Greyhound’s brakes yelped; four wheels shuddered in
response. A fine white dust swirled, obscuring the
mountains from the eyes of the silent passengers.
The bus stopped three-quarters of a mile beyond Marble,
a village of twenty-three summer residents who relished
their solitude and daily frequented the only diversion
in town—a dilapidated wooden structure that purveyed
soda, chips, licorice, and candy bars. It was called,
simply, the Pop Stand. Now and then a local passed
the time of day with a tourist nonchalantly explaining
which was the only fly to catch a Rainbow at sunset.
Depending on the season, the eight miles from Redstone
to Marble consisted of either dust or mud with stretches
of washboard chatter that made not a few stomachs
clung to the air when the door opened. The young men
stretched and strolled aimlessly in mid-day heat.
No one spoke. The bus raised dust a second time when
it whined backward a quarter-mile to turn around at
an intersecting ranch road. The boys watched then
startled at the sound of laughter. Three men in shorts
and navy blue T-shirts walked smartly out of the trees
from an unnoticed trail. One held a clipboard.
gentlemen, gather ‘round and listen up. I’ll call
out an instructor’s name and he’ll raise his hand.
After that, I’ll read a list of your names. If I call
your name, go to that instructor. He’ll tell you what’s
instructors looked like gods. Sinewy muscles in their
forearms glistened through tanned skin. When they
moved, calves and quadriceps rippled. Their attire
spoke of wilderness know-how: natty wool socks, khaki
shorts, and the navy blue T-shirts with a white logo
depicting a compass rose. One sported a red bandana
around his neck; another slipped a rope belt through
the loops of his shorts and tied it in front with
a square knot. In fashion and manner, they exuded
competence. Henry’s throat tightened. He felt frightened
and yet attracted at the same time, like he had once
when he gaped at players filing through the gate at
the end of a college football game smitten and yet
unable to ask for the autographs he coveted.
Matt Griswold led his boys up the road a short
way to a shelf of smooth rock. Stretching miles in
both directions, the CrystalRiverValley
fell beneath them. A forest of pines, firs and spruce
rose up the slopes; deciduous trees dotted the riverbank.
Even in July, strips of snow still clung inside shadowed
crevices. Though they looked, none of them enjoyed
guys, I’m Matt. You can learn a lot here by paying
attention to me and trying your best. Let me be clear
about something; I am not your babysitter, nurse,
counselor, or your best friend. I am your patrol instructor,
and I will be with you day and night for the next
month. It’s my job to show you how to make your way
in the mountains and to keep you safe. For me to accomplish
this you must do what I tell you to do when I tell
you to do it. Your safety and the safety of the rest
of the guys depend on it. And I want you to have fun!
Got it? All right, pick up your gear and let’s stroll
up the road together. In a mile the road forks. We
take the left fork. That road dead-ends at the school.
Alright, saddle up!”
Henry flung his canvas Sea Scout bag over his
shoulder and crunched up the rutted jeep trail with
the others. The sun was dry and leering between cloud
puffs. Two boys walked in worn penny loafers; the
rest sported tennis shoes, except for one. He wore
polished wingtips, oxblood, with silky dark socks.
In one hand, he gripped the wooden handle of a leather
suitcase; in the other hand he swung a matching valise.
Already, his pinstriped oxford shirt clung damply
to his back and underarms. A maroon tie with an embroidered
crest matched the flush of his face.
Heat and altitude spread the boys along the
incline. Two students raced for the lead, while the
formally dressed boy lagged far behind.
hold up! Everybody stop right where you are. I said
that we would walk up this road together. You did
not follow my instruction. Look at you, spread out
all over this mountainside. Our goal is teamwork,
working together. That’s how we will accomplish our
tasks as a patrol. We must function as a unit. You
glory-hunters out front, stay with the rest of us.
And you, Mr. Brooks Brothers, keep up with the group.
Now, let’s walk the road steadily and together. Got
his head, Matt surveyed his new students and then
resumed walking. After a few minutes, a thud and the
sound of shoes scuffling broke the silence. Henry
turned and saw the red-faced kid stuffing medicine
bottles, handkerchiefs, underwear, and other clothes
back into the spilled valise. The boy was trembling.
sauntered down to him.
“What’s your name?”
“Let me clue you in on something, Marty. This
is not a summer resort at
lake with ice-cold mint tea and apple scones waiting
for you on the veranda while the maid unpacks and
hangs your summer wardrobe so that the you can change
your clothes for supper. This is the ColoradoOutwardBoundSchool.
hope to God that you’ve packed boots in that suitcase.”
sir, they do. I mean it does have them, sir. In there,
I mean. Yes sir, I do have boots, sir.”
had despised Martin from the first when; he noticed
this boy decked out in a coat and tie and stumbling
up the bus stairs.His reaction was reflexive: “This cream-puff
rich kid probably goes to one of them private prep
school in the East. How the hell did he ever get into
Outward Bound?” Henry played the man; he hefted the
sea bag, hocked, spit, and looked askance at the Martin.
Though he had felt frightened on the bus ride, he
knew a measure of confidence now. A few of the boys
looked athletic, but he reckoned himself, “better
off than that fat ass.”
Henry played football in high school, captained
the swim team, and ran track. By no means a star,
his success emerged slowly from a tenacity that ignored
pain. He endured arduous workouts that fuelled his
intermittent pride. Once, for example, as the shortest
player on the junior varsity football team, he dove
from his middle linebacker position through the center’s
legs as the boy hiked the ball then snatched it out
of the quarterback’s hands. The center fell back on
Henry’s left elbow, crushing it. The pain exploded
from his elbow up to his shoulder and down into his
hand. But he stuffed the pain. For the first time
that season, the coach had given Henry a start. Only
being knocked out and carried from the field would
force him from the game. After he had stolen the ball,
he saw the coach smile and say something to one of
the assistant coaches as he trotted toward the bench.
Henry shyly beamed. Years later the orthopedic surgeon
who examined the elbow determined that the injury
could not be repaired without risking worse damage.
The splintered bone fragments had fused into a calcified
mass. The elbow never straightened. In a mirror, Henry
often regarded the bent reminder with the pride of
wounded veteran. Now as he trudged uphill, he tried
to spit again; his mouth was too dry.
Even though the school was only two miles away,
he hike up the road took an hour.
Thin air and heat took a toll on everyone and relief
accompanied rounding the last bend. They dropped their
bags and lingered on a graveled flat beneath a dark-stained
building. “Dinning Hall,” a rough-hewn sign reported
from its balcony. Further on, a low structure with
a well pump beside it wore a “Wash House” plaque.
Most had to pee, but no one ventured there just yet.
Some boys blanched, while others coughed and wheezed
against 9,200 feet of elevation. Martin was nowhere
in sight, neither was Matt Griswold. Track season
had ended a month ago. Henry figured he should have
run up the road. He stifled a cough.
Bobby Lee strolled from the washhouse toward
the milling group. Pulling a pouch of Red Man chewing
tobacco from his back pocket, he cut a plug and smiled
at Henry as he rolled it between his gum and cheek.
An awestruck boy pretended not to watch. Bobby Lee
spat. Henry and Bobby Lee attended the same high school;
neither had much use for the other. LincolnHigh School
bulged with 2,200 students, six hundred in the graduating
class. Suffice to say, they located in different circles;
Henry fit in with the jocks, while Bobby Lee enjoyed
the company boys with fast cars and ducktail haircuts.
Two years ago they had words after gym class in the
locker room. Bobby Lee shoved Henry against a locker
and Henry glanced a blow off the top of his opponent’s
head. After that, they kept a resentful distance,
though this year the gap closed when they double-dated
sisters for the spring Prom.
by the looks of these buildings and the tents up there,
this sure as hell ain’t no country club.
snicker approved his evaluation.
Ricky Lee, to the gaping boy.
Ricky Lee thought not. The boy hailed from Boston
and favored that nickname. He became Bobby Lee’s devotee.
They heard Martin before they saw him. He barked
those deep-chested hollow coughs—annoying. Even at
a distance, the boy’s skin showed pink. His shirttails
flapped outside the dress slacks and clung to his
chest with sweat. Obviously, the wingtips would need
re-polishing. Matt walked behind Martin; his arms
folded across his chest. The instructor expressed
a cool, self-possessed demeanor. Henry recalled the
photograph of an explorer on the cover of National
Geographic, a gentleman in the wilderness, unperturbed,
prepared for any exigency, simply at home. Martin
barked again. Bobby Lee spat brown juice.
“Got yourselves a marshmallow, I see.”
shook his head and looked down. Boston
laughed along with Bobby Lee.
Matt oriented them to the facilities, he led the way
to large grove of aspen trees. Tents hung on wood
frames, white canvas squares with peaked roofs. They
rested on box platforms planked with 2 x 6’s. Inside,
two steel cots with metal link springs comprised the
only furnishings. Sleeping bags would replace the
sheets and blankets of home. Martin sagged low on
the bedsprings gulping pills from three medicine bottles
when Henry threw back the flap and stepped inside—tent-mates
for a month. “Ah no, not him.”
Henry. If that’s the bed you want, then I’ll take
this one. Okay?”
wanted out of there; the tent smelled of sweat and
farts. He tried not to look at Martin. “Of all the
luck, I’m stuck with the marshmallow.” Martin gagged
as he forced down the final pill without water. He
was pathetic. Henry tried to ignore him and set about
to unpack. He had asked for a goose down bag for Christmas
but his Mom bought an Army surplus sleeping bag stuffed
with second-grade duck feathers. Often the end of
a feather pricked him through the lining. Although
confining, it slept warm enough.He unrolled the sleeping bag on the empty cot,
opened his sea bag, and dumped the out the contents.
Henry sorted his clothes into neat piles and placed
them under the bed: T-shirts together, underwear,
jeans, socks, two sweaters and a windbreaker. He put
his shaving kit at the foot of the bed. “Damn,” he
muttered when he felt the glass bottle sandwiched
between his underwear.
had argued with his mom about that pink bottle. She
survived on Pepto-Bismol. She would laughingly inform
her sister on the telephone that once again she was
dancing the green-apple-two-step. It embarrassed him
when she talked like that, and then mortified him
that even in public she would take the odd-shaped
bottle from her purse, shook it vigorously, and drank
from it, even in public. Driving in traffic, she would
tilt the bottle against her lips and chug two or three
swallows of thick pink liquid. A medicine-mint smell
filled the car. Turning away in the passenger seat,
Henry tried to concentrate on storefronts or other
cars to avoid the cotton candy like traces in the
corners of her mouth.
had assured him that the Pepto would settle his stomach
when upset or nervous. Of course, if he shuffled the
infamous green-apple-two-step from camp food, it would
be a godsend. He raised his voice with a flat-out
“No way!” She dropped the suggestion temporarily.
When he returned from the garage with his gear, he
found it necessary to say no again, louder. She relinquished
but he stood warned. She must have wrapped the bottle
in the underwear and slipped in his bag while he had
called his Aunt Fran to say goodbye. He considered
pitching it, glanced at Martin, and decided that it
might come in handy after all. After placing the bottle
in the bottom of his sea bag, he rolled it up and
chucked it under the bed.
Martin, never called Marty except by a bully
up the block who ritualized him with, “Marty, Marty,
You are fat and farty,” looked frightened. Henry stole
a glance. The boy’s hair, white-walled high above
the ears and parted down the middle, lay limp. It
was that fine blond kind of baby hair. Sweat trickled
behind his ears. His neck glistened. Even the lap
of his trousers had a dark stain of sweat; Henry hoped
he had not peed himself. The boy’s face was creamy
and dappled vermilion at the cheeks; puffy hands heaped
on an ample belly. He appeared about to cry or vomit,
or both, and Henry knew the boy would not survive
Outward Bound. He smiled knowingly, “He’ll quit and
go home in a couple of days. I’ll have the tent to
A siren startled them. It growled low, then,
with hand-cranked speed, screeched into an air-raid
warning like old movie, The Battle of Britain.
Henry flung open the flap and hustled out relieved
to quit a boy he had no desire to know.Students from all the tents ran toward the
cranking stopped, the siren returned to its low moan.
In a clearing, log benches formed the outside of a
large circle with a fire pit in the center. Matt laid
the siren on a log. No one sat. Near the center stood
a man with hands on hips. Older than the instructors,
he wore climbing boots with wool socks. A blue nylon
belt buckled with two brass rings surrounded the narrow
waist of his wool pants. The red T-shirt displayed,
in white, the Outward Bound logo circled with the
motto, “To strive, to serve, and not to yield.” Henry
was riveted. The man’s forearms were hairless cords
of rope. The chest and neck defined years of mountains;
shoulder muscles raised his shirt along the shoulders.
His mustache was close-cropped and matched a sandy
crew cut. Forty-two young men stared intently at this
“Welcome, gentlemen, to the ColoradoOutwardBoundSchool.
I am John Pack,
Instructor. I trust that you will profit from as well
as enjoy your month with us here in this beautiful
and extraordinary place. We have much to do this afternoon:
equipment to issue, introduction to the rope’s course,
and a map orienteering session with your instructor.
But first, I wanted to greet you and tell that we
are glad you came to Outward Bound. Before we dismiss
for lunch and the tasks at hand, please listen carefully
to these words written by Henry David Thoreau over
one-hundred years ago.”
Pack took a small brown book from his front pocket.
The edges, frayed from years of use, were held together
by a thick rubber band. He surveyed the spellbound
boys. His eyes never left them when he recited.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live
deliberately, to front only
the essential facts of life, and see if I could
not learn what it had to teach, and
not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
the Chief Instructor began to comment on the implications
of Thoreau, Henry listened elsewhere remembering when
his heart first received those words.
years ago, a student teacher at the high school befriended
him. Richard Pulaski had studied English and Education
at the University
Though only older by five years, he spoke with winsome
passion. Henry never took a class from Mr. Pulaski,
but they saw each other from time to time in the hall.
First they exchanged a smile. Soon after they ate
their sack lunches together in Pulaski’s room. Other
students joined them from time to time. They talked
about important matters, those coming-of-age issues
that Henry felt vividly: adventure, books, life, death,
music, painting—what counted most in a person’s life.
The teacher knew how to put Henry’s feelings into
words. He girded the boys heart with Steinbeck, Cather,
and Hemingway. Henry’s soul was tinder and with exquisite
timing, the teacher struck a match.
John Pack’s voice broke through Henry’s reverie with
a second reading of “Walden,” the boy’s eyes misted
and his throat tightened.
“. . . and not, when I came to die, discover
that I had not lived.”
Chief Instructor peered intently into each boy’s eyes.
Henry dropped his when John Pack lingered. He stood
of average height, full chested from years of swimming,
and his arms were thin. Neither straw-colored nor
white, his blond hair was cropped short. The chin
and one cheek retained the memory of acne. The moment
was indelible; Henry inhaled the pungent woods. Light
flickered through scudding clouds, though green. He
felt a loud stillness inside.
In the evening after supper, the new students
wandered in small groups of twos or threes. Some kept
to themselves and acted busy in their tents or attended
to personal matters in the wash house. Henry scrubbed
his face with warm water and soap. The only reminder
of home was the frayed white wash cloth he brought
with him. He brushed his teeth and felt lonely, almost
in tears. He heard Bobby Lee, and washed his face
again as an entourage scuffled on the wash house floorboards
and stood together at the urinal.
that’s what our good old instructor said. ‘Said that
we’d rise and shine tomorrow morning at
with that damned siren and then, he added that we’d
all take, “a bit of a jolly run down the trail in
tennis shoes and swimming trunks for your first go
at the Dip.”
laughed at his mentor’s English accent.
“What the hell’s the Dip?”
say, but it sounds like water to me. Probably no heated
pool the way I figure it. Hell, it may be the river.”
they wouldn’t make us jump in the river. It’d be too
cold in the morning.”
bright eyes, it’d be too cold any time of day. That
sucker’s fed by snow. But remember this here’s Outward
Bound—make a man out of you, boy.”
maybe we’ll figure out a little short-cut or something.”
Henry zipped up his shaving kit and flung the
towel around his neck. He and Bobby Lee nearly collided
rounding the corner between the toilets and the sinks.
“Hey stud, ready for a little dip in the morning?”
