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Adventure Funny Teens & Young Adult

Experienced mountaineers are extremely cautious and always avoid taking unnecessary risks. Jake was not an experienced mountaineer.


He had been to a few classes, of course; he wasn’t that stupid. He knew to check the harness every time, double check the knots, how to haul himself out of an icy crevasse with altitude sickness and a broken arm…that sort of thing. In fact, altitude sickness was the one thing that they’d covered on the course that had spooked him a little. High-altitude cerebral edema, they said, is what happens when fluid collects in your brain. Along with severe headache and nausea, it can also cause drowsiness, uncharacteristic behavior, and loss of consciousness. After a presentation of case studies of people suffering from altitude sickness and the traumatic events that followed, Jake had left feeling thoroughly sick himself. But that didn’t stop him making plans for his first ascent to the summit of Mount Washington. It couldn’t be that hard…could it?


It certainly wasn’t an easy mountain to climb. Especially not this time of year. The most popular route to the summit was via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, but in winter it was closed due to the risk of avalanches. Instead, he would have to take a much steeper route. Aside from the obvious hazards, there would be no facilities on the summit- which meant no public areas to rest or take shelter in a snowstorm. He didn’t expect to see anyone else up here in such freezing conditions, either. But he was prepared, with fifty pounds of the best gear he could afford, a laminated map of the route and an ton of trail mix. And anyway, he preferred these conditions. The cold heightened his senses, gave him more of a thrill. And the view would be breath-taking, of course.


He set off before sunrise. The mountain loomed overhead in the semi-darkness like a schoolmaster, the morning sun a naughty toddler peeping over the horizon. He had been looking forward to and preparing for this trip for months. His friends had gone on a long trip hiking the Appalachian trail last year. They were all big on extreme sports and idolized the mountaineers in the 60s who had done it without a lot of modern age comforts. They hadn’t invited him along for reasons they wouldn’t disclose, but he suspected it was because they thought he wasn’t up to much.


‘Everyone has to start somewhere, Jakey.’ They had said, with an air one might use when talking to a child. ‘You’ll get there. You just have to keep trying.


They’d said that when he’d got his first girlfriend too.


He began his walk, first heading east along Tuckerman Ravine, before he turned and began to climb north. The ascent passed without incident, unless you counted several stops for sustenance, and by lunchtime he had relaxed into his own natural rhythm. He was feeling confident he would reach the summit in a few hours’ time. He stopped to catch his breath half-way up, and to take a look at the view slowly spreading out below him. The sun was finally warming his toes now and the mountain was less intimidating in the daylight. At this altitude, the snow was still fairly soft, and the gradient was relatively gentle and easy to navigate, having been explored by many other mountaineers over the years. Feeling proud of his achievement thus far, he removed some layers and even took a couple of selfies- to send to his friends, and to his mum, of course. She liked to see what he was getting up to these days.


Further on, however, the route became steeper, and harder to discern from the endless wasteland of snow around him. There were invisible patches of ice, and the snow was densely packed and slippery. An experienced mountaineer would have been using crampons, or at the very least been holding their ice axe in their hand, in order to save themselves in the event of a fall. But Jake was having the time of his life, dizzy with his success, and absolutely oblivious to any danger. He’d show them!


Suddenly and without warning he slipped and plunged onto his stomach. He glanced over his shoulder and was confronted by the harrowing sight of five thousand feet of snowy mountain below him, shining in the midday sun like the glorious gates of heaven. Idiot! What was he thinking?! That could’ve been it, then! He took a moment to calm himself, breathing deeply in and out a few times. Much as he hated to admit it, the sudden feeling that he might be about to slide to an icy doom had shaken his confidence a little. He was going too fast. C’mon, Jake. Just take it slow. It was time to bring out the big guns. He grappled with his rucksack for a moment to pull on his crampons- sharp, spiky casings that attached onto his boots, to give him more grip. That ought to do the trick.


Tentatively, he tested one out. Immediately, his boots made firmer contact with the snow, and he heaved a sigh of relief. Reassured, he took a confident step forward, lost his balance and immediately plummeted feet first down the mountain.


