survivor canada

survivor canada

For Bryan.  As messed up as this story ended up being, it was one hell of an experience.

Red Lining

The car’s speed delimiter kicked in again and Bryan swore at it.

“Such bull shit!  Remind me to rip that stupid thing out when we get back to Surrey.”

He could never get his brother’s Focus to get above 180, but it never stopped him from trying.

“Dude, just keep it in cruise at 178.  This highway was built for it.”

The inland highway must have been designed with German inspiration for driving.  It didn’t matter how deep you sank that pedal, the road always had more grip to give.

“I can’t believe we missed that first ferry.  We are so late.”

We missed the first ferry because Bryan was forever running late, even if we were supposed to be competing in the final leg of a Canadian survivor-style qualification race.  We missed the ferry because Bryan needed to make sure we had enough joints rolled for the drive, the ferry, the next drive, and of course the hike.  We missed the ferry because, well, I agreed with him.

The engine was screaming just beneath the red line, so we had the music cranked to compensate.  We were almost at Campbell River, having driven off the ferry from Duke Point just an hour ago.  We were making extremely good time, but we were still 2 hours behind the rest of the crew who were in a school bus that had left Nanaimo earlier that morning.

So, instead of catching the bus with them, the new plan was to meet them in Campbell River and follow the bus to a secret location for the start of the race.  This whole thing had started to go sideways and we weren’t even hiking yet.

“Boo-yeah!  Light one up before we get into town.”

Of course I did, because Bryan was usually right in these cases.


Buttle Lake

“What the hell, man?”

We had been on a logging road for almost 45 minutes, and were almost out of gas.

“This is so whack.”  Bryan gripped the wheel as the car constantly vibrated from the bumps.

What’s messed up is why he never filled up back in Campbell River.  Yes, the bus was literally pulling out of the parking lot as we got in, but we should have just gassed up anyway.  Now the needle was flirting with an eighth of a tank and we were so far away from anything other than mountains, trees and a big ass lake on our right.

“Did he say anything to you when they drove past?”

Bryan scoffed.  I could tell that his native side was going full-lippy-now.

“You mean when he leaned out the window and yelled at us to hurry the fuck up and follow them?  Yeah, he told us to go pound sand.”

Time to light up another one.

“It looked like that bus was full.  I wonder how many people are competing.”

“I just can’t believe that he switched it up like this, at the last fucking minute!”

Bryan was right, this situation was messed up.

Originally, this was supposed to be a day hike, estimated to be around 3 to 4 hours.  A race to the top and then to the bottom of a small mountain, or a big hill.  The first 8 guys and 8 girls to cross the line would qualify for the show, intended to be a “Survivor Canada” reality TV show.

Unfortunately, some eager beavers had figured out where the race was supposed to be and had been practicing the fastest and easiest routes before anyone else had a chance to know where it was.  That’s why David, the organizer, had changed it up at the last second.

“He said it was going to be a lot harder.”

Bryan didn’t say anything.  He blindly reached out his hand and I passed him the joint.

The bus kicked up tons of dust and occasional rocks would zip past the windshield.  I wasn’t going to say anything, but if a rock chipped us right now, Bryan might just crank the wheel and drive us in to the lake in a fiery fury.  He seemed to sense the impending doom of his need to tailgate anything that happened to be ahead of him, so he backed off a little.

I finally let out the massive cloud of smoke I’d been holding for the past 2 minutes.

“Jesus man!  I’ve already had like 3 hits and you just exhaled?  You’re insane.”

“And 3 hits means you’ve been puffing on that long enough.  Pass it back.”

I could see Bryan’s eyes speak volumes.

Touche, putang ina.


Etch a Sketch Kindergarten Map

Finally, the bus slowed down and then stopped.  Bryan pulled the car up behind the bus and shut it off.  The gas gauge had just been a few hairs above empty.  This was going to be interesting.

We were so far down the bumpy dirt logging road, and I had never been to this part of the island before.  I knew for certain that Bryan had never been anywhere near here either.  The air smelt dense, full of cedar and sunshine.

People started to pour out of the bus, and so we opened the doors to the car.  One of the girls who had been watching us from the back of the bus started to laugh at us, and then I realized that the car was still full of smoke.  It was quite comical.  We clearly looked like a couple of total stoners.

Finally David clambered down the bus steps and clumsily walked over to the side of the road, beckoning everyone around him.  He spoke in his typical rapid fire and eccentric tone.

“Okay everyone, listen up.  Due to some suspected cheating, we’ve changed up the location of the race.  We’ve also made it much harder, so pay attention now, because this is your last chance to back out if you want.”

Back out?  What?

“Here, help me pass these out to everyone.”  He handed a stack of sheets to one of the girls who started passing them out to all of us.  It was a map, apparently hand drawn, photocopied a thousand times, and then maybe traced by a kindergarten kid just for good measure.  There wasn’t even a compass heading, or a scale for distance.

“Uh, where are we?”  Some timid girl in the back tried to ask over the hustle and bustle of everyone murmuring among themselves.

“We are… here.  Approximately.”

Approximately?  I know that I’m baked right now, but what the hell is going on?