“Yeah, I reckon.”
banged open the screen door and bounded from the porch.
a sweeping arc where the CrystalRiver took
a bend and deposited sand, a pool three feet deep
had been fashioned by a work crew of instructors during
the last weekend in May. The task involved shovels,
buckets, and 2 x 4’s to build a silt barrier. They
labored at ten- minute shifts in the frigid water,
and warmed themselves with jesting in anticipation
of groggy students stumbling down the path into the
shock of glacier-melt. Even now in mid-summer, the
creek danced from its source. Not more than half a
mile above the pool, the Crystal
emerged from under a snow pack that covered the river
Now, on their first morning, the boys jogged
half-asleep clothed in swimming trunks, tennis shoes,
some in T-shirts, and all in dull dread. A narrow
path meandered through the aspens and then alongside
a hillside meadow where dew soaked the grass. After
a mile, the trail plunged toward the stream where
Matt and the other patrol instructors waited. No matter
how many times the students would run and dip in the
mornings to come the experience retained all its first-time
shock; in fact, it grew more hateful with familiarity.
If rain had fallen during the night, then the trail
mired with mud. Such was the case on this first morning.
Now and then, a slip would put a boy on his knees
or flat on his bottom. Everyone’s legs and backside
streaked brown from the mud.
ran quickly, got ahead of the pack, and leaped in
the water without encouragement. The rest struggled
toward the inevitable in a tight knot of goose-pimpled
adolescence. At poolside, they waited their turn shivering
to the sound of splash and gasp as one after another
located the water and his place in it.
reluctant found a compelling external motivation.
A smiling instructor standing in calf-deep water held
out a welcoming hand. If the hesitant boy caught the
strong hand, the instructor yanked him flailing into
the pool. If not, another instructor nudged him, none
to gently, from behind. Only after chest, shoulders,
and head submerged underwater could the suppliant
scramble out of the icy bath; no one did less, with
or without instructor help. When a breathless boy
shivered immobile in the water, two or three instructors
would push and pull him up the slippery bank.
return trip to the school followed a different path.
Every sneaker sloshed. Those with socks vowed to run
sockless the next morning.No one cared about a muddy trail or even slipping
down. Hot showers waited. If they ran fast enough,
the effort warmed them; most, however, staggered with
a half-walk, half-jog. Henry discovered that the run
back to the school comprised the best part of his
day; twenty-three hours separated him from the next
dip. Morning after morning he anticipated this torture
by awakening several times in the dark before the
siren. Then its screech startled him out of a fitful
sleep. His senses cauterized the memory so that years
later the mention of the word “dip” brought prickles
on his neck. Henry’s dread of the screeching siren
never tempered. Years later his judgment never wavered—“that
dip was by far the most damnable part of Outward Bound.”
scalding showers and breakfast, the students gathered
around Matt in a semi-circle. While he talked, he
pointed into the tall aspen trees; Matt called it
the ropes’ course. Forty feet above the ground, a
rope bridge swayed with the morning breeze. All kinds
of ropes, loges and wires dangled from the trees.
A swinging log was suspended between two Ponderosas
by a chain; stumps cut to various heights and placed
in a serpentine fashion were used to practice balance,
and a single steel cable descended from the treetops
some sixty feet high. Matt called it the “zip wire.”
He told them that they would clip on to the cable
with a metal snap-link called a carabiner.
The carabiner fastened to one end of a sling rope, the other end tied around the
waist. Leather gloved hands gripped the sling
and then, whoosh. The descent felt like a free-fall
until the cable sagged with body weight, a sudden
brake at the end, and the boy swung violently until
his boots came to rest on the ground.
Patrol spent the morning on the ropes’ course. At
lunch, talk was sparse. Most boys ate with heads lowered,
stealing glances now and then to size up the competition.
Only Martin chattered. His mouth revealed the lunch
menu. He boasted about the tennis courts at the club
and some obscure connection between his father’s military
service and his presence at Outward Bound. Martin
was ignored. In the end, he sat alone, as one by one
the others took their plates and silver to be washed,
but kept their glasses. The abundance of cold milk
was not lost on them. More then once they refilled
their glasses at the stainless steel dispenser.
there was comfort in full bellies, sore hamstrings,
calves, shoulders, and arm muscles made them grouchy.
A nap would be just the thing. Matt made other plans.
Now that each aspect of the rope’s course had been
explained, demonstrated, and attempted, the instructor
bade them to move through the entire course without
pause. At this point, Matt explained that patrols
would be competing against each other in many activities
including the rope’s course. He insisted that they
win the competition. A stopwatch encouraged speed,
and a further inducement encouraged their effort through
a heart-breaking penalty. When a boy stumbled off
a stump, or slipped from the swinging log, or otherwise
experienced a mishap, then he had to return to the
start and begin again. No mercy was given. Martin
never moved beyond the stumps the entire four-hour
adolescent boys in 1962 grumbled internally but not
aloud. What escaped from their lips consisted of,
“Yes, sir” and “No, sir.” Rebellion found covert expression
because the ethos of the time prized respect and submission
as manly. These values would radically change in the
years to come. However, at this time, private opinions
kept hushed except for a targeted misfit, a weakling.
Poor Martin was the butt of all his patrol mates fears
and failures. His isolation concretized. Though he
kept up a verbose banter, inside he knew his father
had been wrong sending him here. Supposed manliness
would elude him here just as it had in every gym class
from elementary through high school.
his teeth a second time, Henry dreaded returning to
the tent, more precisely, his tent mate. The boy was
sleepy and started up the path to his tent. He hoped
Martin would be asleep. He wasn’t.
that bastard Matt really put us through the paces
today, didn’t he? Reminds me of old crank Fostick
in sixth-grade gym. I never could climb that rope
and touch the top. Fostick called it the Rafter Club.
He made a list of everybody that did it and posted
it on the wall. My name never got on the list. Nope.
All I got for my efforts was the nickname, Fat Ass.
But I had girls. In high school, I went out every
Friday and Saturday night with a different chick.
They loved my Corvette. It was a cherry red job with
chrome spinner hubcaps and a hot radio. Bucket seats
made it hard to makeout with the girls, but I managed.
You know that necessity is the mother of invention.
In fact, one time I took this chick named Lorna up
to . . .”
Henry heard no more. Sleep grasped him until the sudden
squeal of the hand-cranked siren jolted him into the
pale dawn of the next morning.
call from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office came
in the afternoon. Earlier, a wrangler had ridden his
sorrel into Aspen
from the scene of an accident high up in the Maroon
Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area. He tied his horse
to a parking meter, wiped the mud off his boots on
the wooden stairs, and entered the office. The dispatcher
listened to the report while taking up a yellow pad
and a fountain pen. The wrangler reported that a guest
had fallen from his horse with an apparent heart attack.
The dispatcher radioed for the Sheriff. With a cup
of black coffee in hand, the wrangler leaned back
in the wooden chair and filled in the details. A fishing
party, comprised of a husband and wife and their daughter
along with the guide, wrangler, and helper, had ridden
from Lariat Dude Ranch on horseback the day before,
then camped that night beside SnowmassLake. Early
this morning they had ridden over TrailRiderPass.
Coming down on the other side of the pass, the party
contoured off the trail northwest across a creek toward
an unnamed alpine lake for more fishing; the husband
collapsed before they made the lake. The veteran guide
administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and when
the victim’s breathing stabilized, he was placed in
one sleeping bag and wrapped with a second. His body
temperature felt low to the touch; the lips faded
to gray. The stricken man and the rest of the party
were waiting for help at over 10,000 feet where they
made camp. The guide immediately sent the wrangler
for a rescue party. He rode as fast as his horse could
negotiate the steep trail back up and then down the
pass. The fallen man’s wife and daughter stayed behind
with the guide and his young apprentice.
John Pack had instructors in camp, their assistants,
and a school of inexperienced students. Still, he
assured the Sheriff, he would have a rescue team deployed
within thirty minutes. He would lead. On the hour,
the chief instructor would attempt radio contact with
the school. There the call would be relayed via telephone
to the Sheriff.
patrols were back on the rope’s course after lunch.
Strength and balance fled under the stopwatch.Suddenly, John Pack whistled through his fingers
and gathered the instructors apprising them of the
situation. He told them to pick two students from
their patrol and them to a meeting at the fire ring
as quickly as possible. Matt and two other instructors
would accompany the team. Within ten minutes, the
Chief Instructor gathered with his rescue party. On
one side of the fire ring, he faced the boys and their
sunglasses reflected clouds and leaves from their
the situation men, we have a rescue. This is not a
training exercise; this is real. We move out in twenty
minutes. To reach the victim by tomorrow morning,
we have to walk through the night. I estimate a twelve
to fourteen-hour hike, depending on exactly where
he’s located. This aluminum basket is called a Stokes
Litter. It is a lightweight and durable means to evacuate
the victim if he remains unconscious or otherwise
immobile. We will carry him in the litter back to
the school where a helicopter will evacuate him Denver.
Fill your canteens from the pump next the washhouse.
From the supply room, you will need several plastic
bags. Fill them with gorp, trail biscuits, cans of tuna, chocolate bars, and fruit. Matt,
when we dismiss, show the boys to the supply room
and get them started.We’ll take four pack frames to tie on food,
first aid supplies, radio, climbing ropes, and extra
clothing. Take a sweater, poncho and leather gloves.”
Pack elaborated on the details
listened for a while, then he drifted; he felt proud
that Matt chose him, along with a quiet Chicano boy.
He memorized the moment as he studied the Chief Instructor.
The man’s face was lean, smooth and hard. Taught muscles
worked the jaw line; each hand gripped along the waist.
John Pack knew things, manly things, like a coach.
Henry respected coaches. He always wanted to please
them, to know their approval because their rough nurture
comforted him. As he gazed, he felt warm pressure
behind his gray-green eyes. He would not allow tears.
Many times when he sat alone in the gathering darkness
of his basement room at home, tears wet his cheeks.
He would picture a coach or a favorite teacher; tears
fell when a season ended or school dismissed for summer.
questions? Okay, we’ll saddle up here in twenty minutes
course, there were no questions; no one knew enough,
but the students felt the electricity of excitement
and fear. They ran to their tents or the storeroom
under the dinning hall. Canteens were filled at the
well pump. Henry sat on his cot and changed from tennis
shoes to climbing boots as quickly as he could. He
was breathless. He stuffed stiff new leather gloves
into the back pocket of his jeans. In neat strips,
he folded the poncho and tied it around his waist.
Reaching in the tent corner, he grabbed the aluminum
pack frame, a wad of nylon parachute cord, three stuff
sacks, and his wool sweater. He bounded out the tent
and plowed directly into Martin.
“Where are you going?”
did not answer.
For six hours, they had slogged the darkness
of a trail through the woods. Then, abruptly, the
rescue party left the trail and climbed almost straight
up through a thick forest
of Douglas Fir
and Englemann Spruce. Weaving the aluminum litter
through the trees consumed both time and patience.
The calves ached and their hands pounded with blood
so that no one noticed when they had climbed up past
the tree line. Henry noticed a smudge of gray toward
the east where a mountain peak emerged from its shadowy
backdrop. The boy peered into the softening darkness.
Patches of gnarled Bristle Cone Pines startled him
with their surreal shapes.
the night, they had stopped hourly for John Pack’s
radio attempts to the Sheriff’s Office, sometimes
successfully, mostly not. In those moments, the rescue
patrol stood silently clumped together, drinking from
canteens, and chewing dry trail biscuits. Handfuls
mixture of peanuts, raisins, and M and M’s—brought
quick energy for the moment and later, belly cramps.
In those pauses, Henry’s sweat chilled on his neck
and down his back. It dried, and then prickled his
skin. When he started climbing again, he heated quickly
Now and then, a breeze stirred across the barren
slope. Sometimes Henry felt strong and he moved with
confidence. At other moments, a wave of nausea swept
though him and his feet had to find their own way.
When his belly rumbled, he worried about diarrhea;
maybe the pink liquid would have helped. He had left
it under the cot. Every muscle in his legs ached,
and his back strained against the pressure of the
loaded pack he carried. Hot spots had formed on both
heels, and blisters followed quickly. Soon they popped,
and the dampness alternately oozed and crusted. His
kept his eyes from his mates, but carefully observed
John Pack and Matt. Weary, as he was fascinated. The
older man manifested leadership with an assurance
that allowed kindness, an encouraging word. Henry
felt timid. He never spoke to John Pack. With Matt,
an ease began to grow. The boy admired his instructor’s
skills and enjoyed Matt’s stories, his jokes, and
his habit of touch—a squeeze on the arm or tousling
Henry’s short blond hair.
What if the man was already dead? Worry began
to assault the boy. He’d only seen one corpse, his
grandmother. That bark-frozen old lady lying in satin
haunted him many nights afterwards. Again his belly
rumbled with exertion and gorp with tepid canteen water sloshed inside;
relieving the gas was impossible. Passing wind embarrassed
him, yet he was fearful that if he held it too long,
he would get sick. His worries recycled over and over
in his mind. What if they had to carry out a dead
body? Maybe he would have to touch it. Why didn’t
they bring the helicopter up here? The pace quickened
over the spongy tundra. “Move, boys, move slow and
steady,” Mr. Pack cautioned.
an hour, the sun cleared the ridgeline; yellow light
comforted him. In the sun, Henry considered it amazing
that they had walked through the night— they were
still walking. Two at a time they took turns with
the litter, climbing ledge after ledge of smooth granite
filled with wet tundra grass between. Henry planted
his boots flat to keep them from slipping against
his raw heels. Toward the top of one ledge he heard
the dull scraping of horses’ hooves. Gaining the ledge,
the patrol descended to a campfire. The boys hung
back keeping a shy distance. A pocked-marked man with
a gray handlebar mustache tended the fire with a stick.
His eyes hid under a crumpled cowboy hat. He rose
stiffly to clasp John Pack’s hand.
“Good time, Johnny.”
“These boys are strong. What’s the status,
rightly sure. He’s been unconscious since he fell
from the saddle. Artificial respiration steadied the
breathing. Heart beat’s pretty steady, but shallow.
Color’s awful, but he’s still ticking.”
“Let’s have a look.”
overheard and instantly liked Vince. He seemed like
an older version of John Pack.
introduced the chief instructor to the stricken man’s
wife, Nora. Mr. Pack spoke gently to her. While they
stuffed their bellies with trail rations, the boys
glanced and tried to hear. Henry thought better of
eating and walked toward a freshet below camp where
the horses munched the grass. He yawned. His blisters
stuck to his socks. He lacked the will to take off
his boots and dreaded looking at his feet.
John Pack and Vince knelt by the stricken man
in the sleeping bag—their voices hushed and clipped.
John Pack swung around and called out to Matt.
“Bring the litter and one of the climbing ropes.”
boys on either side put their hands under the wrapped
weight. Henry put on his gloves; he feared touching
the man. Only ashen lips were visible, maybe he was
already dead. Matt and another instructor held the
head and feet. They strained, but the bundle barely
rose. Vince and John Pack took opposite sides alongside
“Okay, men, on three. One. Two. Three. Lift.”
litter slid underneath. Vince fashioned a pillow from
a wool blanket and arranged the sleeping bag that
served as a blanket. Matt uncoiled theropewhile John Pack’s practiced hands began
to lash the man into the basket creating a rope harness
at either end. Vince explained.
this here’s Mr. Campbell. Come up from Boston.
And this here’s his wife, Mrs. Campbell. They’ve vacationed
with us at the Lariat for several summers along with
their daughter, Clare. I believe this is their eleventh
year with us. The man loves fly-fishing. Caught a
twelve-pounder last year. They all ride real good.
I reckon we don’t know what happened here to Mr. Campbell,
but we’re mighty glad you came up here to give us
Campbell sat cross-legged stroking her husband’s hair.
Her voice full of whispers as she peered intently
at her husband.
going to be okay, Jack. The rescue party is here.
They’re going to take you down now. I know your going
to be just fine, darling. They’ve got you packed all
comfy. You’re a going to be all right, Jack. Please
hang on. We’ll get right on to Denver.”
“Ma’am, we’re almost ready to go."
Campbell stood gracefully taking John Pack’s hand.
She looked down at her husband. His face, more visible
in the flooding sunrise, was the color of the granite
ledges above him.
Henry helped douse the campfire with water
from several canteens. Matt told him to refill them
for the hike out. A brook flowed out from under a
shelf of snow fifty yards down-slope of the camp.
He clanked toward the water with the canteens held
by their chained tops in his hands. The horses stirred.
With an apprentice, Vince smoothed blankets over their
backs as they saddled the five horses. Henry knelt
on one knee next to the water. The turf was boggy.
His knee soaked through and sunk so far that he nearly
fell headlong into the stream. He awkwardly plunged
both hands into the frigid water. He drenched his
wool sweater above both elbows. The empty canteens
clanked against the rocks as he struggled to get his
arms out. He quickly glanced toward the horses. Vince
did not look up; he smoothed wrinkles out of a saddle
blanket. His young helper shook his head and chuckled.