His mind went blank, wild with terror as the ground below rose up to meet him. He scrambled to try and roll onto his back to see where he was going and immediately regretted it. His hands grabbed desperately at the ground, fingers spread wide apart, but he was travelling too fast, he couldn’t stop…a sudden flash of memory came to him and he recalled something the alpine instructor had showed them at the ski slope…something called a self-arrest? He wasn’t carrying his ice axe! Jake, you fucking moron! Terrified now, he scrambled for a footing, attempting to dig his crampons into the snow and using his hands to try to slow his descent, frantically trying to pull the axe out of its loop, but he only succeeded in ripping open his rucksack; the contents spilled out miserably after him, like a regrettable contrail of woe. Mournfully, he covered his face and screamed.


Unexpectedly, his crampons dug into something solid, and quickly slowed his fall. He had landed in a large snowdrift, up against the side of a small building. Gasping with shock, he lay on the ground, dizzy from the adrenaline. Relief and joy welled up inside him. He was saved! He would live to climb another day! He laughed in between gasps, checking himself over for injuries. Definitely a few bruises, and his hands felt raw from trying to stop himself sliding, but nothing a hot bath and a few ibuprofen wouldn’t solve- he was alive!


At least his humiliating descent had been a private one. He got shakily to his feet, and gingerly checked over his pack. The axe was still lodged stubbornly in its casing (of course), but most of the contents of his pack appeared to have been strewn around the mountain, including the several pounds of trail mix he had lovingly packaged into individual sealed bags for easier consumption. His torch and compass were missing, along with the- extremely expensive -GPS altimeter watch. It took quite a lot of willpower for him not to sit back down and burst into tears right there. He’d spent all of last months’ paycheck on getting the best gear he could afford, and that watch had been the biggest purchase. Moreover, if he couldn’t find his stuff, he couldn’t continue on up the mountain, and he wouldn’t be able to get to the summit. Cold, tired, and overwhelmed, he reasoned that he wasn’t going to get any of it back this way. He would have to wait a while, and rest. He wasn’t going to risk something like that happening again. Served him right for being so foolish.


He retrieved the ice axe from his rucksack and held it cautiously at his side- resisting the urge to throw it on the ground in frustration -and decided to check out whatever this building that had broken his fall was. Maybe there might be someone in there who would lend him a map, or…at the very least, it was a sheltered area to sit, warm up and calm down.


As he edged carefully around the perimeter, he was surprised to find a grand wooden chalet, with a large overhanging roof sat snugly into the mountainside. It was surrounded by a small veranda, held up by twisting wooden beams that looked as though they had been hand-crafted. Colored lights twinkled in the windows, and a friendly plume of smoke rose from the chimney. Outside, a rusty old snowmobile and a cluster of tools decorated the yard, next to a small information board.


‘That was some fall you took there, dearie.’ Said a voice, startling him. An old woman was standing on the veranda, watching him with some amusement. Ah. Not so private after all.


‘Yeah.’ He stuck his chin out, trying to seem nonchalant. ‘I…er…fell.’


‘Is this your first time on Mount Washington?’ She asked. She had a quaint little voice that sounded like butterflies. Even in his current state, he warmed to her.


Jake hesitated. ‘Yeah…’ He admitted guiltily.


‘Oh dearie.’ Her face softened with sympathy. ‘I’m Audrey. Want to come inside and warm up? We’re supposed to be closed for the winter, but I couldn’t leave you out here all on your own. I’m sure Frank won’t mind. We’ve got rooms left upstairs.’


‘Uh…sure.’ Jake tried to hide his joy. He was mightily embarrassed that she’d paid witness to his epic tumble, but he wasn’t above swallowing his pride for a mug of cocoa and the chance to warm his toes.


Inside the chalet was cozy and well lit, with a roaring fire crackling merrily in the hearth. A winding staircase led to an upper landing, which presumably housed the rooms for rental use. There were plenty of places to sit, each adorned with an assortment of patchwork quilts and cushions, all of which looked to have been made by hand because they were misshapen and wonky. There was a small area by the door with spare belaying and skiing equipment, and a massive fur draped over the banister that looked like a black bear’s pelt. An ancient and somewhat rusty looking pickaxe hung over the door.


A man was sitting in a rocking chair beside the fire, apparently fast asleep. As they came inside, he jolted awake, saw Jake, and his eyes went wide.


‘I found this young man outside on the mountain, Frank.’ Audrey said. ‘He was pulling off some impressive stunts.’ She tittered a little, and Jake looked at his feet. C’mon man, think of the cocoa.


‘Sorry to disturb you.’ He grinned apologetically, putting on his best performance of someone who knows what they’re doing. ‘I lost my footing up there on the mountain and dropped some of my gear-’


‘A mountaineer!’ The man interrupted gleefully. ‘I used to be a mountaineer, you know! Back when I could still get around!’


