The sun broke the horizon at 6:40 that morning and spilled its golden warmth across the Widow’s brow. Dustin’s lungs screamed for oxygen and every muscle threatened mutiny against his will. Every step was a fierce battle of gravity versus determination; man versus giant.
The Widow stands 17,897 feet above sea-level, eternally capped in snow and cobalt veins of glacial ice. In the summertime the ascent of this giant is treacherous at best, and many are the stories of hikers falling to their deaths from its precarious cliffs and ledges. Equally as numerous are the tales of skiers and snowboarders that end up missing while attempting to ride the beast from head to foot in wintertime. Ignorant tourists with no respect for the mountain or nature, in Dustin’s opinion.
He gulped at the air then at the water-bottle in his hand while gazing at the summit. “This,” he breathed, “is the last rest until I get to the top.” The Widow’s peak was so close now—a mere 200 feet above and bathing in the sun’s merciful glowing warmth—Dustin’s entire being longed to be in that shaft of incandescence. Sweat rolled down his spine in tiny rivulets and froze at the seam of forehead and helmet. He took another healthy draught from his bottle and surveyed what he believed to be all of British Columbia.
Every vertical step of the way Dustin rehearsed his descent plan. This is where other would-be history-makers had met their demise, he reminded himself. Many during the winter succumbed to exposure, avalanche, and injury. Those believed to have made it to the bottom were thought to have lost their way out and roamed the wilderness until cold or hunger took them. None of this could be confirmed however, because nobody had ever been recovered from the Widow’s icy grip.
Dustin was a qualified mountaineer and a seasoned backcountry snowboarder. Months of planning had gone into this endeavor; maps and equipment had been checked time and time again in preparation for his adventure. In 12 years of riding, Dustin climbed and boarded more than 15 peaks, all over 14,000 feet. This one, he told himself, would be no different.
Looking down the mountainside he could see the thin ribbon of highway far below and marked the spot where he left the snowmobile three hours before. Dustin knew the snowpack and ice would never hold the weight of the vehicle, and the noise would surely cause an avalanche to swallow him whole. His only option was to leave it behind and ride down to it.
The hike that morning started in a blinding snowfall. He remembered adjusting his headlamp and cursing the fact that his snowshoes were rendered useless once he reached the vertical climbing portion of his ascent. Now he remembered they would be needed again at the bottom.
He reached the apex, legs burning and his pounding heart threatened to burst from his chest. Carefully removing the backpack he unstrapped his snowboard and jammed it into the snow at his side, then stomped a small patch of snow down smooth so he could sit. Rummaging through his pack he produced an energy bar, a compass and topographical map of the area.
Dustin double-checked his compass bearings and map coordinates while he stuffed bits of stale and frozen Cliff bar into his mouth. He needed to head south by southeast to hit the valley leading back to his snowmobile. Finding a solid visual marker in an adjacent facing mountainside, he made a quick mental note of it and began clipping the snowboard onto each foot.
Standing up and taking a deep breath, Dustin pointed his board downhill and let gravity do the rest.
The ride down was a dream. Every turn was picture perfect. Sprays of fine powder shot out at tremendous arches as he rocked from toe to heel in tight powerful curves. His speed increasing by the second, Dustin plunged down the hillside in a blur. Every curve was graceful and delicate, like frosting on an immaculate wedding cake. Time stood still as the wind and cold sprays of snow turned his face into an ice-cube. Finding opportunities of excitement in the jutting rocks, Dustin launched himself into the air again and again, each time higher than the last. He thought to himself how shameful it was that no one could see him now—tickling the blue vein of the giant from head to toe.
Racing to the flat-bottom of the mountain, Dustin angled the board towards his pre-chosen destination and eventually came to a stop in a tree-studded ravine. Heart thumping and adrenaline pumping, he turned to see a perfect line etched in the snow from summit to his back foot—17,000 feet of history lie in his gaze.
Dustin unhooked the snowboard and replaced it with the snowshoes from his pack. He checked the compass again to make sure he was on the right path and began the strenuous hike out and back to his snowmobile.