Henry turned back to fill the canteens.
Off to his right, something moved. He looked
upstream, but saw nothing. Then he turned further
and peered up a steep rise of rock. He sat back on
his haunches. Silhouetted against the brightening
day, Clare stood on top of the rock outcropping. She
wore an oversized blue cardigan. Her arms spread wide,
fingers open; she moved them in a slow arc from the
ground to the sky. Andrew stared. The young woman’s
hair fell full, vermilion in the brightening air.
Her skin, the profile of her nose, the mouth, her
arms spread wide, he absorbed every detail.
She lowered her arms and slowly turned her
eyes toward him. He swallowed. She raised her head
and walked back to the camp. A packhorse grew restless,
snorting and pawing the tundra. Henry startled. Quickly
he knelt re-wetting his knees, and buried the burbling
opening of each canteen in the rush of numbing water.
On either side of the litter, three students
gripped the aluminum rim. Each of them had tied a
around his shoulder in a large loop and then fashioned
a small loop where he clipped a carabiner to the rim. In this way, they
could alternate between carrying the weight with a
hand or a shoulder, or both. In addition, the arrangement
insured that wherever the litter went, they went.
Matt clipped in at the foot, and another instructor
carried the front. The third instructor would spell
the others on a regular rotation, as would John Pack
who followed with Mrs. Campbell and Clare. Vince and
the apprentice packed the horses with camp gear and
rode in the opposite direction back to the Lariat
Ranch. Henry looked back for Clare.
They had hiked fourteen hours through the night
to reach the man. Within a half-hour they now headed
back to the school. Instead of a light aluminum basket
to manage they had to deal with weight of a corpulent
man.When they started, they staggered. The carrying
process took practice. Each step was unpredictable.
After an hour, Henry glimpsed the trail meandering
far below at tree line. At present, however, the smooth
slabs of rock that held their boots on the way up
felt ready to vault them into space under the awkward
weight of their burden. Then too, the grass sandwiched
between the slabs had grown slick from a light rain
that began to fall. John Pack stopped.
up. We need to rig a belay
for the basket. We’ll move over there to the left
and lower him down the cliff.”
Twoclimbing ropes were uncoiled. John Pack
took four steel pitons
from his rucksack and with a small squat hammer nailed
them into four separate cracks in the granite behind
him. With each blow, the ringing pitch of the steel
rose. Carabiners were clipped in the eyeholes
of the pitons and the ropes ran through them. Campbell
had not stirred. The litter was lowered down the cliff
where it would be free from banging against the rocks
of the sloping ledge. It was safer than negotiating
the weight and awkward bulk of the basket down the
tilted slabs. Matt guided the basket as he
rappelled alongside. A frightening moment came
when the frame caught a projecting rock.The basket tipped vertically, Matt swung to
the side, tied off, and balanced the litter while
slack was taken up. Henry watched in amazement as
Matt deftly handled the awkward load. He felt proud
of his instructor’s skill. And he wondered how Matt,
Mr. Campbell, and the Stokes Litter held in mid-air
with only ropes fastened to thin rock cracks by tiny
shafts of steel. With head and foot matched, the belay played out until, finally, Campbell
rested near the trail eighty feet below where he began
the rescue party began hiking down the trail, Henry
took the position at the head of the litter. He clipped
in the carabiner,
and adjusted the length of the sling rope to press
a slight tug on his shoulder. Throughout the rest
of the rescue he never again unclipped, never relinquished
his place at the head.
As the sun rose higher, a high-altitude dryness
filled the air—no wind, only heat and the smell of
desiccated pine. Henry walked, and his thoughts drifted,
dissolved, and reformed like clouds. Now and then
he caught his breath from the pain in his shoulder
where the sling dug deeply when he tired from holding
the weight with his arm. New blisters replaced the
old dried ones. He tried not to feel and was mostly
He recalled August’s heat, the torture of two-a-day
football practices. His coach purchased new cleats
for the team, low-cuts for the running backs like
Henry. The unyielding leather rubbed against cotton
socks against his flesh. Then, as now, his heels raised
searing blisters. Those blisters infected. Tears slid
down his eyes when he carried a two hundred and sixty-pound
tackle thirty yards in a torture called wind sprints.
He loathed Coach Kline’s shrill whistle that commanded
another thirty yards and another. Yet the practices
brought about home-cooked lunch and dinner at their
conclusion. At night, he slept as though drugged and
without dreams. In the morning, a damp circle on the
pillow near his mouth marked exhaustion. Henry complained
and moaned like all his teammates. But he loved it
too. The boy consistently went to practice a half-hour
early to spray his injured heels with adhesive and
apply moleskin patches with a holes cut out of the
middle to protect over the blisters. Gingerly he pulled
on his cleats, hopeful, but pain returned immediately.
Worse was peeling the stuck moleskin from the blisters
he was tied to a heavy Stokes Litter, hiking a narrow
trail. Pain was center, unrelenting;
“Crap. Dang. Puke.”
his breath, the litany of oaths made no difference,
so he stopped swearing and became a robot. He fell
into a trance to separate from his pain. Close to
of the students fled his part of the load, groped
at a tree trunk, and threw-up. But Henry was a machine.
“Okay,” he snapped back each time that Matt asked
him how he was doing. He held on to the front of the
basket, alternating hands with his shoulder, unrelenting.
His hand touched the stricken man’s face several times;
if he was dead, Henry no longer cared. The gloves
on both hands wore through at each of the fingers.
He didn’t care about that either.
From time to time, Henry’s mind screamed at
him to quit. Repeatedly, his thoughts commanded a
halt. The boy had heard that voice before, and he
had obeyed its command. But now, in the midst of more
suffering than he had ever known, he would not quit.
The sinews of pride—the desire to prove himself—overcame
the voice that beckoned him. Hatefully, he embraced
the opportunity. He strode like an automaton; he would
do so until he fell over and died. He failed to notice
when the boy on his right unclipped and sat down whimpering.
Like most seventeen-year olds, Henry successfully
avoided most discomfort. Apart from the glory of athletics,
he took his ease. He hated summer yard work, or shoveling
snow, or cleaning up the garage, or any of the menial
tasks around the house. His Dad would scowl, in that
particularly constipated face, and bark before Henry
would disgustedly get up from listening to a record
album to clean the prolific dog messes in the yard
and then crank the lawn mower. He ate voraciously,
on weekends, and drove downtown with his buddies.
He existed in adolescent limbo, no longer a boy and
not yet a man. His estimation of himself faltered
with his moods. Although temporarily buoyed by the
frenetic pace of student council, senior electives,
editor of the school newspaper, sports—the detritus
of high school—he felt cavernous about his worth,
a cold draft up his backside. Vicariously, the boy
warmed with the adulation that others heaped on his
heroes. And he longed for his own applause, in response
to an extraordinary feat and astonishing skill.
through the forest Henry trudged in pain and in a
self-made glory, a member of a life-saving rescue
at Outward Bound. He had long since passed the anxiety
over pain or illness. Here and now, Henry could be
a hero—whatever it cost him. Henry imagined carrying
Mr. Campbell by himself—flung over his shoulder for
hours until he walked into the school where cheers
would resonate in his ears. His burden would be lifted.
Mr. Campbell, alive and talking, would thank him effusively
and offer a money reward that Henry would refuse.
John Pack would proudly shake his hand. Clare would
be smiling. So he continued; he never sat down at
the rest stops and drank water sparingly if at all.
He stayed clipped to the litter. Henry never gave
up his place.
In the gloaming, the rescue party entered the
school thirty hours after they had embarked on the
rescue. They carried Mr. Campbell to a graveled parking
area below the dining hall. The helicopter engine
sputtered and then caught after fresh hands lifted
the litter aboard. John Pack leaned in and spoke to
the lashed bundle, then turned his ear to listen.
Henry watched, but could only hear the flap and whistle
of the blades. Heavily he sat down on a log pitched
along the edge of the parking lot to keep vehicles
from rolling down the hillside. The boy thought he
might be out of his head. The engine revved and the
helicopter lifted and vanished down the valley. Henry
stared vacantly at the gravel.
Most of the boys from the rescue limped to
the washhouse for showers and needed gastrointestinal
relief. Henry didn’t stir. His body ached and a silence
loomed inside him. His earlier heroic musings vanished.
What did he want, a medal? He glanced up at the sound
of Mrs. Campbell’s voice. She sat on the passenger
side of a Land Rover with the door open talking with
Mr. Pack and the school’s Director. No Clare. Henry
focused on the mud caked in the lugs of his left boot.
He picked at it with his thumb.
He saw narrow legs in blue jeans. The legs
ended with white tennis shoes. The boy gazed at the
hair framing both sides of her face; his gaze her
luminous eyes. Clare knelt on both knees. Her hands
reached out and took his ragged gloved hands in hers.
stumbled his way to his tent and bed. But each time
he closed his eyes they swam rocks and dirt and trees.
At first he chilled, then, sweated. His skin felt
clammy against the mummy bag as it wrapped around
his body. Henry could not relax; he knew an enormous
thirst. He peeled out of the bag and lay in the cool
air and began to shiver.
“Are you alright?”
“Go to sleep, Martin.”
drew the sleeping bag around like a blanket. He stared
up at the red dots swimming in the dark pool above
him. He did not want to shut his eyes because again
and again he saw the tips of his boots, and rocks,
and rocks, and more rocks. Over and over his mind
played the rescue like a film loop: the heft of the
litter, the bundled lump, his aching heels, the rumble
in his gut, and thirst. He drank two pitchers of milk
at dinner and filled his canteen with water before
bed. The canteen emptied quickly and the dryness in
his throat returned. He rolled on his side toward
the canvas wall of the tent; his palm moved up and
down the fabric. The canvass felt cool and it eased
him. No sound from his tent mate. Martin shared the
“It must have been really hard, Henry?”
“Go to sleep.”
“I’m sorry to bug you.”
“You are bugging me.”
okay. I’m just really wasted. I’ll tell you about
“Do you have to run the dip tomorrow?”
“Yep. Matt said he’d see me there in the morning.”
“They never give up, do they?”
“No, I guess not.”
rolled over on his stomach. In a while, Henry heard
his tent mate's breath grow wheezy and slow.
He fought with himself, “What a pain to get
up and go to the wash house for a drink, but I have
to. I’m thirsty.” Peeing outside off the tent platform
took little effort, but he needed water and that meant
hobbling down to the washhouse on his damaged feet.
He threw off the sleeping bag and searched
for his tennis shoes. Bandages covered both heels.
Matt’s doing. Before he had showered that afternoon,
he sat on the wood bench across from the sinks and
stared at his heels. His socks had to come off and
he feared the sight as much as the pain. The outer
wool socks showed round rust spots the size of a nickel
on each heel. Henry removed them carefully. The inner
socks were blood-soaked and congealed. He pulled one
of the socks down close to the heel; yellow fluid
oozed. His head spun. Slowly, he tried to move it
across the stuck place but it stayed stuck. As a kid,
his Mom would jerk a Band-Aid across a healed cut.
So, he jerked the sock. It stayed stuck. He swooned
against the wood wall. He felt sick.
he opened his eyes Matt stood in front of him with
a white metal case under his arm. He knelt down on
look pretty bad.”
me have a look.”
instructor carefully moved the sock toward the blister.
I know they’re really sore. I got an idea.”
picked up a dry wash cloth from the bench and put
it in the sink. He let the water run to steaming,
then rung it out. Gently, he pressed it against Henry’s
heel for several minutes and repeated the process
hot dampness softened the mess so that the sock peeled
off without much grief. Henry kept his eyes closed.
When he showered, the water trickled down his legs
and stung the open wounds.
Matt waited for Henry to finish. Then, he opened
the first-aid kit and dressed the blisters with iodine.
For the second time that night, Henry thought he would
faint. Matt cut blister-sized holes in several layers
of gauze pads and taped them to each heel.
“There you go.”
“Your welcome. Get some sleep. Aspirin might
“See you at the dip in the morning.”
“Yeah, if you can.”
the moonless night he hobbled back to his tent. He
carried two full canteens, his own and one he took
from Martin. Just his toes were in the tennis shoes.
The heels were on the outside squashing down on the
back of the shoes.
Three days later, the students gathered at the fire ring. John Pack explained
the initiative tests. Teamwork skills would be developed
along with ingenuity and problem solving. He explained
to them that each test involved a physical dilemma.
He sent them off to various locations around the area
where their instructors would explain more fully.
Bridger Patrol, with Henry as their newly elected
patrol leader found Matt by an electric fence. Of
course, there was no fence, electric or otherwise.
What they saw in that open space was a rope tied between
two trees seven feet apart and about eight feet high.
On the ground was a log, a foot in diameter and ten
feet long. Matt explained the scenario.
how it works, guys. You’re inside a prison camp, a
brutal prison camp. You have to escape or you will
be killed. You have to do it now. Concrete walls,
tall and smooth stand on three sides of this area.
The only possible escape is over this fence represented
by the rope tied between those two trees. The problem
is that the fence is electrified with a deadly voltage
and it is raining. Whoever touches the fence is wasted
immediately. The only tool you have is this log and,
in fact, it is a metal beam. So, if it touches the
fence, whoever is touching it is zapped. You’ve got
to get all your men over the fence without electrocuting
them. Figure out a plan and make it work. Got it?”
they did not get it, and they asked several questions.
With exasperation, Matt summarily repeated the scenario,
turned his back, and walked a ways away.
no more questions? Good. When you are ready to put
a plan into action, I’ll time you for the patrol competition.
Now, get to work.”
Henry felt pressure to lead, but he was clueless
about where to start on this problem. For a few minutes,
several boys made suggestions while the others rudely
dismissed them. Henry stole a glance at Matt. The
instructor was strolling, whistling, with his back
to the patrol. Henry looked back at the ten boys and
remembered something called brainstorming. Last year,
his psychology teacher taught a senior seminar focusing
on group dynamics, including decision-making techniques.
One was called brainstorming. For a week, they broke
into small groups and practiced the technique on several
problems. He considered that it might work in this
situation; besides he could not think of anything
else to do.
“Okay, now, we’re not getting anywhere like
this so let’s try brainstorming.”
began to explain the process. Their response did not
encourage him—much grousing.
it, guys, nothing else is working, so just hold on
a second and let me tell you how it works.”
he talked, one boy said something to another and they
both laughed. Henry stopped mid-sentence and scowled
at them until they feared what might happen. He set
the ground rules. Several boys offered ideas and eventually
a plan emerged. They practiced the plan away from
the electric fence; they modified it when two kids
fell off into what would have been sudden death. They
tried again. Finally, when the plan seemed to work,
Henry asked Matt to time them.
The three tallest boys picked up one end of
the log. The other end remained on the ground. Carefully,
they scooted the high end over the fence. The shortest
of the three put the log on his shoulder; the next
braced it with his hands over his head, and the tallest
boy held the log above his head with stretched out
arms. One by one, a boy would scoot along the log
on all fours until he had cleared the fence and then
jumped to the ground. After several successes, Henry
replaced the tallest student because that boy needed
to get over to the other side and hold the high end
of the log from there. As Henry, who was a good six
inches shorter maneuvered into position, the log nearly
brushed the top of the fence. The boys on the other
side yelled so that he stood on his tiptoes and moved
his hands down the log for a better angle. Now they
were set. Three students held the log on the inside
and one held it on the outside. Henry considered the
situation breathing hard through his mouth.
more over. After that I’ll go over and help hold on
the other side.
Then Martin goes over.”
would be the lever hefting a boy over two hundred
awkward pounds. Henry climbed and slipped near the
top and leapt safely to the ground clear of the fence.
“Okay, Martin, your turn.”
“I can’t do it.”
“You’ll be fine. Just move easy and you’ll
“No, it won’t work.”
“Give it a go. We can’t hold this stinking
“I can’t do it.”
“Get your fat ass over, now!”
team grew restless. One boy called Martin a fag. Another
threw a rock that ricocheted off a tree. Martin started.
As he moved up, his weight pushed the log closer to
the rope. The four boys strained to hold him. He barely
inched along. Henry was weakening.
left foot slipped. As tried to regain his footing
and looked like a dog scratching his belly with a
rapid hind leg. Suddenly, Martin let go, slammed into
the electric fence, and made a thud on the ground.
The log recoiled off the rope and then fell a second
time on the fence. Five boys were electrocuted in
the process and two remained in prison. Matt clicked
the stopwatch and wrote on the paper held by a clipboard.
“Alright, Bridger Patrol, come with me. We’ll
try the wall next.”
Matt walked away with most of the patrol in
tow. Martin rolled over on his back; both arms covered
his face. His hair was tousled with leaves and pine
needles and sniffled through his nose. Henry walked
over to him and squatted down on his haunches.