‘Oh! Um, that’s nice.’ Said Jake uncertainly. He hadn’t been expecting that response.


‘Yes!’ Cried the man. ‘I used to get up and down that mountain in less than an hour!’


‘Yes dear.’ Said Audrey, smiling fondly at him. ‘Would you like some hot cocoa dearie?’ She asked Jake.


Oh, mother of God, there it was. ‘Yes please.’ He responded, trying not to look too eager. As she busied herself in the kitchen, the old man fell silent again, his eyes glazed over, and he stared into the fire. Jake sat awkwardly on one of the many patchwork chairs arranged around the fire, and took off his boots. It seemed like a pleasant place to stay for the night. Maybe he could continue his journey to the summit tomorrow morning.


‘Would you like some cocoa too, Frank?’ Audrey called to him from the kitchen.


‘I remember!’ The old man suddenly spoke again, with the same gleeful enthusiasm. His eyes fell on Jake’s ice axe, lying at his feet, soaking a wet patch into the mismatched soft pile rug. ‘It was the coldest part of Winter, 1966. I was the leader- there was 6 of us, you know. We scrambled the first thousand feet and belayed the rest. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.’


Jake raised his eyebrows. Clearly this man knew a thing or two about mountaineering. ‘How did it go?’ He asked him.


‘Ahh.’ The man heaved a deep sigh, closing his eyes. ‘Things started off well, but the weather turned the day after we set off, and we got caught in a bad storm. We had to dig a hole in the snow to keep warm. And then- I fell into a crevasse!’


‘Here you are, dearie.’ Audrey returned to give Jake the cocoa. Gratefully he bent his head to take a sip and the hot liquid scalded his tongue. He resisted the urge to take another sip. 


‘It was early in the morning, and I was boiling snow for drinking water.’ Frank continued. ‘That’s what you had to do, back in those days! We didn’t have these fancy tablets or whatever you have nowadays.’ He eyed Jake suspiciously. ‘Anyway, I had gone to find a suitable patch of snow to set up my stove, and that was when I saw it- The Sasquatch!’


Jake breathed in the smell of the cocoa, enjoying the warm comfort of the mug in his hands. If this was the price of a good mug of cocoa on his raw and aching hands, he was happy to play along. ‘No way!’ He said incredulously. ‘Really?’


‘Yes, I did!’ The old man said, nodding triumphantly. ‘I saw him! And so, naturally, I wanted to get a closer look, but as I was heading over to him, I fell into the crevasse. The rest of the team had to pull me out. And by the time they’d done it, he’d gone!’


‘Yes dear.’ Audrey was engrossed in her knitting. Jake got the distinct impression that she wasn’t really listening.


Frank lowered his voice, speaking directly to Jake now. ‘They all think I’m batty round here, you know.’ He said seriously. ‘But I get it. You youngsters think you know what’s what, think you’ve got it all figured out. But I was young once. It’s all very well throwing yourself down a mountain once in a while- but you’ve got to learn how to do it properly.’


Jake stared down into his cocoa. The memory of his missing belongings returned to his mind. He screwed up his face, imagining his friends off on their hiking trip. He had just wanted to try and do something right for once.


‘Hey, listen. Everyone messes up sometimes. Don’t worry about it.’ Frank said, rocking absent mindedly in his chair. ‘If I learnt one thing in 70 years of mountaineering, it’s that it’s better to fail and live and be able to try again.’


‘Yeah…’ Jake mumbled miserably.


The old man seemed to soften. He watched Jake carefully for a few minutes, studying his face. Then he got to his feet, knelt before the fire, and reached behind his chair, before pulling out an antique wooden chest.


‘Take a look in there.’ He said to Jake. ‘Go on.’


Curious, Jake lifted the lid. Inside was a series of artefacts, newspaper clippings, treasures he’d acquired during his time mountaineering. Jake looked at the items in wonder. It was like a time capsule of days gone by.


‘That’s me.’ Frank pointed to one of the newspaper clippings, where a young man with pimples and a goatee was grinning triumphantly back at the camera. ‘I was so arrogant back then. Not like you. I never accepted help from anyone. It wasn’t healthy.’


He reached further into the chest and scooped something out, hesitated for a moment, then quickly gave it to him. ‘I want you to have these.’ Two gleaming carabiners, engraved with the initials F.M.