The trek was slow-going but nowhere near the strain climbing to the peak had been. His mind was now a rush with having been the only person to ride the Widow to the bottom and live to tell about it. He could see it now; newspaper articles first—maybe even a radio or T.V. interview. A fierce smile erupted across Dustin’s face as he trounced into the forest.
A swift breeze pushed into the ravine loosing powdery snow from nearby trees and Dustin was reminded of a snow-globe—his smile widened just a bit further. He turned to face his conquered foe and shot it his customary one-fingered victory salute.
Dustin stopped to check his instruments again after slogging along for nearly 45 minutes in the deep snow. He showed to be right on target but the map and terrain didn’t seem to agree. He was clearly moving down further into the crease while the topo showed an increase in elevation. Maps had let him down before so he kept trust in the compass needle and his own sense of judgment. He was going the right way.
Further along, the ravine walls had turned to towering snowdrifts that funneled down into a cave. Random treetops poking out of the drifts cast jagged shadows across the opening's face. Moving closer he could see, much to his relief, light coming from the other side.
It was hazy and distant but it was indeed a throughway. A fresh blast of air kicked up a foul dank odor and more powdery snow. Dustin turned back once more to see the Widow still basking in the rising sun and wearing his tracks like a smirk.
The cobwebs were thick in the maw, the ground icy and full of bulky protruding rocks; tricky for snowshoes. After removing them he found the going no easier in snowboarding boots. Countless wilderness safety classes led him to believe that this tunnel would not make a suitable home for any wildlife. The passage looked large enough to drive a car through; too drafty for bear, and too wide-open for any mountain lions. Perhaps something had wandered in and died he told himself. Peering through the murky light he pushed on, cobwebs wrapping him in a fine sheet of silk.
Another blast of wind whisked through the tunnel creating a low moan that chilled Dustin’s blood. He attempted to quicken his pace but was hampered by his backpack and snowboard. The board was attached lengthwise down his back and would occasionally catch his ankles and any calf-high rocks he had just scrambled over.
Dustin was reaching for his water bottle when he heard it—a low hissing breath, growing all around. That was all it took to send him into a panicky, jolting, crash towards the tunnels opposite end. “Stupid—stupid!” he spat, bumbling over rocks as the hissing grew louder and closer.
Ahead he could see pale white sunlight. It poured in over a field of strangely churned snow between him and the opening. The nearby tumble of rocks sent him darting forward without hesitation.
He had taken less than two steps into the field when his footing gave way. Thrusting his hands out to arrest his fall, he found they did not make contact with solid ground under the snow, and his legs seemed somewhat free to move, yet tangled in some odd feeling chords.
Trying to straighten up and roll over, Dustin found his hands stuck beneath the snow and pulled both free from their gloves. The reek here was unbearable and he retched into the closest glove-hole.
The hissing had stopped.
Scanning the cave in the feeble reflected sunlight, Dustin could see nothing and so rummaged in an interior jacket pocket for his headlamp. He quickly jammed the lamp onto his forehead and fumbled with the switch until it blazed to life. Inspecting his snow-covered legs he could not see what held them in place, the more he tried to free himself the more entangled he became. Dustin tried to calm himself and stopped struggling.
Looking around to gain his bearings he found the source of the rancid odor. Littering the walls of this hollow were the desiccated bodies of bears, moose, wolves, mountain lions and, unmistakably, humans. They were plastered to walls or lying in heaps not far from where Dustin now lay.
Suddenly the movement of something enormous, shiny, and black overhead caught the corner of his vision. Looking up Dustin’s headlamp fell upon a red hourglass the size of a stop sign. His tiny lamp danced around the shape in convulsive spasms, revealing eight glossy pole-like legs suspending the tremendous abdomen from the recesses of the cave walls. Without any warning the whole mass above him closed the distance faster than he could raise a hand to stop it. There was a sharp piercing pain deep into his ribcage and he felt as if white-hot liquid metal had replaced his blood. Searing pain stole his screams and racked every fiber of his being as darkness took him.
Alejandro Sandoval II
No biography was submitted.