“At least you tried.”
barked his annoying chest cough.
“Come on, let’s go. I’ll help you up.”
inhaled as he leaned to one side and sat up. His body
trembled. Henry stood and reached out his hand. The
help took considerable effort, and they both laughed
a little. Side by side, the tent mates sauntered.
He still did not like Martin but he felt something
new—at least the cream puff had tried.
wall consisted simply of a vertical platform of wood
twelve feet high and eight feet wide. It was solid
and smooth, not a hand or foothold anywhere. Matt
explained the problem.
everyone over as quickly as possible. You have three
tries. The best time counts in the patrol competition.”
On the first attempt, they placed a strong
boy with his back against the wall, knees flexed,
and making a step with his hands interlaced in front
of him. The student going up the wall would step into
the hands, then up on to the shoulder with a boost
from the holder. The last step consisted of a quick
push off the boy's shoulder and a simultaneous lunge
with both hands for the top edge of the wall. Garcy,
the wiry Mexican-American from Corpus
Christi, made the top of the
wall with seeming ease. The next boy needed a stabilizing
hand on the back of the legs. The first five made
it, if slowly. The tempo increased when Henry and
Garcy stood on the two-by-four back bracing and leaned
over the front of the wall grabbing a handful of shirt
or belt and hauled up the climber. When it came time
for the heavier boys, the difficulty increased. And
they had not worked out how to get the holder over.
The last three students, including Martin,
struggled mightily. They could not keep their balance
on the holder’s shoulder, even with help from behind.
Each time they fell backwards. Clearly, a new approach
was needed. The student providing the footholds sighed
in relief. It hurt enough to have the heavier ones
on his shoulder; what would it be like if they tried
to stand on his head?
Martin, who had just fallen flat on his back
for the fourth time, sat up as though mesmerized by
the wall. Then he spoke with deliberation.
things. The first kid up will be Henry. He flies up
the hand-step and lunges for the top edge. We know
that works. Then six guys make a step platform for
me; two guys get down on all fours, two crouch with
hands on their knees, and two stand, but a couple
of feet out from the wall and braced by some other
guys on the side. I’ll walk up the human staircase
where Henry can give me a hand from the top. Third,
when I get to the top, I’ll hang by my armpits and
dangle my legs over the wall. The rest of you can
get a foot boost, like before, then grab on to my
legs and use them like handholds, and then reach up
for guys leaning over the top on either side of me
for help. The last one up will have to be quick and
strong. That’ll be Garcy, because he will have to
boost the holder up to my legs. Then he’ll run at
the wall, get a foot on it, and lunge for me.”
was a brilliant plan. They practiced it twice. Then
they did it for time, faster than any patrol that
In the showers before supper, Martin complained
to no one in particular. His back ached; he was quite
sure his left knee was dislocated. Certainly, there
might be cartilage damage that would need surgery.
One of the boys rolled a towel and snapped at his
backside. A second swat got him good, and he yelped
rubbing the red spot on his alabaster legs. Everyone
laughed and a door opened for Martin, a crack toward
Around the supper table, Matt described tomorrow
task, the patrol’s first long hike, a shakedown exercise.
The itinerary included the hated morning dip, breakfast,
and then an all day traverse of ArkansasMountain.
A traverse, he explained, involved climbing a mountain
by one route and descending a different way. It gave
a mountaineer a broad perspective of a mountain and
a provided a sense of completeness. Henry worried
what damage the boots would do to his heels; he had
been in tennis shoes since the rescue. Martin yawned.
Someone slugged him on the arm and everyone laughed.
want you to carry your pack frames tied with stuff.
Put in underwear, socks, and sweaters, fill up the
bags. You’re not going to need any of it, but we’re
going to load up to get the feel for the bigger climbs
later on in the month. Tie on your sleeping bag, ice
ax, and extra clothing in a stuff sack. We’ll take
three climbing ropes and alternate carrying them.
You’ll need food for lunch plus a snack. Go easy on
the candy, though. It gives you quick energy, but
it doesn’t last. I want your packs to weigh twenty-five
to thirty pounds. If you want to check, there’s a
hanging scale next to the storeroom. It’s important
now to get in shape. The weight on your backs will
help. Soon enough we’ll be doing expeditions of several
days with lots of miles and altitude. Believe me,
you’ll want to be ready for that.”
cautioned about blisters, how to prevent them, and
what to do at the first sign of a hot spot. Henry
flushed, but Matt did not make an object lesson of
just a day-hike, Matt concluded, but they needed to
learn about pace, rhythm, and moving as a team.
Matt’s caution, most boys made their way straight
for the store under the dining hall for candy, chips,
licorice—whatever might fortify them or at least make
them feel good. A few wandered to their tents and
the job of packing. Henry fetched his boots and carried
them to the washhouse. They felt stiff from newness
even after the miles put on by the rescue; he shivered
at the sight of them. Then he ran hot water in the
sink. When it steamed, he pulled back the tongue and
cleared the laces. He ran two inches of scalding water
in each boot. Outside, he set them on the wood deck
and ambled his way to the store. A treat for the top,
he thought. Martin swaggered out from the goody store.
His pockets bulged. When he tried attempted to greet
Henry, flecks of white sprayed from a Bit ‘O Honey.
“You better slow down on the candy, Tiger.
You’ll get sick tomorrow.”
swallowed, hacked, swallowed again, and cleared his
Mr. Patrol Leader. Just tonight. A little treat. See
Henry preferred donuts or fruit-filled danish,
but soft dark chocolate sounded good to him. He bought
a couple Three Musketeers; he would keep one for tomorrow.
By the time he returned to his soaking boots he had
unwrapped the treat. He sat on the deck savoring the
taste and then emptied the water out of the boots.
From the back pocket of his jeans he pulled out a
new pair wool socks; he liked their oily feel, lanolin
from the sheep. He buried his nose in them, a fresh
smell. Rag socks, Matt called them. He took off his
tennis shoes and light socks, patted down the curled
ends of tape that held the gauze to his heel, and
put on the wool socks. When the boots rubbed his heels
he winced, more a memory than actual pain. They itched
more than hurt. Matt told him the healing would make
them tougher and he demonstrated how to fashion that
protective bandage made of moleskin. Henry laced the
boots tight and took a hesitant step—not bad. The
boots felt warm and much softer.
A Shakedown Stroll
After breakfast everyone bustled about. First
thing, Martin hurried to re-supply his dwindling cache
of goodies. Henry took care with blister fixings.
At they set off. Matt changed leaders every half-hour and took up the rear
of the column.
The climb involved a nine-mile round trip with
an elevation gain of three thousand feet; the seasoned
instructor knew most would find it difficult. The
Lost Creek Trail crossed a meadow and then sharpened
steeply after a mile from the school. From a distance,
appeared like a loaf of bread. The trail approached
its western end and then meandered along its south
side where the mountain’s rounded flanks fell into
a forest of spruce and fir. As the patrol marched
the trail, they could see above them a growing number
of cliffs with steep gullies cut between them filled
Garcy was the first leader; he set a rapid
pace. Matt said nothing. The patrol began to spread
boys stopped with increasing frequency and puffed
in the altitude. Up front, a competitor started racing
with the leader, Jim Colbert a stylish boy from the
suburbs; soon the trio vanished far ahead as they
rounded a bend in the trail. The boys in the middle
could not see those in front or behind them. Matt
caught up with the middle group and ordered.
hold up, guys. Take a blow. Wait for Marty and the
others to catch up. I’ll come back here with the superstars
out front. Don’t leave this spot. Got it?”
laid his pack upright against a small spruce tree
and jogged up the trail; the already weary young men
were amazed. Twenty minutes later the head and the
tail of the patrol met in the middle. Matt was perturbed.
I told you guys how we were to hike today—as a patrol,
not as a bunch of prima donnas way out front or lagging
in the back. You guys aren’t getting it. Remember
that first day walking up from the bus? Well, guess
what, you will get it or we’ll be out here all day
and all night until you do get it.”
took a deep breath. Only the buzz of bees among the
wildflowers interrupted the silence.
are many reasons to stay together. The most important
is safety. It may seem just like a stroll in the park
for some of you, but a turned ankle or a concussion
from slipping down one of these scree gullies could
be down right dangerous. No one would know what happened
to you because the patrol was spread out all over
this mountainside. If you think what I am saying is
horseshit, then I’ll give you a better reason. Stay
together because I’m telling you to stay together.
In other words, I can make your life very miserable
up here if you don’t follow what I say. Okay? Okay.
Now, scree is a mass of small stones filling a gully.
Later on, I’ll teach you how to ski on top of the
scree. It’s a good technique to learn because it can
get you down quickly and safely and, besides, it’s
fun. Talus is similar to scree, only it’s made up
of large rocks and boulders. Obviously, no skiing
right, let’s saddle up and give it a go lads. Remember,
stay together. Marty, you take the lead. Take it slow
That announcement produced a chorus of groans
and muttering. When he had rejoined the patrol, Martin
collapsed on the trail without taking off his pack.
In one hand, he held his canteen, in the other, a
candy bar; he alternated between the two. When Matt
picked him to lead, he had just finished a second
Snicker’s bar. He tried unsuccessfully to stand up
against the weight of the pack pulling him backwards.
Chocolate smudges smeared the corners of his mouth;
the boy sweat profusely.
“Let’s do it, Martin.”
looked away while reaching out a hand. Martin put
the remaining chocolate in his mouth and grabbed.
For his effort, Henry got chocolate goo on his hands.
Martin obeyed the first half of his instructor’s
directive perfectly. The pace, if it could be called
a pace, was more of a shuffle. However, he could not
manage to follow the second part. Erratic would be
a kind way to describe the new leader’s rhythm. He
might stop after five minutes, or ten steps, or thirty
seconds. At first, those hikers close behind him would
bump into each other when Martin unpredictably stopped.
They learned soon enough and adjusted their spacing,
but still the stops grew tedious. Matt let this process
go for fifteen minutes without comment. Finally, Martin
pitched himself on the ground wheezing like a veteran
smoker with emphysema. Matt called from the back.
this is as good a place as any. Take a five-minute
blow. Henry, you’re in the lead next.
points Martin earned from his successful strategy
at the wall yesterday, fell to zero today. Henry agreed;
he was disgusted.
patrol leader’s pace held steady and moderate for
all but the most exhausted. When he looked back and
noticed those at the end falling further behind, he
slowed until they closed the gap. A rhythm grew inside
him as he connected it to a song he sang over and
over. When he inhaled, he sang one phrase. When he
exhaled, he sang the next, barely a whisper out of
his mouth. His boots beat the time. On the stereo
at home, he had listened to the “Bay
many times. Strangely this whaling song from the Kingston
Trio fit his pace.
“Why those young gals love me so,
Weigh up, Susanna,
‘Cause I don’t tell everything that
I know, well,
‘Round the Bay
When I was a young man and in my prime,
“Weigh up, Susanna,
Caught those young girls ten at a time,
‘Round the Bay
‘Round the Bay
patrol did not stop for forty-five minutes.
When Matt finally called a halt, the boys spread out along
a lush grassy slope flooded with more wildflowers.
Gentians and tall chimney flowers provided a blue
backdrop for dabs of color: pink from wild roses,
twinflowers, and shooting stars; red from king’s crown,
tiny elephants’ head, and Indian paintbrush with their
bright red-orange spears; yellow monkey flowers provided
a contrast, along with the white of marsh marigolds
and globeflowers. All the hues harmonized effortlessly
against the various greens of the grasses. On an artist’s
palette, the intensity and variety of colors would
conflict, but here the canvass was stunning and tranquil.
Only Matt noticed.
was growing hot. The aluminum canteens warmed the
water tepid. Most had drained theirs at once. This
would provide Matt with another lesson that he would
deliver later when the dry afternoon had lengthened.
Everyone ate hungrily and then grew sleepy; most closed
their eyes and dozed. Henry felt a longing anticipation
for the summit of Arkansas.
After a half-an-hour, hamstrings and calves
stiffened. The dull ache of muscles unused to weight
invaded the shoulders. Sweat dried; laziness congealed
“Saddle up, men.”
tenor voice irritated their lethargy not unlike the
siren that summoned them from sleep each morning.
Boots scraped, pack frames rasped against rock, and
boys grunted against their loads.
leave the trail here. The top is above us and to the
right—about eight hundred feet above us. It’s a flat
football field-sized meadow with a mound of rock.
Look where I’m pointing. You can see how this grassy
slope rises into that stand Douglas
firs. The top is on beyond the trees, forty-five minutes
distant. Listen up, now. If you try to walk straight
up this slope, you’ll tire quickly and use up the
energy you’ll need to descend the backside down to
the North Fork Trail and back to the school. Take
it slow. The steeper it gets the slower you should
go, but don’t stop, just slow and keep moving, zigzagging
up the slope like a car going up switchbacks on a
mountain pass. Find your own rhythm. We won’t go in
single file, but I want you stay in sight of each
other. Remember to keep an easy, doable pace without
stops. You should make more switchbacks the steeper
ten minutes the patrol was spread all over the slope.They all made switchbacks. However, some zagged
more than they zigged and found themselves far to
one side of the slope or the other. A few did not
do enough zigzagging in their attempt to shortcut
and to go straight up the mountainside. Soon, they
plopped down exhausted so that only the tops of their
heads bobbed above the tall grass.
sang a new tune, a ballad and with it he steadily
pulled ahead of all but Jim Colbert, who preferred
the nickname J.C., and Garcy. Each secretly glanced
at the other and attempted to gauge the other’s strength
and stamina. When they entered the stand trees, they
felt quite alone. Dispensing with any switchbacking,
Henry climbed straight up, fast, and with no pauses.
His chest burned. Both calves protested against the
steep, unyielding angle. Warm spots began at his heels,
so he tried, as best he could, to place his boots
in flat, stair-step places on the rocks.
As the trees grew closer, the light dimmed;
the boy hoped he still headed in the right direction,
but the top must be up. Matt had ordered the patrol
to keep in sight of each other. Henry had been alone
for ten minutes. He felt guilty and cursed himself
for taking off on his own. Perhaps, he considered,
he should turn around. Losing altitude would mean
regaining it again; his heels hurt and a large weariness
began to gnaw at him. Besides, he was winning. He
kept at it. In ten minutes, the forest opened abruptly
into a glade, level, and larger than a football field.
Maybe he missed the top. At the far end, he noticed
a hillock that rose toward the far end with a pile
of rocks. He stopped and looked around. There was
nothing higher—this must be the top.
He started to jog toward the mound of rocks,
then broke into a sprint across this meadow of knee
high grass. The stalks brushed lightly against his
legs; they opened in front of him like a school of
fish. Suddenly, he was airborne, whirling head over
boot had struck a half-buried boulder. He lay dazed.
The sides of his head pounded in rhythm with his chest.
When his breath eased, Henry laughed and gazed through
the lazy grass at the sky. The blue so deep it looked
black. Suddenly, he felt someone near him and sat
up. No one. He looked about. Nothing. When he stood
and walked about he was wobbly and he was alone. Still,
he felt the unmistakable sensation of someone’s presence.
Hello? Guys? Is anyone there?
Not a ripple of breeze, but his skin raised
goose bumps on the neck and down his arms. He felt
someone, or something. The feeling frightened and
excited him too. Henry lumbered toward the hillock.
Sunlight gilded the summit firs.
breakfast the next morning at the school, Matt gathered
his patrol and explained the Solo. It marked a contrast
from everything else in the Outward Bound curriculum—at
least on the surface. When the students first heard
rumors about the solo, they longed for those three
days and three nights, a rest. No forced marches.
No aching muscles from the ropes course or the stress
from competing with other patrols in the various initiative
tests. No sweaty fears on that rock face that loomed
over LizardLake where
they climbed and rappelled. Sleep, assumed Henry.
Three days and three nights alone, away from everyone:
none of Martin’s complaints, no morning dip.” He needed
a respite. They all did. A longing for home, sleeping
in on weekend mornings, naps after practice.
Everyone stuffed himself or herself at breakfast.
They knew that the trade for rest would be a lean
menu. Matt gathered the patrol beneath the dining
I finish telling you about the solo, go to your tents
and pack your sleeping bag, poncho, extra clothes,
flashlight, parachute cord, first aid kit, toiletries.
Now listen carefully: don’t bring pencil and paper
or anything to read. Got it. And no sneaking food
and no candy.”
he demonstrated the use of a snare wire to catch supper,
and how to prepare and cook whatever they might catch.
