OVER THE EDGE
By Jim Swanson (Banff, Alberta)
Mountain people have great stories to tell, so we hosted our first-ever writing contest! The challenge? Use just 400 well-crafted words to tell us about your biggest backcountry blunders. Congrats to our winners, who have received a cash prize, publication in Volume 4, and a hefty book pack from Rocky Mountain Books!
We went off-trail along the Yukness Ledges. My wife and I were heading from Lake Oesa down to Lake O’Hara and thought to explore the tablelands. She was hiking ahead and posed next to an inukshuk on the edge of a cliff.
I missed the photo and asked her to pose again. She crouched, smiled, and in rising pushed against the pile of stones. It crumbled. She disappeared backwards with a shout.
I ran to the edge. I could see down to Lake O’Hara. I thought she had fallen a great distance. The immensity of the landscape seemed to close in on me. The world turned dark.
Then I saw her lying on a ledge about 10 metres below. I yelled into the emptiness for help. It was October; there were few people on the trails. To reach her, I had to scramble below her ledge and then back up. Was she still alive, but dying? No, she had pulled herself onto her back on a little patch of grass in a field of rubble. She had no visible injuries, except for a cut on her head. She claimed to be fine.
I put my hat on her head, a space blanket and my jacket under her, and made a pillow with my shirt and t-shirt. She seemed to be okay, so I ran to seek help, to a point where I could see the trail. There were two hikers on the far side of the valley. With the wind and the creek, there was no way they could hear me, but I waved my arms and screamed. I don’t think they noticed.
I ran between the vantage point and her ledge several times. An hour passed. It started to drizzle. Eventually, two hikers came by on their way back to the lodge. I told them the situation, accepted their offer of a down jacket, and asked them to report the accident.
For another hour I continued the routine. I didn’t know what response their report would elicit. It was getting dark and the drizzle was changing to sleet. As I was returning to the ledge, wondering if I would have to leave her and run for help, I heard the helicopter coming over Abbot Pass.
My wife still does not hesitate to walk to the edge of a cliff. What are the chances of falling off twice?
*Contest entries were gently edited to prepare for publication.
→ This piece was originally published in Volume 4 of the Canadian Rockies Annual.
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