has snapped, cut and gathered and begins creating the ribs of his shelter by stacking shortest to tallest branches perpendicular on the spine going from the end up to the top.

Once his structure resembles an overstuffed rib cage, he cuts off large strips of bark from surrounding trees and lays them on the inside of his shelter, covering the entire ground surface under the ribs. He piles the bark a couple of inches high before he is satisfied.

Jasper’s body shakes harder and as much as he fights it, he cannot control his body from moving on its own terms. His eyes dart around as he desperately searches for brush with which to fill his lean-to to keep warm. A fallen tree catches his eye. He puts one foot in front of the other as he trudges towards it. Each step lands hard into the ground as gravity pulls his wobbly legs down towards the earth. Jasper lets out a loud grunt when he makes it to the tree. He finds dead leaves hiding under the tree and goes about gathering and transporting the leaves to his shelter. Each load becomes more desperate and difficult for Jasper. On his last load back to the shelter, with his arms piled high with brush, his right foot catches the back of his left and he flies forward, falling on his belly. He clings to what was left of the load and lets out a piercing, guttural scream. Saliva clings to the bottom and top of his lips, and as he opens his mouth and screams, strands of spit bows out like sails on a ship before exploding forth on the dead leaves surrounding his head.

Move Jasper!

With each shaky movement, Jasper grunts. He gets to his knees, then places first the right foot, and then the left on the ground before slowly standing up. As he carries what was left in his arms towards his shelter, he counts his steps.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.

Tears stream down his now dirt stricken face from the brush, making clean streaks develop down his face.

At last, he makes it to his lean-to and places the last of the brush inside, climbing in after it. Looking out at the snow drifting down from his small hole in the front of his shelter, he feels himself also drifting into a sleep he isn’t confident that he will ever wake up from.