Edible plants make a passable tea; salad makings were
abundant for the picking. Matt passed around green
In the bed of rust-coated pick-up truck, Bridger
Patrol sulked in the chalky dust and roar of a non-existent
muffler. Still, it was a reprieve from hiking day-in
and day-out. At the LilyLake turnoff,
the dirt road turned to pavement a mile from the summer
The truck slid to at the trailhead. Matt led his patrol
three miles into the forest. Then, every half-mile
or he picked one of the students and walked with him
several hundred yards away from the trail. This spot
comprised the campsite for the solo. Matt’s instructions
were succinct and strong: stay put, absolutely no
wandering. He would be back for them in three days.
Henry hoped Matt would remember the exact spot. So
That afternoon, Henry felt confident. He worked
deliberately like a man comfortable outdoors; a man
accustomed to making his own way. With a bayonet knife,
he trimmed the limbs from several small trees and
fashioned poles for his shelter. Sweat glistened through
his short blond hair and stung his eyes. He tied a
red bandana around his forehead borrowing confidence
from similarly swathed instructors. Using a pounding
rock, he drove two poles into the ground. They stood,
as near as he figured, six feet apart. Then he lashed
each end of a new pole to the top of the vertical
poles with parachute cord. This ridgepole felt sturdy,
and Henry smiled to himself. Next he lashed two sets
of two new branches together at a forty-five degree
angle and fit them to the top of the ridgepole, spread
them apart and drove them in the ground. The frame
looked like a pup tent.
the area, he found young trees with boughs good for
thick layers to cover the sides. He lopped them off
and tied them together. If skillfully done, Matt told
them that evergreen boughs would keep out the rain.
Henry gathered softer boughs from for his bed. When
he had raised a thick palate, he covered it with his
poncho and unrolled the sleeping bag on top. He crawled
in headfirst. When he attempted to turn around, his
feet and head simultaneously bumped against the sides
of the shelter knocking off a few boughs. Too narrow.
He carefully backed out, turned around, and tried
scooting in feet first, but found it too short as
well. As the sun began sliding toward evening, his
home underwent a major remodel. When Henry was satisfied,
he scootched in again and lay on his back. Long enough,
although still snug on the sides, the boy smiled.
He felt pricks from a few branches in the bough bed.
He considered that it would help to cut off more of
the ends of the boughs. He yawned. In a little while
he would do just that. This solo business was a cinch;
he felt his body relax.
Evening’s soft light prickled through the green
walls of his new home like stars. He wondered about
rain. Would it come through these tiny dots? He gazed
at the sun-stars, felt their warmth on his face, and
a slim hunger stirred inside him. He had made his
own shelter and the work satisfied him. Henry inhaled
the smell of pine and sun. Maybe he wouldn’t eat tonight;
he wasn’t all that hungry.
had been dreaming about the naps he took between summer
football practices when he awakened in a sweat. His
hand built tent felt close; he needed air. Maybe,
he considered, sleep out under the stars tonight.
He walked about the campsite kicking rocks here and
there while the hunger grew. His laziness was larger.
When darkness rapidly settled over the woods like
a sleeping bag, he thought better of a night outside
and snuggled into the shelter.
sleep was fitful and interrupted by noises in the
woods. Henry roused himself in the pale dawn, started
a fire, and laid out all the supplies from his pack.
Students on solo carried a minimum of provisions.
Though not, per se, intended as a survival experience,
the solo aimed at Thoreau’s maxim, “to front only
the essential facts of life.” These facts included:
plastic baggies containing salt, sugar, and flour,
a mess kit, ten matches, and a pocket knife—Henry
secreted his Army surplus machete—sleeping bag, poncho,
sweater, extra underwear and socks. Also, the coil
of snare wire. Henry’s recalled the demonstration:
make a loop with slipknot in the wire, rig it on a
game trail, and wait. Matt’s instruction ended with
vivid details about gutting and skinning whatever
rodent they might capture. Finally, the carcass must
be rammed with a green stick for roasting over a fire.
No one blinked an eye. Henry had not listened carefully.
and with a roaring hunger, the boy situated himself
beside a faint trail that skirted one side of his
campsite before it plunged through the trees and out
of sight. Carefully, he placed the snare loop in the
fork of a twig that he had pushed into soft turf alongside
the trail. Over the branch of a ponderosa, Henry strung
the long end of the wire. He sat hidden behind the
tree waiting and holding the wire. Almost immediately,
a striped chipmunk flitted down the trail and snared
itself. Henry held the line while it cavorted like
a crazed Chihuahua
on a leash. At first, the screeching antics were funny.
But soon he considered, “What if this crazy thing
turns on me? It is a rodent. Don’t they have sharp
teeth? And rabies?” Before he left home, his Mom had
read to him an article that revealed that forest animal
carry rabies, even the plague.
He needed to do something. More precisely,
he needed to kill the chipmunk? But how do you kill
a chipmunk? Henry couldn’t remember what Matt said
about that part. Maybe you hit it over the head with
a rock. What if it moves too fast? He watched as the
chipmunk continued to run and jump against its wire
leash. Henry concluded that he must wield a stick
and beat it to death. Sweat trickled down his side.
Chipmunk jaws must be powerful to break open nuts.
Teeth like razors. He felt afraid and a light-headed
from not eating.
In the end, he decided to hang the chipmunk.
That way he would avoid both a potential mess and
the rodent’s counter attack. Slowly, he pulled the
slack out of the wire until he brought the rodent
directly underneath the tree where the wire ran up
over the branch.
chipmunk raised a huge fuss with its screeches. It
dug its claws in the dirt. Despite the bandana, Henry’s
eyes blurred and stung with sweat. With a surge of
adrenaline, he yanked the wire. The rodent soared
up through the tree like a stone shot from a slingshot.
Momentarily, Henry lost sight of the flying creature
then saw it falling down through the branches on the
opposite side of the tree. On the ground again, the
chipmunk panted. Killing something that does not want
to die proved difficult. Perhaps, he needed a different
approach to this hanging—something slower.
foot off the ground, the chipmunk twirled on its noose.
Chattering commenced as Henry waited. The wire in
his hands jerked like a fishing line with a trout
wriggling on the other end. How long would this take?
He knew nothing about hanging. Like a macabre toy,
the tiny body wound one way on the wire and then twirled
back the other way. He might have to bash it with
a stick after all. How would that work with it hanging
and twirling, like a piñata? Would the guts fly out?
That image worried him. Maybe he should just tie off
his end and let the damn thing die in its own time.
Henry pictured the step-by-step process of gutting,
skinning, and roasting the rodent on a stick.
The chipmunk trailed the long line of snare
wire behind him as it darted down the hillside. Henry
concluded for the second time on solo that he was
not all that hungry. But by late, his hunger grew
intense. He must eat something.
matter how deftly he attempted to turn it over the
fire, the sticky goo of flour, salt, and water, either
blackened to charcoal or remained a raw blob on the
end of a smoking willow branch. When Matt had talked
about the process it sounded like Better Crocker biscuits.
Henry nibbled at the lightly browned spot on the surface
between the black and the raw places. He burned his
hungry boy pondered his breakfast the morning before
he left on solo. The plate towered with pancakes,
bacon, and Log Cabin syrup. He drank four glasses
of milk that expanded the pancakes to discomfort inside
him. Now, afternoon shadows lengthened and Henry overcame
his hesitation. He dumped the remaining flour and
salt to the sticky glump at the bottom of the mess
kit and mixed in water. No cooking. Several hard swallows
got it down. Several more swallows kept it down.
Tea concocted from grasses, wildflowers,
and even certain tree bark provides sustenance. Earlier
that week Matt had shown them how to make a brew,
but Henry cared nothing for tea and let his mind wonder
during the lesson. Now he thought, “How hard can it
be?” He boiled water the remaining embers. The outside
of the pot blackened immediately and he dreaded the
cleanup. Sparks from the settling pot crackled and
spat delivering an addition of muck that floated on
the water. He ladled out several pieces and put on
the lid. After foraging for grass and plants—completely
ignorant of what was edible and what was not—the water
had boiled out of the pot, scorching the inside. He
started the process all over, this time in the dark
with only glowing embers. The tea tasted like scorched
flour. A day-and-a-half without food, he surmised
he would survive. Fasting, he had read in Personal
Hygiene class, made you healthy. Still, Henry grew
more and more preoccupied with longing for food. Suddenly,
it occurred to him that he hadn’t heard a voice for
a day-and-a- half; he hadn’t spoken. Poking a stick
in the dying embers, he talked out loud.
“Hi, there, my name is Henry. Nice
“Yep, pretty nice day. May rain tonight
“Oh, you think so?”
“Well, I haven’t heard a forecast but
it rains a lot up here in the mountains.”
“Hope it doesn’t. I got to sleep out
here another night.”
conversation, like the coals, died out for lack of
fell asleep early. The fear of being alone, the failed
meal, and the entire the chipmunk affair, had exhausted
him. His sleep was deep; he did not move. Sometime
in the heart of the night Henry screamed out and bolted
upright. He screamed again with a surge of adrenaline;
the reflex of fight or flight pounded in his ears.
Then the thing pounced on his feet a third time. This
time he yelled more than screamed and threw the bayonet
toward the foot of the sleeping bag. He missed his
feet but hit something; a solid sound of a thud and
a scrambling across pine needles. His mind exploded.
“Run! Run! Run! Run! Run!”
and over his fear echoed like the ringing inside an
infected ear—Run! He did not run. Instead, he stared
at the dark, hearing his heartbeat and imagining himself
running barefoot through the trees, to the main trail,
then the dirt road, and the safety of—who knows. Matt’s
face—he felt certain that he could not run to his
instructor like that, like a baby. He just couldn’t,
or could he?
Fear erupted again and again the pulse beat
against his eardrum. Trapped, worse than a nightmare
because whatever leapt on his feet was real. Quickly,
he reached down and grabbed the large knife lying
next to his feet. The heft of the bayonet felt solid
in his hand. Slowly his breath settled and Henry stopped
imagining a panicked sprint through the nighttime
woods. The he remembered Matt’s warning that a she-bear
had been spotted a few days ago at the lake with two
cubs. “Don’t mess with them in any way, shape, or
form,” he had commanded. Henry breath knew it was
a bear cub that jumped on his feet. Panic began to
tingle along his spine and flush through his face.
Maybe he hurt the cub and the furious mother might
be headed his way right now to defend her offspring.
Fear erupted again into a fury to run
He calmed down when he finally reasoned that
he would likely kill himself running through the dark—slamming
into a tree or leaping off a cliff. Henry again sat
in a stupor until the arm and shoulder he leaned on
went from pins and needles to numb. He shifted his
weight and the shoulder awakened with fire-like pain.
He figured he could nap tomorrow in the daylight;
tonight there would be no more sleep.
after sunrise, Henry slept hard. When he awoke he
drank an entire canteen of water. Never in his seventeen-years
had he missed a meal. Now he’d missed several. His
head ached. His belly rumbled. In his weariness, Henry
dragged the sleeping bag out into the sun and slept
again until it grew too hot to sleep. Diversion—something
to take his mind away.
No paper and pencil, nothing to read—confront
the essentials of life, he had heard the warning,
but Henry had disobeyed and brought along Hemingway,
“The Old Man and the Sea.” During the first two days
of the solo he had read half of it. Now he needed
escape and Santiago
enchanted the boy with skill and toughness tempered
with love for the boy. The old man, who had known
success, was now a failure—eighty-four days without
a fish. Henry leaned against a fallen log and read
and soon his eyed blurred with tears.
“Why am I crying?
he read, the voices of the boy and the old man grew
inside him. His body relaxed and he allowed tears
to streak his cheeks and his nose dripped. Henry embraced
the thin paperback book to his chest and read the
passage a third time, this time aloud.
“’How old was I when you first took me in a
‘Five and you nearly were killed when I brought
the fish in too green and
he nearly tore the boat to pieces. Can you
can remember the tail slapping and banging and the
thwart breaking and the noise of the clubbing. I can
remember you throwing me into the bow where the wet
coiled lines were and feeling the whole boat shiver
and the noise of you clubbing him like chopping a
tree down and the sweet blood smell all over me.’
you really remember that or did I just tell it to
remember everything from when we first went together.’
old man looked at him with his sun-burned confident
laid the book on his chest. The fingers of each hand
dug into the dirt. “Loving eyes,” he repeated. His
chest heaved without shame.
The siren wailed at
exactly as it had for each of the previous thirteen
had learned to sleep in swimming trunks in anticipation
of the dip; no fumbling with undressing and slipping
on the trucks. At the siren’s sound he slipped on
his tennis shoes and run shirtless to the trail and
the water that never warmed.
lunch, the boys experienced their first respite from
the unrelenting crush of Outward Bound. They could
do nap, write letters, read, write letters home and
sleep again; even the supper of vegetable soup and
bread could be missed. At lunch, Matt invited any
takers who wished to join him for rock climbing on
the granite slabs across the valley. No takers. Most
boys feel deeply asleep after talking together in
small groups or writing a pained letter to a girl
a hush captured all the usually noisy places: the
washhouse, the campfire ring, even the tent area.
need for distance from each other was palpable in
contrast to the noisy conversations last night in
the dinning hall when these shower-scrubbed young
men wolfed their dinner while one boy after another
told the story of his solo. The appetite for conversation
had grown as strong as their desire for food, both
met satisfaction around the table. Henry felt embarrassed
about his solo: his panic in the night, the death
defying chipmunk, his cooking debacle that forced
a fast, and, certainly, his tears after reading Hemingway.
He listened to the others and sat quietly. On the
other hand, Martin captured the patrol’s attention
with one anecdote after another. In one instance,
he related chasing several rabbits with a barrage
of rocks, none of which, he added thankfully, found
their intended target. But one of the missiles found
him when it ricocheted off a ponderosa striking him
on the side of the head and knocking him silly for
a moment. Then he grew dramatic when he tried and
tried to build a shelter and gave up. When darkness
invaded his space, he simply wrapped the poncho around
the sleeping bag, slid inside, and slept like a baby
all through the night. The problem, of course, came
in the morning when the condensation of moisture trapped
between the bag and the plastic poncho soaked him.
Martin was physically inept, his culinary resourcefulness
during the solo grew legendary. He had baked biscuits
in a structure made of flat rocks shaped into a Dutch
oven and with food filched from the storeroom: packets
of yeast, extra flour, brown sugar, two cans of tuna
fish, and a jar of blackberry jam. He feasted. His
cache included ample supply of candy that had purchased
over the past week in anticipation of the solo. Impressively,
he ate often and with some variety. Martin lavished
in the attention his stories stimulated, but when
he basked too long in the spotlight the boys grew
felt pressured in his silence. Finally, after everyone
had spoken, he told about his foul tasting tea, and
then embellished the cub-attacking-his-feet event
with a blend of humor and panache. Still, he felt
embarrassed and weary. After dinner, he and Bobby
Lee made plans for the next afternoon; he wasn’t sure
Directly after lunch on Sunday, Henry sneaked
out of the school with Bobby Lee and Boston.
He supposed the reason: get way from Bridger Patrol,
Martin, Matt, everyone. Bobby Lee was available. The
threesome strolled passed the dinning hall and the
parking lot, and then ran own the jeep road until
they knew no one could see or hear them. Laughing
and half-walking, half-jogging, they made Marble in
forty-five minutes. On the second try, they hitched
a ride to Redstone sitting on hay bales in back of
a ranch hand’s pickup. They had escaped from prison
and felt giddy.
the CrystalRiver flowed
at strength. Huge chunks of marble littered the banks.
The various sized blocks had been cut and hauled from
either the Yule-Colorado or the Strauss quarries south
the stone’s namesake village
Trains carried the marble down the CrystalValley
to Glenwood Springs where it connected to the mainline
east or west. This marble proved an excellent quality.
Both the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown
Soldier were raised from these blocks. Other prominent
buildings in New York
and San Francisco
also found their origin in here.
a train skipped the track, a load marble dumped into
the river and along its banks. Most of the chunks
that littered the banks, though, came from lower grade
scrap marble that found usefulness in keeping the
river from eroding the railroad bed. The blocks showed
grooves along their sides where the chunks were wrested
from the quarry by drilling parallel holes in the
marble two or three inches a part with steam or air
driven drills. Steel wedges called pins and feathers
were forced in the holes to split the marble into
manageable blocks. Sometimes the blocks were split
with wet oak rods or even with water poured in the
grooves that expanded as it froze in winter.
from a fancy Bavarian-style lodge, Redstone was a
plain hamlet. Few year-round residents coped with
the winter snows. Most of the dwellings consisted
of log shanties devoid of both insulation and running
water. Wood stoves took off the morning chill and
the predictable cold front that settled in for a week
or two in July and dumped rain. A couple of dozen
cabins hid in the cottonwoods or nestled along the
river. Families crammed fishing gear, hiking boots,
and food supplies for a week’s vacation in those spare
cabins. Breakfast aromas would fill the morning air:
bacon jumped about in a cast iron skillet; followed
by eggs, and then batches of buttermilk pancakes.
