[ Rocky Mountain National Park ]
[ January 28, 2391 ]
The drive up the mountain was uneventful. Old Route 36 was still marginally maintained as there were still plenty of people like her parents who still drove. There were also plenty hobbyists who used anti-grav cars but enjoyed running their ATVs, and snowmobiles in the mountains.
As she was leaving Estes Park, Mel called her to let her know that she and Jarrod wouldn’t be coming. Her parents were overly protective like that. Sighing she closed the comm. in the Jeep and kept driving. She was almost there so rather than scrapping the entire day she decided she would make a quick trip of it.
She pulled into the parking lot for the Fern Lake Trailhead, and got out. Opening the back of the Jeep she pulled out her backpack, Nordic skis, and poles. She was dressed relatively lightly as Cross-country skiing was a lot of work, and even in negative ten degrees you still worked up quite a sweat.
Before putting her pack on she checked the emergency transport beacon. Avalanches in the backcountry were a real threat, and a simple press of the button the local authorities would immediately transport you to safety. Not for the first time she had to admire the bravery of the old-timers who would go into the woods without all the safety tools she had with her now.
Strapping her skis to her boots and with her beanie pulled down low over her ears she started down the trail. The first part would be easy is the trail worked its way down the mountain into the river valley below. The trail was well used and the snow was packed, but not so packed that her skies couldn’t get a grip.
She broke out of the forest and into a little meadow that lead up to the banks of the Big Thompson River. All around tall evergreens were accented with white from the recent snows. The Quacking Aspens stood skeletal with their bone grey trunks and branches reaching bony fingers into the azure sky.
She stopped at the edge of the Big Thompson out of breath. She opened her backpack and pulled out a water bottle. The icy water was so cold it almost burned as it hit the back of her throat. Capping the bottle she shoved it back into her bag and reached for her comm. unit to check the time, but the empty pocket in her snow pants sent her stomach to her feet, and then relief remembering that she had simply left it on her dresser.
Astrid shrugged this off. It was around eleven based on the sun. She would ski for another mile or so and then work her way back to the Jeep and she should be back at the trailhead by early afternoon giving her plenty of time to get off the mounting and back into the city before dark.
With a protein bar in her mouth she skied up to the river, and kicked her feet free of the skies. She walked a hundred yards or so up the bank before she found a place to cross by hopping from one rock to the other. One on the other side she strapped back in to her skies and continued across the open country.
At noon she decided to turn back. The work was grueling and she was exhausted when she arrived back at the place she crossed the river at. After removing her skis she sat down in the snow and pulled out her lunch, a simple ham sandwich and a bag of chips.
After her simple lunch she packed up. The temperature was starting to drop. The sky was starting to the turn dark as the clouds started to gather. There would be snow tonight. That was all the more reason to get off the mountain and back home. Her promised her chili tonight and a cup of Earl Grey or English Breakfast sounded really good right now.
With her skies in her left hand and poles in her right she stepped onto the first rock. There was a layer of ice that hadn’t been there earlier in the day. Astrid hesitated, but that was the only way across for miles.
She got to the halfway point as she hopped to one of the more dangerous rocks. It was at an angle, and glass smooth from a millennia of water rushing over it. Taking a deep breath she jumped, and the worst case scenario happened. Her left boot hit the top of the rock exactly as planned but the ice that had form sent it sliding. As she fell her right foot got caught between two rocks. She heard a sickening snap before she it the water.
The current was strong, and she came up sputtering and coughing for breath. She had involuntarily taken a deep breath as she feel into the icy depths. The rapids pulled her back down hindered by her backpack she slammed into a rock tearing a gash into her forearm.
Fighting back to she surface she shrugged out of her backpack. It had been twenty pounds dry, now saturated it felt like it was over one-hundred pounds. She was bashed into a several more rocks before she made her way to shore.
Hypothermia was setting in. She knew she was in trouble. She felt weak, tired, and no longer cold. She worked her fingers trying to get them to work as she crawled to her feet. She screamed in pain as she put weight on her right foot. She gritted her teeth against the pain. Her injury wouldn’t kill her, the hypothermia would. She shrugged out of her sodden jacket and turtleneck. She would lose more body heat with them wet than she would without them now.
She found a deadfall a couple hundred feet away, and made her way do it. She frantically broke off branches and twigs. It was only a mater of minutes, but from her perspective if felt agonizingly long before she had a pile of wood and pine needles.
She dug into her pocket and drew out the butane torch her father had given her and lit the fire feeding it slowly with increasingly bigger sticks. She then finished stripping down to the long johns which were only damp having done their job of not absorbing the water. She then set her soaking wet clothes on sticks pushed into the snow as close as she dared to the fire.
Now she had time to think with the immediate danger abated. Her heart soared remembering she had the emergency transport beacon. But, as soon has the hope had hit her she started to cry. It was in her backpack which, was now somewhere down river from her.
She stood and tried to walk. With the adrenaline gone the pain sent her head spinning and she fell into the snow shaking. Astrid finally peeled off her boot, which she screamed in agony as it came off. Her entire foot swollen and purple and her ankle was twisted savagely in an unnatural angle. Broken or dislocated it didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to walk five miles out on that.
The snow was deep at the dead fall having drifted up against the massive trunk. With nothing more than her bare hands she dug a hole down into the snow with her bare hands. Every few minutes she would have to stop and warm her hands back up over the fire.
After about half an hour she had been able to dig down to the ground below a meter wide and two meters long. She used the laser knife to cut a pole for her to lean on and she collected pine boughs from the trees around her and drug them over to her hole which she then covered with the boughs. For additional insulation she piled the loose snow from her digging on top of the shelter roof.
She built a new fire inside the shelter at the open foot and crawled inside. Snow might be ice but it wouldn’t get below zero degrees Celsius, which was still cold but nowhere near as cold as the negative fourteen that it currently was outside. She had heard that shelters like this could get as warm as 15 or 20 degrees with a fire. Not comfortable, survivable, and that was the name of the game at this point.
Astrid piled up extra wood onto her fire and crawled inside. She had lined the inside with pine boughs as well, and they smelled like Christmas. She pulled her now damp jacket over her shoulders. She was so tired, and the pain of her foot was nearly unbearable so she allowed herself to sleep.