‘I can’t take these.’ Jake said incredulously.


‘Please take them.’ Frank begged him. ‘I can’t go out on the slopes anymore. I want them to get used. And anyway…’ His eyes closed once more. ‘I can’t remember what day it is most of the time here anyway. I probably won’t even notice they’re missing.’


Jake smiled. ‘Oh, I’ll make sure they get used.’


Only a few weeks later, Jake was back in his mountaineering gear. His friends had invited him to ‘get some experience’, on a smaller series of slopes closer to home. He hadn’t mentioned the incident on Mount Washington to them yet.


‘We thought we’d go somewhere that’s more your skill level Jakey.’ One of them said playfully. He had smiled and laughed along with their jokes, too busy looking forward to climbing again to feel too hurt or annoyed by their comments.


They all swarmed round him, making sure that his equipment was on properly and his knots were tight enough and he had everything in the right place. Jake, smiling slightly, let them check him over, feeling that he was going to be safer than everyone else put together today.


‘What’s that?’ One of them asked, pointing at his carabiner. ‘Your initials aren’t F.M.’


Jake took a deep breath, and very matter of factly told them about meeting the kind couple at the chalet on the mountain- tactfully leaving out the part where he slid several hundred feet on his butt -and the old man who had given them to him.


‘Wait.’ One of them said with a face like thunder. ‘Wait. You said his name was Frank Miller. You mean THE Frank Miller? The mountaineer from the 60s with the goatee? That one?’


‘That’s the one.’ Jake said, trying not to feel too smug. He had a feeling he was going to enjoy this trip.

January 22, 2022 03:32

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6 comments

Maria Avisal
04:45 Feb 04, 2022

I enjoyed this a lot, especially having hiked Mt Washington (not in the winter!) and done some beginner winter mountaineering myself. I cringed at the "50 pounds of gear" and his delay in putting the crampons on! I had also highlighted "the morning sun a naughty toddler peeping over the horizon" before seeing the other comment because I love that unique analogy so much. The encounter with the couple in the chalet felt like an unexpected turn, but in a good way, and I really like the way you brought it around with his friends in the end. ...

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Rosie Loosemore
00:28 Feb 05, 2022

Oh lord thank you! I really pushed myself with this (I've never been on a snowy mountain in my life! Much less with any of the special equipment) so I was really nervous about using the terminology appropriately, it's a comfort to know that somebody enjoyed it despite having a lot more insider knowledge than me! Thank you for your comments, those were definitely things which were lacking in it and great for me to think over! It's lovely to be part of this community now and get some feedback and the bits I write even if it is terrifying! (I...

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Santina Forlenza
21:13 Jan 31, 2022

Hi Rosie, I ve enjoyed your story a lot. Pleased to find several sentences like " the morning sun a naughty toddler peeping over the horizon. " I also like the winter atmosphere you created, the warm in the shelter, and the professional side from the mountain climbing perspective. A motivational and well written story! (I would be glad to hear your opinion on one of my stories as well. Whenever you find some time, you are more then welcome.)

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P.J. Byrd
20:27 Jan 29, 2022

Very nice Rosie. I was sent your work to critique via email. I was glad I did. Don't take offense for the little bit of advice I'd give because honestly it's not that much. The story really picks up after a bit and really moves along nicely. Something slows it down in the beginning though. I would consider cutting out the first two sentences about experienced mountaineers and Jakes inexperience. You have enough written in the next two paragraphs that it is inferred and understood Jake is a novice so you're getting straight to the chase. ...

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Rosie Loosemore
21:52 Feb 02, 2022

Thank you so incredibly much for taking the time to sit and write this! I've been having a rough time recently and this feedback absolutely made my day! Thank you!! :D I agree with a lot of your comments, I knew there were things missing but I wasn't sure what they were- something I often struggle with when I'm writing is worrying about authenticity and if something actually sounds plausible, especially when I'm talking about a subject I don't know much about. This was a really challenging piece for me to write but I'm glad I did! Thank yo...

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P.J. Byrd
03:40 Feb 04, 2022

It truly was my pleasure! I absolutely can relate- I have taken a long hiatus from writing too and am just coming back to the plate now. I move a lot of commas around, splice sentences, stretch them, switch them and have no idea if I’m doing it right either ;) I also think my writing struggled more after school. Before any degrees I didn’t overthink it. I’m hoping that our time away will work to our advantage though. It’s funny how when we were younger with less life experiences we felt we had more to say, haha.

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