Coffee permeated all the other odors. With luck, freshly
caught rainbow trout, cleaned and breaded, sizzled
on the same veteran fry pan at supper. Appetites swelled
at high elevation and sleep came early; most cabins
darkened by nine.
rough-hewn general store made of logs supplied the
community. From mid-May through deer hunting season
in the fall, the store catered to fishermen, hunters,
backpackers, sightseers, and guests booked in at the
lodge. In winter, the owner boarded up the place against
the snow and worked as a ski-instructor in Aspen.
pine shelves sagged with lures, hooks, spinners, salmon
eggs, mosquito repellant, fishing poles, nets, 30.06
bullets, shotgun shells, sunglasses, and Chap Stick.
A pile of groceries kept the cabins from hunger: hamburger,
hot dogs, buns, bread, eggs, bacon, pork and beans,
chips, cookies, soda pop and on and on. The store
sold cigars, cigarettes, wine, spirits, and 3.2 beer—a
reduced alcohol beverage that could be sold on Sundays
and legal for eighteen-year olds. The three students
from Outward Bound lied about their age and each bought
a six-pack; the cans featured a sepia photograph of
a mountain stream. They loaded up on chips and candy.
Henry bought a pack of Camels.
A couple of hundred yards up the river from
the general store, a stand of willows crowded the
banks. In this hideaway, the boys found a spot where
sand and gravel formed a spit dividing the stream
in two. Shallow water burbled on the both sides; several
marble chunks made for a table and makeshift chairs.
After sinking five beers in a slow swirling eddy,
Henry sat against a cool white slab and drank half
a Coors on the first draw.
The sun leaned west. Above, clouds swished
like mares’ tales against the blue—no ominous thunderclouds
this afternoon. The banks flushed green with grass
and willows and scrub. Kinnikinnick spread like a
Christmas tree mantel in one place, emerald with an
accent of red berries. Henry began to relax. The noisy
water modulated the boys’ voices to shouting.
hate this damned Outward Bound place. I hate it. I
hate it. And I hate these puking mountains and this
icy cold water. And I hate those wise ass, hair-shirted
instructors. I hate all of it.”
summarized. Bobby Lee agreed.
“No lie, Buckwheat.”
drained his first can and flung it up the riverbank.
Matt’s admonition to, "Pack out what you take
in” went unheeded. Henry considered that he would
collect all the beer cans on the way out. The river
ran busy. Quiet inside, Henry waited on the alcohol
to minister to his sore muscles and maybe numb his
anxiety grown from the pressures of Outward Bound.
Midway into the second beer he felt a buzz.
The boy seldom drank. Beer tasted sour and whatever
felt good at first felt worse later. Still, he figured,
he needed something. Henry set the can down on a small
triangle of marble and lit a Camel then offered smokes
to his companions. The cigarette choked him and he
coughed and spit, and drew again. Henry felt a lucid
calm. He forgot his fears—the pressure to be the best,
the shadow of failure. The ash from the cigarette
glowed and then fell away with the breeze as he inhaled.
Henry rested full of stillness; with the Coors he
drank in the river; he drank in the smell of green
things growing; he drank the sky. All that was, was
Suddenly, a scraping sound, the noise of boots
against rocks and water splashing. All at once, the
air was pierced by the practiced oaths from Boston’s
extraordinary repertoire. Peeing into the river seemed
like a novel idea to him—all that talk of wilderness
conservation, baloney. However, alcohol and altitude
stumbled him backward into a bitter bath. He sat thrashing
his legs in the icy water confused and angry. Bobby
Lee belched and laughed. He stood and reached a hand
toward his floundering disciple. After three tries,
connected and nearly pulled Bobby Lee on top of him.
Bobby Lee let go and walked a few yards down stream
bending over to retrieve another beer.
out of the water, you idiot. Take of your jeans. You’re
going to have to get them jeans dry because nobody’s
going to give you a ride if you’re all wet. They’ll
think you peed your pants.”
unabated swearing, Boston
took his mentor’s advice. After considerable effort,
he stood, managed to peel off his sopping jeans and
fling them on the marble, and stood in his underwear
drinking beer from a can in his right hand.
After this tirade, Henry tried to find his
way back to peace. But he continued to drink, his
initial clarity grew muddy. He guzzled another beer.
And he noticed that his vision blurred and his lips
felt numb. The more he tried to focus his thoughts
the more they scattered. Curiously, he remembered
signing the pledge.
lunch on the first day at the school, Bridger had
lined up outside the door to the Director’s office
inside a knotty pine building that included the instructor’s
lounge, a radio/map room, and at the far end, a door
opening into Mr. Bristol’s office. The boys shuffled
in at their turn. The room smelled of varnish. None
of them found an easy way to stand. The Director sat
behind an oak desk, a large man both tall and wide.
He was John Pack’s opposite in appearance; his skin
was pasty but for bright red circles at the apple
of his cheeks, the lips were full, his hair was blond,
wavy, and short-cropped. Bristol’s
eyes were pale and watered so that now and then he
wiped them with his handkerchief.
it is my pleasure to welcome you to the ColoradoOutwardBoundSchool.
As you are well aware, this is the first summer of
operation for Outward Bound in the United
States. I am confident
that as you dedicate yourselves to these twenty-six
days so that your experience here will be one of the
most memorable your life. I know that you won’t disappoint
me. Now, before you are dismissed, there is one item
of business we want to take care of. This document
is called the pledge. Of significantly more value
than all the mountaineering skills you will learn
here is the development of your character, particularly,
your honor, the honor of a gentleman who keeps his
promise. For it is character that makes a man. At
the top of the pledge you will read a promise that
states that while you are a student at Outward Bound
you will refrain from smoking tobacco or drinking
alcoholic beverages. Please form up here by the side
of my desk and sign your name to affirm your promise
to keep the pledge. And, again, my best wishes to
each one of you here at the ColoradoOutwardBoundSchool.”
air felt close and dry. “No big deal,” Henry thought
as boots scuffed along the floorboards. He’d only
tried smoking a couple of times and didn’t like it.
Beer didn’t interest him much either. One by one the
boys bent over the desk. Mr. Bristol smelled of Old
Spice. Henry pretended to read the writing at the
top of the page, an imitated behavior he had learned
from his Dad, then he took the pen and signed with
a flourish. Henry averted the Director’s eyes when
the large man vigorously shook his hand.
thought he should be worried about the pledge, but
he felt only sick. After taking another tentative
sip, Henry put a finger his nose—numb. He tried to
focus on the top of the trees where they opened to
the sky. But nothing kept still; his vision swam like
the river beside him. He decided to stand and got
to his hands and knees. There he found it convenient
to throw-up. Then he crawled forward, lay on his side,
and his sight faded.
The afternoon had fallen to the gloaming when
Henry shivered awake. Along the river, a breeze had
stiffened. The boy rolled on to his back and kept
his eyes shut. They ached. Swallowing felt like a
rock stuck in his throat. He noticed that his upper
lip stuck to his teeth. When he sat up. Henry was
surprised that it was nearly dark. His right arm ached
from pillowing his head. Suddenly, he lurched on to
his side with dry heaves. Then crawled to the water
and drank so fast his temples throbbed. From his knees,
he looked around at the litter of empty beer cans
and the absence of Boston
and Bobby Lee.
effort, he managed his way to the highway. After several
failures, the boy hitched a ride from one of the night
watchman that worked at the Yule Quarry. The slog
up from Marble to the school grew agonizing. In the
washhouse, Henry drenched in a hot shower. When the
boy quietly lifted the tent flap, he was relieved
to see Martin on his side facing the tent wall and
Monday morning, the patrol packed up and left the
school for a three-day expedition that would involve
rock climbing, summating a fourteen thousand-foot
peak, and on the way down, an activity called glissading.
When they began, Henry felt ill from the night before.
Matt asked him to lead and Martin rejoiced at the
labored pace. For the first hour, Henry was certain
he would vomit at any moment without cease, but he
did not; his sweat cleared his mind and brought healing
to his body.
Matt pushed his brood on Tuesday with the peak
climb and then several hours on a glacier to learn
snow work—the self-arrest and the glissade. The glissading
technique allowed a climber to descend steep snow
slopes either standing or sitting.Such controlled sliding was exhilarating. Climbing
a mountain would take hours and yet the descent, if
the snow was right, could take only minutes by glissading.Crucial to the technique was the self-arrest
maneuver that utilized an ice axe—a combination pickaxe,
hatchet, and wooden shaft.A steel point capped one end of the shaft.
On the other end was an arched steel band fashioned
into an adze blade on one end and a pick on the opposite
end. A boy bounded down the snow, leaped to his seat,
and quickly slid down a slope with the ice-axe shaft
across his chest. On command he rolled on to his belly,
dug in his boot tips, and buried the pick of the axe
into the snow. Normally, the hurtling body stopped
within a short distance. For safety, Matt tied a rope
around the waist of each of the boys on the first
few tries. He held the other end anchored to his own
ice axe plunged deeply into the snow with the rope
around its shaft.
four patrols rendezvoused Wednesday evening at Crystal. This village hugged a stream and lay on a stretch
of open land between the ragged cliffs of SheepMountain on the north and the slopes of Bear Mountain to the south. A jeep road followed a tortured descent
the six miles down to Marble. Crystal was a scattering of fifteen or twenty cabins among
silvered derelicts—miner’s shanties, equipment sheds,
and crumbling shaft entrances. The boys made camp
near the water as it nudged among firs and pines.
not a literal marathon of twenty-six miles and three
hundred and eighty-five feet, the race to be held
the following morning would be, nonetheless, arduous
at nine thousand feet. Everyone dreaded the run; it
was all they talked about. Crammed at the bottom of
their packs for tomorrow’s race were tennis shoes,
socks, a T-shirt, and shorts.
the evening cook-fire opposite opinions expressed
the wisdom of overeating or under-eating for tomorrow.
Some favored the energy and perhaps the comfort of
big meal; others feared a sick belly halfway through
the race. In the end, even those espousing restraint
ate their fill of canned meat and freeze-dried vegetable
stew cooked in number ten tin cans—billycans—and munched on candy bars as night shrouded their bodies
apart from the flicker of firelight on their faces.
A fine mist fell as Henry washed his mess kit with
sand along the creek bed. He felt nervous again; his
belly rumbled with perpetual indigestion.
The whisper startled him. Bobby Lee stepped out of
the bosky darkness.
“Want a smoke?”
you crazy? Matt’s just down there passed the river
bend gabbing with your instructor.”
gung-ho slave driver? Who cares? I got a half-a-pack
of Camels. Let’s go back in the trees and light up.”
Henry had spread his kit upside down on the rocks and
now he took the ripped T-shirt hanging from his back
pocket and dried an aluminum cup.
“Nah. I’m going to turn in pretty soon.”
gonna strut your stuff tomorrow and show us all up?
You gonna win it, big shot?
off, man, I’m not in the mood.”
Even though he looked away, he saw the flare from the
match. He turned back toward Bobby Lee and half-yelled.
“What are you doing, man? You’ll get us both
“Take it easy, straight-arrow, no one can see.
He crouched down on his haunches and inhaled deeply.Henry would not have minded a cigarette.
I got your number; I bet you’re gonna try to win tomorrow,
ain’t you, hero- man?”
Henry gazed silently at the black swirling water.
way I figure it, old Henry’s gonna win the big race
so he can brown nose Matt and the great John Pack.”
“Put a lid on it.”
“Why don’t you make me.”
Henry lunged at Bobby Lee with his right hand open
and caught him on the throat. The startled boy fell
back on his rear end and quickly scuffled to his feet.
“Is that you up there, Henry?”
Matt’s voice was near as he walked toward the two boys.
Bobby Lee picked up the cigarette that had fallen
to the ground and disappeared into the trees.
of the students slept under the starlight that night;
the mist cleared into a bone-clenching chill. Not
a level place among tall grasses, Henry spread out
his poncho and put the sleeping bag on top. He rolled
his jeans into a pillow with his wool socks in the
middle. So that he wouldn’t have to dress in the morning
chill, he slipped on his shorts, white socks, and
replaced his sweatshirt with a gray T-shirt stenciled
with, “Property: Lincoln High Athletics.”He slipped the makeshift pillow into the sweatshirt.
Goose bumps prickled his skin. In the bag, he shivered
for a time and then grew pleasantly warm. In fact,
his face glowed painfully from the three days of sun
and wind. With his hands under his head, Henry gazed
at the night sky. The Milky Way streaked luminous,
glimmering like a cloud. Dazzled, his eyes closed
and then opened again and again to remember the wonder.
he awoke on his belly and figured he had not slept
at all, but then he remembered the stars and knew
he had slept deeply. He rolled on his back. The morning
sky was a thin blue; the sun shown on the tops of
the slopes opposite him. Heavy dew penetrated the
cloth of the sleeping bag. Then Henry remembered the
consisted of oatmeal, hot cocoa, and apples. Some
boys stuffed handfuls of gorpin their mouths, anxious about mid-race
energy. Henry’s stomach could not bear the thought,
let alone the reality. He drank deeply from his cup
at the stream.
in their skimpy running gear, the students piled their
packs, boots, and climbing paraphernalia into the
back of a Jeep with a small trailer. John Pack hailed
them with a loud whistle through his teeth and they
gathered around him.
A solid sky above us. A beautiful day for a saunter
down to Marble, you agree? You’ll warm as you go.
We’ll get started in just a moment. It’s a little
over six miles from here to Marble. Your gear will
be hauled up to the school, but we’ll all walk up
there from Marble after the run. This is not a race
for individual glory, but to earn points for the patrol
competition. So it’s important that each member of
your patrol do the best he can. The staff is going
to run with you—except Cooky—he’ll drive the Jeep.”
A pistol appeared from behind the chief instructor’s
back, he held it up and fired a live round to start
the contest. The blast echoed against the cliffs.
Dozens of young men and their instructors began to
jog through Crystal. With several families vacationing in the town, they
received applause and a few cheers. A pack of children
ran alongside the racers until the road plunged downhill.
A sharp call from a father returned the reluctant
children. It was nine-thirty, warm and clear.
ran easily. The downward grade felt good; oddly, he
enjoyed being at the back of the pack. A breeze played
with his hair. When the road straightened and rose
slightly, he saw three or four boys challenging for
the lead. Not far behind them, John Pack loped with
effortless strides; his calves rippled. Henry considered
that if he continued to feel strong, he might strengthen
his pace—the competition erased his earlier fears
and he forgot about his belly. As the road grew steeper,
he began to pass slower boys. Passing on a hill was
good strategy, easier than passing downhill when most
runners felt stronger. A hill offered resistance,
a practical discouragement to those being passed.
As each incline peaked, the next stretch down afforded
the opportunity for coasting—race on the uphill, coast
on the downhill.
ahead— Henry saw the broad butt of Martin. His tent
mate’s prep-school gym shorts bounced and flopped.
A shrunken yellow T-shirt revealed a rubber-tire surrounding
the boy’s middle. Andrew decided to sprint passed
him as Martin breathlessly shouted.
“Hey, Henry, way to go.”
Martin sprinted a few steps.
Henry looked over his shoulder.
“Wait up. ‘Want to ask you something.”
Henry debated, shook his head and turned around.
“Just for a second, Martin.”
must feel good to run fast, huh?”
“What do you mean?”
The heavy boy slammed his toes into a rock and hopped
along on one foot. Henry thought it opportune to take
off, but Martin kept talking.
that hurt. Ah, I mean, it just must feel good to run,
to run like the wind. Does it?”
“I guess so.”
I was always a slow kid. I never could run very far
either. I’m almost out of gas now.”
“We just started.”
Henry heard a wheezing in Martin’s breath.
“I just need a breather. Go on ahead.”
Henry took off with long strides. He glanced back at
Martin. With both hands against a tree, the boy was
bent over heaving. “Eats too much crap,” he concluded.
Henry ran back where Martin stood.
Martin wiped his mouth with the front of his shirt
and then blew his nose in it. Henry looked away.
“Sorry. I’ll throw it away.”
Jeep whined against its gears and lurched into view.
Martin drank from a canteen Cooky handed him and wobbled
on his way. Henry surmised the boy would wind up in
“I’m gonna take off.”
