The seven figures were strung out along the base of the glacier. It was not an expedition by any means, just a group of friends walking on the crusty ice. None of them were aware that there was anything more than a mountain range beneath their feet.
“Never realized how quiet it could be,” one person said to the group. Another shot back, “Or how cold!” Everyone laughed.
Barney and Doc had planned this get together and the trip almost two months before. Both enjoyed the outdoors and the frigid winter weather.
Barney led the parade since he was the most familiar with the area. His partner, Doc followed up the rear. And each hiker was separated by at least ten feet and equipped with shoe shoes and hiking poles.
Deanna turned to Doc, “It sure is pretty up here.” She took three more steps than added, “Ain’t got nothing’ like this in Texas.” Doc smiled.
Barney, who was raised in Corpus Christi, shouted back, “Hey, don’t be putting’ Texas down like that…we got other things like the most beautiful women.” Everyone laughed aloud at that.
The group was made up of medical personnel from the air force hospital in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was a three-day holiday and they were going to make the most of it. This was their second day in the backcountry with the snow and higher elevations.
The day before was spent mostly driving four hundred miles. At every turn it seemed they stopped to look at and photograph the scenery. When they finally reached the park it was late afternoon. That left them with just enough time to get moved into the cabin.
The cabin was of typical ‘A’ frame construction. It’s designed to have an extreme sloping roof so that the snowfall would not build up and eventually crush the building. The brochure said it could sleep ten people comfortably so there was extra room to spare for all the extra equipment they dragged along.
Alan was from Ohio. “The land,” he explained, “is flat for the most part.” Later he would confess that he had never been isolated like they were now. He came from a large family and a populated neighborhood. He was also the top ranking person in the group with a specialty in medical administration.
Linda and Steve worked together in the doctor’s office. They did the prescreening and medical workups on patients prior to the doctor seeing them. They did everything together yet claimed not to be couple. Everyone else knew better though.
Then there was Edward. He had been assigned to a remote station in Alaska. “It was my choice”, he claimed, before the trip no one could understand why anyone would ask to assign to a remote station, soon everyone recognized in himself or herself why he would do so.
Lastly there was Jocelyn. Like Doc and Barney this was her first duty sight. She had met Doc during a routine flight physical. She grew up in the Cascades of Washington state and was much the Tomboy, this independence and her simple beauty caught Doc’s eye immediately and he asked her along.
That first night in the cabin was strange as Alan pulled out his mini-television and turned it on. He could only get one station to tune in from Denver, Colorado. The seven huddled in mass to watch the fuzzy screen as it bathed them in bright gray light.
“Thought we were supposed to have electricity?” Alan asked.
Doc shook his head sideways “Nope rustic means no electricity and no running water.”
Everyone stopped and looked at Doc
Then Linda spoke out “What do you meaning no running water?” She stood in the center of the cabin with both hands on her hips. “What are we going to do for the bathroom?”
Barney piped in and said “It’s out the back door.”
Linda walked to the back door to look out at the outhouse. She pulled the door open and in fell a wall of powder. It rushed over her before she could do anything. She just stood there as the rest of them laughed.
“According to the map, “Barney said, “We should head up that way behind the cabin.”
“Thought you knew this area,” commented Stephen.
Barney defended himself by saying, “I do. I just never started from this place before.” He turned and tramped up the rise.
The sun had risen about two hours ago before they started off for a day in the snow. The hike up the mountainside was harder than any of them expected. They rested several times for several minutes as they made their way higher and higher.
As they spread out each member of the party became lost in their own thoughts as the majestic mountains enveloped them. Several times the seven stopped just to look and take pictures.
The air was clear and cold. A slight breeze blew down from the summit. It was silent.
Deanna blushed at Barney’s joke about the beauty of Texas women. And everyone laughed heartily at the obvious prejudice. Barney carried in his heart for all things Lone Star state.
The group crunched on. Doc was the last in the line of people as they walked their way across the floe. He paused momentarily to listen harder than he had before.” Quiet! Quiet!” he calmly shouted. Everyone stopped and looked back at him, as he stood frozen with his gaze transfixed up the mountain towards the summit.
Each member of the group looked around at Doc then up the slope to the top of the mountain. Not even a breath could be heard coming from the seven.
Doc shot a glance towards Barney. Barney knew the look, the focus of Doc’s eyes. He had seen it before. Doc sensed danger and the hair on the back of Barney’s neck hackled.
“Avalanche!” Doc stated. “Run, Barney, Run!”
They all took off after Barney. Each trying desperately to reach the other side of the bowl before the white death swept them from the face of the earth.
Stephen tripped and stumbled, then fell. Alan dragged him to his feet, and then Jocelyn went down. She got up without any assistance.
They could see the wall of loose snow flying their way and they were trapped directly in its path. It curled up and over much like a wave of water. It was the air in front of the actual avalanche being pushed ahead. It blinded them of the approach of the real danger.
They were all within steps of safety on the other side of the bowl. Suddenly Deanna lost her footing and fell, sliding spread-eagle down the hill nearly twenty feet. Doc changed his direction and rushed to her aid. He pulled her to her feet and half ran and half dragged her to the wall. Barney was there to grab her arms and yank her to safety.
Doc jumped for the wall himself but it was too late. The edge of his snowshoe was caught up in the roaring flow of snow and ice. The sound was deafening, louder than a fighter aircraft preparing for take off.
Doc saw Barney’s mouth open, but he could not hear what he said as suddenly he was swept away.
Doc tumbled viciously head or heels. He felt chunks of ice slam into his body. He lost his ability to recognize up from down. His instinct to survive had kicked in and he recalled his training. He started swimming the backstroke, trying to stay above the snow and ice. His mind raced ahead with the thought, “What if I’m upside down and going backwards?” He just kept swimming as hard as he could.
Suddenly it started to slow down and stop altogether. That was Doc’s signal to try and make a fist with his hands and put them in front of his face. The idea was to create a bubble of air in front of his nose and mouth and hopefully push the snow away from his face so he could breathe. This might increase his chance at survival.
Doc pushed against the snow with all his might. It moved very little. Suddenly he found himself entombed in a silent and cold block of ice.
The cold numbed and blocked out the pain of what he figured was a dislocated hip or broken leg. His left leg was behind him and it felt twisted inward.
Then there was the crushing sensation of the snow as it settled firmly against his chest. It squeezed at him like a vice grip. Still he managed to flex his hands and push against the snow that threatened to close in on his face.
Everything was dark and he could not tell whether he was upside down or right side up. The silence he found himself in was as deafening as the roar of the avalanche. Then he relaxed. Panic had faded from his being and waited for death to take him.
Crunch, crunch, crunch, was the sound he heard.
It was distinctive in the prison of silent cold death. Then Doc heard more and more crunching noise. He immediately recognized it as footsteps.
He started to struggle, pushing harder against the snow that pushed down on his face. Suddenly he saw a bright burst of light across his check bones. His eyes were covered with snow and he was unable to see because of that. However he could tell he was upright and been able to push an opening in the snow.
“Hey!” Doc called out. “Hey! Over here.” He could see shadows moving from side to side and then voices. He was going to survive after all and his friends were going to save him.
Barney lay on his stomach and gently wiped away the snow that had frozen to Doc’s eyelids. “Doc, buddy, speak to me,” he cried out.
Doc tried to blink but it was hard. “Hi ya, Barney, get me out of here. I feel an ice age coming on.”
With that Barney started to laugh as the team pitched in to dig Doc out.