“See you in Marble, Champ.”
knew he would not catch the leaders now. Would even
catch up to the tail end? Henry realized with a shock,
that deep inside he had wanted to win. In an adrenaline-induced
anger, he ran hard. His lungs burned. And he enjoyed
the anger in his exertion. He caught the last group
of students in about five minutes as they walked up
the grade that led to LizardLake. Around the lake, one after another, he passed several
steepest incline on the road to Marble, which was
mostly down hill, occurred right after the lake in
a series of four switchbacks. Henry drove himself
up through the first two. Sweat stung his eye and
he wiped them with the back of his hand. Through his
sweating vision, he caught sight of John Pack above
him running down toward him. In a moment they met.
“No, keep on running, Henry, I’ll join you.”
Henry was speechless.
I got to Marble I looked for you. I thought you’d
be in that first group of guys, but you weren’t. So,
I decided to meander back this way to check on a few
of the others and to see what happened you.”
doing okay. Just taking my time.”
I don’t know about that. I watched you from the top
of the road. You smoked up from the lake.”
Silently, the two ran side by side for a few minutes.
Henry tried to control the heaving in his lungs. His
calves ached. He wondered if he should give up and
walk when John Pack exhaled loudly.
this hill’s a load, I’ll tell you what. I’m going
to turn around and walk back toward the lake to make
sure everybody’s doing all right. I’ll see you later.”
With that, he turned. Henry was breathless.
Henry rolled his sleeping bag as tight as he
could and then unrolled it for the third time. The
duck feathers kept bunching up lumpy, too bulky to
fit inside the stuff sack. Opposite, Martin sat on
his bunk dividing a large plastic bag of gorp into several smaller bags; twisty
ties sealed them at the top.
“Jeez, Henry, I wish I was going with you today.
I’m getting scared.” “You’ll do okay, just remember to take it slow
and steady. Get into a
as you walk. Sometimes I sing a tune in my head and
walk to that. I heard that routes are based on the
level of guys in the group. I bet your route will
probably be just right for you. They won’t leave you
just hate this. I can’t keep up and everyone makes
fun of me. I was starting to feel a little better,
like on the solo; now I wish I’d never come here.”
the fourth try, the top of the bag finally squeezed
into the nylon sack. Henry settled on his bed, diagonal
to his tent mate. He began dividing his bulk food
into meal groups and putting them in smaller bags.
“Why did you come?”
“My old man.”
wanted a new car, a really cool yellow mustang convertible.
It had a stereo radio. He told me he would buy it
for me if I’d get off my butt and come out here to
I never heard of Outward Bound, but a buddy of his
had a kid that went to one in England.
My dad told me over and over that it made a man out
of that kid. My old man was a Marine officer in the
South Pacific. I don’t think he did any fighting.
He ran a supply depot, but, to hear him tell it, he
was right up there with the guys raising the flag
on Iwo Jima. And now this damned
final expedition. I’ll probably get lost or pass out
or something dumb.”
boys perspired inside the airless tent.
Outside punched the nervous voices from other
tents, the clanking of aluminum canteens, mess kits,
and boys packing stuff sacks. Martin’s hands busied
themselves, though not with packing. The skin next
to his gnawed fingernails showed red. The boy stopped
and looked down. One tear hit the planked floor and
his shoulders heaved. Henry turned and looked out
the tent flap.
“I’m scared too, Martin.”
packs leaned against white barked aspens next to the
tents. Light flickered on them through shimmering
better go. I’ll help you roll your sleeping bag. We
can walk together to meet the other guys at the jumping
did not stir. For a moment, Henry considered the fine
child-like hair that had begun to curl in the back
of his tent mates neck, a month untrimmed. At school,
Martin and Henry would never talk to one another.
Certainly, friendship would be out of the question.
They inhabited different worlds. Without thought,
Henry gently put his hand the other boy’s head, and
tousled his hair. Martin looked away and reached for
Three-quarters of a mile from the school, three
separate trails began their way into the wilderness.
It was a broad meadow adorned with flowers and leafy
ferns. At the moment, the boys had no taste for beauty.
Their emotions agonized with anticipation and the
desire to get this last obstacle to their homecoming
over and done with. Though well before noon, the sky
had darkened in the west, the wind ran hard, and they
heard rumbling echoing down from the high peaks.
before we ever start. My bag will get soaked. I’ll
never get it dry and there goes any sleep.”
be okay, Martin. While your group is getting ready
to take-off, cover your sleeping bag with your poncho.
Remember to dig a trench around where you set up camp
and then run it down hill to drain off the rain water.”
felt discouraged too.
“Your guys are over there, see you in three
“See you, Henry.”
“In three days.”
lips curved a slight smile. They walked away from
each other without a second glance.
Rain gear came out quickly when the storm broke.
In the din, the students were assigned to expedition
groups of four and handed typed sheets of paper listing
waypoints for their routes, plus a topographical map
in plastic. Henry was grouped with the two best students
in his patrol. Theirs was the only group of three;
their challenge was daunting. Protecting the route
paper from the rain, the three boys huddled under
a blue spruce, keeping their backs to the wind. Within
minutes the shower let up as quickly as it had begun.
Henry turned and looked for Martin. He did not find
him. He turned back to face Jim Colbert and Rene Garcia.
J.C. chewed a wad of Double Bubble. His Stetson was
wide brimmed, though his face was deeply tanned.
“You’re the rabbit, Bubba.”
looked at himself in Colbert’s always-worn mirrored
work together, okay, J.C? Let’s get this thing over
with as soon as we can.”
“Yesiree, we got a lot of humping to do, but
we can do it, and do it strong and quick.”
wore camouflage fatigue pants with outside pockets;
his black military boots laced tight. The wool pullover
sweater matched his navy blue watch cap that no one
had seen off his head, even in sleep. He seemed not
to mind the rain and he never looked at the map.
“Where to, man?”
hocked and spit and Garcy turned and scowled at him.
Between Garcy and J.C. a fierce competition
had grown ugly. A smoldering hatred had replaced their
fear of each other. During a workout on the rope’s
course, J.C. taunted Garcy when the latter hesitantly
crossed the balance-log. Garcy jumped off both fists
swinging. Matt stepped between them with a stern warning.
Who might win such a fight was uncertain, both had
strength and pluck. Garcy stood short, but lithe,
sinewy, and strong-willed. He was a Mexican-American
from Houston. His strength and tenacity were unquestioned
during the last twenty-two days.
played on a semi-professional golf tour last summer.
During the year he intermittently attended prep school
because, though had enough credits to graduate, but
chose not to because he enjoyed “the scene.” The school
was all male and all white. Dismissively, J. C. concluded
that minorities could tend his Mother’s flowerbeds
or wash dishes at the Club, but clearly lacked the
wherewithal for college success and the six figured
income he expected. The boy lifted weights with passion
and ran cross-country, winning the state championship
his senior year. Both of these boys excelled at everything
Outward Bound had thrown their way.Henry read the route aloud.
“Thirty-one miles, with two peaks and three
passes, all that in three days.”
A tree blew fat drops on them.
“Let’s do it.”
Henry slung the 45-pound pack on his back,
tightened the shoulder straps, and hefted the weight
upward to cinch the waist-belt. J.C. and Garcy had
already started walking up the trail. A gash in the
middle of the path ran with rainwater. Garcy plunged
ahead to take the lead; Henry jogged to catch up.
Nearly slipping at one point when he turned and tried
to catch a glimpse of Martin. And there was Martin’s
hand raised above his head, clenched in a fist as
he walked at the back of his group heading off on
trail that descended. Henry waved back smiling and
then ran once again to catch his comrades. The sun
burned through the wisps of rain clouds; the air felt
The trail, bordered by grass, ferns, and occasional
clumps of mushrooms, appeared like a jungle, steamy
from the rejuvenated heat. In that moment, they could
have been trekking the Amazon. Henry had such thoughts.
Then his attention seized upon the ache in his right
calf muscle. “I hate Outward Bound,” he murmured inside,
“these forced marches, these god-awful mountains.
And I hate being cold and eating disgusting food and
the dip every single stinking morning. Now I have
to run and catch up with these two gung-ho morons.
They’ll race each other all day long.” And he knew
he would have to compete with them. When he caught
up with them his chest flamed.
Through the day, the three young men rarely
slowed let alone stopped for a rest. They drank tepid
water from their canteens as they hiked, not bothering
to fill them with the ice-cold water in one small
stream or other that often accompanied them alongside
the path. When they finally ate, late in the afternoon,
they each opened a can of tuna and stood scooping
the oily fish with their fingers and forcing down
chunks of dried-out trail biscuits. And always they
munched on the ubiquitous gorp
gulped down with water. Henry knew he’d regret
it, but he needed the cheap energy. In a few minutes,
off they would charge. At dusk, no one raised the
question about a campsite. Even in the dark the pace
never abated. They rarely spoke to each other except
for orienting the map and deciding directions.
long into the night, they camped high at tree line
without a fire. Attempting to mix a packet of hot
chocolate with cold water turned into undrinkable
blob and Garcy flung the mess into the bushes. Then
with ingenuity, he worked out a solution. By emptying
a portion of the chocolate powder in his mouth and
taking a sip of water, he mixed them internally to
a degree of satisfaction. The other two seized on
the process because sugar and chocolate treat overcame
their every-meal of tuna, trail biscuits, and gorp.
Before sleep overwhelmed them, the three boys
leaned against their packs and spoke of real food.
One after the other they described a fantasy meal.
Garcy initiated while he cleaned his fingernails with
the sharp point of a switchblade.
me, man, the first thing I eat when I get home will
be a humungous hamburger—two hamburger patties in
a toasted bun with a thick slice of onion, and a thick
slice of yellow cheese, and a tomato, and jalapenos,
and green Chile sauce. Oh, sweet mother, I want that
taste of mustard and peppers on a greasy burger.
looked away giggling something that included the term
spic. In his reverie, Garcy continued without noticing.
for desert? Coconut cream pie and a half-a-gallon
of milk. No lie, I will eat a whole coconut cream
pie by myself, and then chug the milk. Yeah man, I
will, all of it.”
In stark starlight, Henry looked toward J.C.
want pancakes, a stack of buttermilk pancakes, maybe
ten or a dozen, slathered with gobs of melted butter
oozing down the sides and a bottle of dark Karo syrup,
hot and thick Karo syrup smothering them. None of
that Log Cabin crap. Just give me dark Karo every
time. And hot coffee with heaping tablespoons of sugar
and a chunk of Meadow Gold ice cream in it. I’ll tell
you what, that’s the best meal there is. That’s exactly
what I’ll eat when I get home—that’s a promise.”
described his dream dinner of chicken rolled in eggs
and flour and deep-fried, a mashed potatoes with thick
white gravy, a mound of peas, and flaky rolls, hot
with butter and strawberry preserves. His desert was
an ample slice of his Mom’s apple pie with the criss-cross
crust sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar; the apple
juice bubbling out on to the glass pan, burning black
and tart. Like the others, Henry would drink milk
until he burst.
one remembered falling asleep. Garcy woke when the
sky did, rousing the others by noisily packing up
in the pale light. A frost had set in so that their
cold-stiffened boots felt like bricks forced on to
their aching feet. Ice laced the water on the tops
of their canteens. Red-rimmed eyes treared. They coaxed
their youthful resiliency, but their actions were
those of old men, cranky and brittle. Each found a
rock crevice and drank deeply from the moss-lined
creek near the camp. Then they set off. The morning
sky was solid. Today’s effort would be monumental.
slogged with stiff muscles and without words. Their
thoughts were vague. Though hardened by a month of
relentless effort, the first effort always hurt. Henry’s
shoulder complained of yesterday’s load. As he warmed
to the walk, the pain dissipated without notice and
his thoughts wandered—attaching to heroes. Those men
who knew pain and knew courage too. He felt his need.
attracted in various guises: one sailed the Pacific
on a raft called Kon Tiki; two others climbed the
summit of Mount Everest, a lanky New Zealand beekeeper
and his diminutive Nepalese partner; others ran in
the Olympics or a gridiron. Heroes created wonder
inside of Henry and fired his hopes. With the wonder
came the desire to possess their magic. He wanted
the same competence, the applause, and what he perceived
as the ceaseless adoration that filled their lives.
dusky Sunday afternoon, the television images mesmerized
him; he held his breath as Johnny Unitas dropped back
to pass on his thin dancing ankles, then hurled the
ball toward an empty corner of the end zone— a timing
pattern. Looking over his right shoulder, then suddenly
slanting left, the soft hands of Raymond Barry gathered
in a touchdown pass. Remarkably, later that same year
in March, Henry waited for an elevator in the lobby
of the Brown Palace Hotel. The door slid open and
out stepped its only passenger, Johnny Unitas. Henry
gasped. The quarterback squeezed the boy’s arm and
crew-cut athlete strode down the hall, Henry felt
so full he thought he would cry.
Henry had fallen behind J.C. and Garcy and
they waited for him ahead where the trail divided;
they needed to check the map. He hustled to catch
From the front pocket
of his blue jeans, Henry pulled out the map. He handed
it to Garcy, then turned away looking through a gap
in evergreens to a sunlit slope. Arguing about which
fork of the trail to take, Henry turned back and faced
Villa, here, thinks we go left, I say we go right.”
it on the smart ass remarks, J.C. Let me see the map.”
laid his compass alongside the edge of the chart and
oriented it until the compass arrow pointed north.
See, we take the left fork. We want to keep to the
east so we can join the trail that goes up over Buckskin
C. took the lead.
a rock with his boot, Garcy swore in Spanish. From
his front pocket, the boy pulled out an almost empty
bag of gorp,
tilted the remains over his mouth and poured.
They had climbed treeless Trail Rider Pass
descended into the forest on the other side and skirted
Crater and Maroon Lakes. Now, climbing out of the
trees again, they crested Buckskin Pass before noon.
On the down side, they spread apart and jogged the
trail into Schoefield Park. None of them registered
the riot of wildflowers in the broad meadow the trail
divided. Nor did they did attend to the daunting red
spires on backside of South Maroon Peak to the north.
Not even a quarter-mile carpet of blue columbines
lining the trail distracted them. When they reached
valley floor, the trio collapsed on large slabs of
flat rock. They must rest; the pace had been relentless.
J.C. fell asleep immediately. Henry’s belly rumbled;
he forced a trail biscuit down his throat and nearly
vomited. The summit of nearby Treasury Mountain held
Garcy’s gaze as he sat and guzzled from his canteen.
That peak was their final waypoint before heading
down to the jeep road and the walk back to the school.
faced a difficult decision. The goal, indeed, was
up there, climbing the ridge before them and then
on up to the summit. This was only their third day
out. Matt had designed this route to stretch them
to the limit for three full days. Completing it in
two-and-a-half days would be excellent; good to get
it over with and good for their pride. Henry traced
his finger along the map.
we gain the ridge through that gully there, then climb
the ridgeline up to the summit of Treasury before
dark, we could pick our way down to the saddle on
the other side and camp in those the trees in Bear
Basin. In the morning, it’d be an hour at most in
to Crystal. Then we take it easy on the road to back
to the school from Crystal, the same road as the marathon.
We’d save some time if we shortcut to the school at
shut lids behind his sunglasses, J.C. sucked on a
I don’t know, Henry, my man, I’m getting kinda fagged
out. We can’t see above that ridge to the summit from
here. If we get hung up there, we’d have a hell of
a time. We’d have to spend the night exposed. No party-time
up there, boy. I seen the map. Those contours on the
way up to Treasury look pretty close together to me,
man, as in cliff face.”
warm breeze and their weariness made a campsite here-and-now
what’s on the other side of Treasury? I’ve never been
there. You’ve never been there. It sure as heck could
be more cliffs or run-out ledges. Ever climbed down
a face in the dark, suckers? Sure, tomorrow will be
a long day, but we can get a good night’s sleep and
be rested for the final push. What do you say?
spit looking straight ahead.
swing his right fist as he lunged at J.C. The blow
glanced off the side of J.C.’s face and clipped the
ear. J.C. ducked behind Garcy and with both arms locked
him in a bear hug and slammed him on his back in the
dirt. Henry jumped up and stuck his boot between them.
He pushed J.C. on the chest as hard as he could.
finally let go and Garcy scrambled to his feet glaring
back at him.
said, cool it, Garc! We ain’t got no time for this.”
smirked. Garcy walked down to a small stream. His
breath pumped as though he had sprinted a mile.
Shadows lengthened on the ridge, smoking with
a blue haze. As their emotions settled, the decision
returned. Before them loomed a fourteen thousand foot
peak, an unknown landscape, darkness, and, maybe rest.
“Let’s do it.”
beleaguered young men gathered their gear and hiked
around the lake to the spot where the gully opened
to the slopes above Galena Lake.
The ascent of that gully expended great effort. Henry’s
temples pounded with each step. It was filled with
a mass of loose rock, causing increased effort when
they slipped; sweat dripped. When they finally climbed
out of the gully on to the ridge, a buffeting west
wind blew into their faces. Henry had grown stronger
as he climbed and he pulled ahead of the others by
two hundred yards. Without pause, he hiked quickly
along the ridge and faint break in the boulders that
he hoped would lead to the top. Each time he paused
to look up, the route seemed doable. He gulped deep
breaths. He looked up again and detected a dark shadow
of rock near the top. “That could be could be a chimney.
I can’t tell,” he whispered to himself. He could not
fathom climbing a chimney this tired and in failing
Unexpectedly, he swooned and dropped a hand
on the ground to steady himself—he watched the starry
dots in his eyes slowly diminish.His head cleared and he took several steps
to reach a large boulder for support. Looking back
toward the others, he saw them sitting at the point
where they had climbed up on to the ridge from the
gully. That concerned him. Henry straightened, looked
back up at the peak and considered how to avoid that
dark place. A route around to the left looked liked
it might work. It appeared to be a section of broken
rock. If so, they could scramble on it all the way
to the top, that is, if what he saw was the top and
not a false summit. He would take his chances; they
were committed. He worried about that the other two
were still not moving up to meet him. He turned back.
voice clogged, nothing more than a croak. He cleared
his throat and spit.
yelled in short bursts over the wind. J.C. sat up.
“Possible route. Okay?”
motioned with his arm.
“Come here. Wait.”
“Come here. Wait here. Wait for my signal.
The yelling made him dizzy. He lowered his
head. Even in his wooziness, Henry felt hopeful. “Bag
this peak and get down into those trees on the other
side. Cook some oatmeal tonight. Do it. Walk out tomorrow.
Two days and home. Good food. Bed.” He began again.
The climbing now involved hand-over-hand moves and
then loose scrambling on rotten rock. An orange and
yellow hue warmed from the rocks in the alpine-glow.
Each time he paused for breath he felt dizzy and nauseated.
If he climbed too quickly, he was breathless. So,
he moved as slow as possible without stopping. Steady
and very slow. No song came to his mind to help. His
body was a senseless machine.
his right, an escarpment fell to a treeless basin
fifteen hundred feet below. On his left, the view
dropped into the dim of the gathering dark. He checked
on the others. They were on the move, finally.
only the highest point on the surrounding peaks kept
the day; the blustery wind lost heart in the sunset.
Henry drifted. Grape-nuts—a bowl full of Grape-nuts
with brown sugar packed around the top and drenched
in milk, no, half-and-half. Not soggy, just enough
to make it wet but still crunchy. And new-picked strawberries
packed around the base of Mt. Grape-Nuts.
“I love you Grape-nuts,
Oh yes, I do.
I love you Grape-nuts,
And I want you.”
heard the sound of aluminum, a tinny screech—his pack
frame against rock. Suddenly, he was pushed into air.
Henry was falling. During his silly song about Grape-Nuts,
Henry had instinctively turned his body out to step
around a bulging section of rock that blocked the
line he was following. Halfway through that maneuver,
he heard the eerie scrapping of his pack. A bulging
place in the rock pushed him out and then airborne,
feet first. His mind slowed. He calmly thought, “I’m
going to die.”
tongue of snow filled a ledge forty-five feet below
him. Henry fell straight into it. He entered the snow
like a parachute jumper and sunk to his waist. No
Garcy and J.C. had stopped for breath. Looking
up toward Henry, Garcy saw Henry fall. At first, it
seemed like a purposeful a jump full of poise and
calm, but he knew instinctively—too far for a jump
and he did not see the landing.
ran. J.C. followed yelling.
screamed his name over and over. No response. Only
the sound of their own pained breath. When the climbing
grew difficult, they moved to the left and worked
up around to the backside of the summit opposite the
direction of the fall. On top, J.C. bent over and
coughed up blood. On his hands and knees, Garcy edged
out over the summit into darkness.
The first sensation Henry felt was cold, delicious
chunks of cold along his belly where his shirt had
jerked up. Cold felt calm. Then breath, the air sucked
deliciously through his open mouth. Henry smelled
pungent lichen and noticed a patchwork of colors smiling
from nearby rocks.Crystals glimmered in the granite. He felt
wet, his body heat melting the snow. He wanted to
stay forever. Then it occurred to him that he should
move. “I might get cold here.” He rested his head
back on the snow and closed his eyes. He shivered.
Was it the snow or something else, a familiar feeling.
tried to push himself out of the snow but it gave
way to his attempt. He was stuck. He laughed. Leaning
one direction and then leaning back the other direction,
like an old wooden post, he wriggled out.
The tongue of snow seemed to hang in the sky,
so airy. He had no fear, only a settled peace. As
he kicked his heels in the snow, he moved his body
backward in a crab walk. The boy scooted to the place
where the snow ended and the rock began. Henry paused.
The fall happened without warning—he was on the mountain;
he was off the mountain. Just like that. He fell without
thought or choice. In that instant he knew he would
die, now he was alive. Henry smiled.
He stood and felt stiffness in his lower back
and down the left hamstring. He flexed.He turned and struggled up the rocks circling
to his right under the summit slowly rising as he
went. Then he was on top.
two companions sat silently in the dark. Tears streamed
down J.C.’s face. His thoughts echoed with unbelief.
“This couldn’t happen” But the pain made it real.
Garcy held on to his knees and rocked; his tough-guy
exterior needed comforting, a touch of Mama.
Henry called to them. The three young men held
each other in a circle on top of the world. Their
eyes were wet and shut tight.
The Award’s Banquet
High-pitched talk punctuated with concussions
of laughter bounced off the log walls of the dining
hall. Tanned young men, now at their ease and full
of swagger, filled the room with stories—course completed.
instructors donned their mountain finery, some in
wool knickers and others in khaki shorts; whether
knickers or shorts, they sported knee socks of red,
green, navy blue, or argyle. Some wore Irish knit
sweaters or colorful braid-trimmed sweaters from Scandinavia
or plaid wool shirts. Some outfits were accented with
bandanas folded thin and tied around the neck. Matt
removed his blue beret at the door and John Pack sported
an Aussie hat fastened up on one side.
While the boys lacked their mentors’ wardrobes,
they more than made up for it in the wash house. They
had vigorously scrubbed and buffed with the result
that their faces glowed, their teeth shown, and the
air competed with various after-shaves. Many students
proudly displayed a sling rope doubled through the
belt loops of their Levi’s, tied with a square knot,
and finished with two half hitches. Untrimmed hair
hung scruffy and, for many, sun-bleached. Most were
clean-shaven because the admonition about shaving—“civilization
is the practice of a civilized man wherever he is”—continued
through this last gathering. However, a chin here
and there revealed opposite future plans.
Tomorrow morning they would walk down the dusty
road to Marble and meet the bus bound for Glenwood
Springs and home. But for now, the boys embellished
their tales from the final expedition and enjoyed
all the mishaps. Martin boasted that he had not taken
a single hay fever pill, aspirin, or even a dose of
Maalox the entire three days of the final. Not only
that, he kept up with his group and never complained.
One of his expedition mates thumped him his arm correcting
the “never complained” but agreed that Martin’s complaints
had lessened. Henry smiled. Almost lean in the face,
Martin had shed pounds; his hair was becomingly unkempt.
Neither Garcy nor J.C. mentioned their companion’s
near disaster on Treasury Mountain. But everyone in
the patrol admired the remarkable two-and-a-half day
trek the threesome had accomplished. The atmosphere
in the dining hall was warm and fine.
When the steaming plates came out from the
kitchen, they could hardly contain the magnificent
T-bone steaks that hung over their edges. There were
bowls of hot mashed potatoes, brown gravy, a platter
of corn-on-the-cob, and two baskets laden with thick
slices of freshly baked bread. Glass after glass of
cold foaming milk was poured from constantly refilled
pitchers. For dessert, two cherry pies warmed each
table. Giant dollops of vanilla ice cream smothered
each pie wedge as it was cut and served. The feast
caused Garcy to forget all about mustard and peppers;
J.C. knew pancakes would not compare. Matt could not
discern what tasted better to his boys the food or
the pride of accomplishment in their glistening eyes.
no small difficulty, John Pack quieted the tumult
and began a series of“thanks and congratulations.” At one point,
he experienced competition from the suppressed giggles
at the finale of a whispered story at one table and
then an out-and-out gush of laughter from another.He didn’t mind a bit of it. With a pause he
waited for a measure of quiet.
remembered the first day walking up the road, the
meeting with Matt, and John Pack’s welcome around
the campfire ring. All his hatred toward Outward Bound
evaporated. He felt proud and nostalgic at the same
time—charged emotions. He would miss John Pack and
Matt, J.C., and Garcy; he would even miss Martin.
In the surprise of his emotions, he felt a little
awkward, but gained his balance when he recalled the
morning dip—no sorrow there, only great relief. By
the time the Chief Instructor turned the proceedings
over to Mr. Bristol, Henry felt good..
hall settled into a restless anticipation.
Mr. Pack, your patrol instructors, and I congratulate
each one of you for successfully completing the Colorado
Outward Bound Course. Well done, lads.”
one, not even Bristol himself heard the last three
words. By that time, the room had erupted into whoops,
cries, clapping, and whistles. A few instructors smiled;
some sipped hot tea with nonchalance. With a settled
pride, they considered that their young men were leaner
than a month ago and most had acquired new skills
and confidence. The cheering lasted several minutes.
When Bristol began again, he thanked each instructor,
assistant instructor, office staff, and the cooks.
More cheers. He announced that Bridger was the winner
of the patrol competition; Martin whistled through
his teeth while the others clapped and yelled their
acceptance. Then the Director cleared his throat.
the Outward Bound schools worldwide, a special tradition
developed a number of years ago in England. That tradition
is the presentation of what is called the Honor’s
Award. The award recognizes the outstanding physical
performance, mental toughness, leadership, and honor
of a selected student. The award is rarely given,
except upon recognition of extraordinary merit by
an extraordinary student. Tonight marks the first
time that the Honor’s Award will be presented in United
States. We have unanimously chosen to present the
Honor’s Award to Mr. Henry Tomkins.”
perceived the few next moments in slow motion akin
to his fall off of Treasury Mountain. He was overwhelmed
amidst the clapping and cheering. Matt stood, and
then everyone jumped to his feet. Boys roared their
approval and the dining hall resounded with thunder
for him, for Henry.
He tried to hold the tears and failed. His
lower lip trembled; water dampened his cheeks. He
stood too—bedlam. Through bleary eyes, he caught sight
of Mr. Bristol beckoning him forward. He froze until
Martin gave him a shove. After miles of hiking, he
doubted he could make this journey. He staggered forward
in a fog. Hands reached out for him or swatted him
on the backside. Matt put an arm around him and squeezed
hard. More than once someone tousled his hair. A familiar
lean arm reached for his hand and he looked up into
John Pack’s eyes.
“I’m proud of you.”
When he walked back and sat down with his patrol,
Mr. Bristol intoned information regarding equipment
check-in, final tent inspections, and other matters
related to their departure in the morning. Henry heard
nothing. His thoughts were, simply, joy. His body
poured sweat in the flush of excitement. The room
steamed and everyone wanted to move outside into the
cool of the gathering evening. Over and over again,
Henry turned the small round pin Mr. Bristol and had
placed in his hand. He had not looked at it. It would
embarrass him if someone caught him gazing, so he
so he rolled it in his fingers.
Suddenly, his dream evaporated. Pledge. He
heard Mr. Bristol say something about the pledge.
He gripped the pin.
. . now then, regarding the matter of the pledge.
You remember that you signed that document on the
first day of this course. One final duty regarding
the pledge remains. The pledge is to be resigned.
After this meeting, I will receive each patrol in
my office. There each of you will receive your certificates
and, at that time, I ask that you re-sign your name
to the pledge next to your original signature to indicate
that you kept your promise to neither smoke nor drink
while . . .”
fell, plummeted into a chasm.
Outside the evening breeze smelled sweet. Gold
light filtered through the aspens as day and night
began to mix. Boots trod down the wooden stairs from
the dining hall. Boys milled about waiting their turn
in Bristol’s office. Some walked lazily toward the
washhouse. Bridger patrol was scheduled last. Quickly,
Henry walked that way, head down, avoiding everyone.
Near the campfire ring, a familiar voice.
“No sweat, honor-boy.”
Lee leaned against a tree.
do you mean?”
“We stick together, right.”
big-shot, just sign the paper and let’s get out of
guess so? Come on, man, it’s no big deal. We worked
our butts off here.
needed a break. Boston ain’t saying nothing. I ain’t
saying nothing. Nobody knows nothing about it. Nobody
cares, except that fat ass Bristol. Take your Honor’s
Award and let’s get out of here.”
His boots scuffed the dirt; an exposed root
stumbled him and he nearly fell. His right hand caught
him and his legs scrambled to stay up. Up into the
trees he walked.
startled. He did not want to talk to Martin and so
he ran straight uphill into a weave of undergrowth
and fallen trees. The voice called.
On the Director’s desk lay the twelve remaining
certificates and next to it, the pledge.
done Bridger. Good show, lads, at winning the patrol
boys took turns. The Director handed them the nib
pen. Each dipped the gold tip in a bottle of blue
ink. The second signature went alongside the first
one inscribed a month ago. Then, the beaming Director
shook a hand with a, “Good show” or, “Well done, lad”.
Matt smiled, grasped a hand, and gave the proud boy
a certificate. The certificate impressed the eye,
crème-colored with the student’s name printed in black
letters. Two official looking signatures were scrawled
on the bottom and, most impressive, a small magenta
Outward Bound seal was raised in the right corner.
Each student gloried in the moment and left
the building beaming. Outside some scoffed or crudely
joked about Bristol. Others, shy with pride, closely
inspected the document pressed between their fingers.
Henry was last; his heart, lead. The desk clock ticked
loudly. His eyes fixed on the pine floorboards.
you have accomplished an outstanding achievement.
My warmest congratulations to you, my boy!”
director extended his hand. Matt smiled. No air. Henry
lifted his head and his eyes met the Director’s.
“Mr. Bristol, I can’t sign the pledge.”
boy heard crickets through the open window. Dust motes
flitted in the remnant light.
“Why is that, Henry? I don’t understand.”
refocused on Bristol’s watery eyes.
broke it. I broke that pledge. On that Sunday afternoon
when we had time off, I hitched a ride down to Redstone
by myself. I bought stuff at the little store, and
smoked and drank beer by the river.”
trickled from the armpit and down his left side. Outside,
voices shouted and laughed. Mr. Bristol looked at
Matt and Matt shook his head. The light faded and
they stood in twilight. Henry lay the pin on the desk.
The Director picked it up and put it on top of the
am deeply sorry, Henry. You worked very hard and you
did do so very well. It saddens me that you did not
keep your promise. But it is a measure of your character
to admit to your failure. For that, I am proud of
you. Of course, the Honor’s Award cannot be yours.
Nor can you receive the Certificate of Completion.
The pledge is vital as a measure of honor. When you
broke your promise you violated your honor.”
peered out the high square of a window. A cluster
of leaves fluttered. He felt relief.
I do have a proposition for you, son. If you will
keep the pledge over the next thirty days and come
back here at the end of the summer and report that
fact to me, you can sign the pledge at that time.
Then I will be pleased to give you your certificate
and the Honor’s Award.”
were becoming familiar.
“Yes sir, I’ll do it. I’ll keep the Pledge
and come back and tell you.”
Mr. Bristol shook Henry’s hand for the second
time that evening. Matt wrapped both arms around the
boy and hugged him.
In the shadows, Martin sat on their tent platform
and watched his tentmate approaching. There was ease
“I broke the pledge.”
“I heard you come in the tent that night. Smelled
“I thought you were asleep.”
peeled from the campfire where most of the boys continued
“Did Mr. Bristol take back the award?”
“Yeah and the certificate.”
“They didn’t give you the certificate?”
Henry sat down next to Martin. He reached for
a stick. There was no mud, but he scraped around the
welt of his boot anyway. Then he drew in the dirt.
A half-moon rose.
helped me most to stick it out here was when I finally
figured out how hard it was for you. I realized you
hated it just as much as I did. I heard you awake
before the dip. I could tell that you got really scared
on the solo. Sometimes I thought I saw tears in your
eyes—stuff like that. Tonight you won that big award
and everybody stood up and cheered and then you lost
it all. And now you told me.”