“Okay, you all see the ‘X’ in the top right corner of the map?  That’s Mount Washington ski resort.  That’s where you need to get to.  We are right here on the edge of the lake, just where that dot is.”


Then came another question from the same timid girl who probably had more balls than most of the guys here.  “And what are these things?”  She pointed to some concentric rings on the etch-a-sketch drawing we were all staring at dumbfounded.

“Those are mountains.  Any more brilliant questions?”

I laughed out loud.  “Yeah, exactly how far is it to the ‘X’ from here?”

A couple of whispers and murmurs of discernment from the crowd showed that people were getting a bit concerned.

“Well, I guess it depends on which route you take, but I’d say that it’s probably close to 20 or 30 kilometres.”

A lot of whispering and murmuring now.  I did the quick math.

This wasn’t just a 3 or 4 hour hike.

“So that’s like, a lot longer than before.”

“Yep, and that’s why anyone who wants to back out, now is the time to do it.  You can get back on the bus here, but once we leave, that’s it.”

I looked around at the crowd, and I saw one girl who had an actual camping backpack.  Everyone else looked like they had just prepared for an afternoon hike.  I looked at Bryan and he was starting to leak steam from his ears.

“Hey David!  What about my car?”

“No worries Bryan, we have a couple extra drivers here who can drive your car back to the lodge at Mount Washington.”

I chuckled on the inside.  Bryan didn’t just let people drive his car.  It wasn’t even his car, it was his brother’s, but still, this could be the last straw for Bryan.  I half expected him to throw in the towel.

“Well?  What’s it going to be?  Anyone getting back on the bus?”

A couple of people said they were cashing out.  I looked at Bryan again.  He was not impressed, but to my surprise, he handed his keys to David.

“Okay, but the clutch is really sensitive, and it needs gas.  Here’s ten bucks.  Dan, do you have another ten?”

I reached in to my bag and pulled out my wallet.  “Barely”, I said as I handed him a bill.  I looked at the ridiculous map one more time, and then stuffed it in to my backpack.


Switchback Asthma Attack

And just like that, we started hiking.  The trail was marked from the road and the climb was fairly gentle.  Once we got in to the woods I fired up another joint.

“Dude are you crazy?  You want to hike and smoke at the same time?”

I laughed.


Within a few minutes though, I was huffing and puffing.  I looked up at the trail that went for hundreds of yards in a straight line, and then switched back the opposite way.

This was going to take forever.  We haven’t even gotten out of the tree line yet.

It was after the second switchback that I saw a break through the trees, and what appeared to be a gully that climbed straight up the mountain side.

“Bryan!  Short cut, buddy.”  I pointed through the trees.

“Nice! Let’s do it.”

We peeled off from the path and headed through the forest.  A couple of other racers saw what we were doing and started to follow us.

Oh well.

We started climbing up the gully, and my monkey limbs loved it.  I’ve always had a knack for climbing, even up cliffs, and this was like a walk in the park.  In no time I had scaled a hundred feet of boulders and outcropped trees.  I looked back down, and I could see that Bryan was struggling.  He was also wasting a lot of breath talking to a cute girl that had latched on to him when leaving the trail.

“Dude!  Are you coming or what?”

He looked up, and said something that I couldn’t hear to the girl.  She looked apprehensive about going much farther.  Bryan looked up again and motioned for me to hold up.

You’re kidding.

He started to climb up, but when he was about 50 feet below me, he stopped.

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know if I can do this man!  My asthma is starting to act up.”

He attempted to climb over another boulder, and made a big show of huffing and puffing.

“If I had known this was going to be so crazy I would have brought a puffer!”

Dude, it’s a race.  What in the actual fuck.

“Okay.  So what do you want to do?”  I tried not to sound too annoyed.

“I’m going to head back to the trail with that girl.  She can’t get up here either, so I’ll just stick with her and stay on the path.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah man, it’s all good.  We’ll meet you at the top.”

“Okay, I’ll try to wait for you as long as I can, but…”

“Yeah man no worries, I get it.  It’s a race!  But can you throw me down some waters and bars?”

I looked in the bag.  6 bottles of water, 6 granola bars, 3 pairs of socks.  I grabbed 3 waters and 3 bars.

“Are you going to be able to carry them?”

“Yeah, she has a bag.”

“Okay, catch!”

I tossed him the waters and bars one by one, and then slung the bag back over my shoulders.

“Hey Dan, did you want some joints?”

I considered it, but decided that I didn’t want to climb back down for them.

“No, it’s all good.  You enjoy them with your new friend.”

“Okay bud.  Be safe climbing up that cliff, it’s insane.  Sorry I can’t do it.”

“All good man.  I’ll see you at the top.”

Maybe, I whispered under my breath.


The First Rest

I finally reached the top of the gully, sweating and panting like crazy.  As I looked down the mountainside, I could see endless switchbacks of the trail cutting back and forth through the forest and then finally opening up at the bottom of the ridge that I was now standing atop of.

I found a nice rock on the side of the trail and sat down, breathing heavily.  I cracked my first bottle of water and took a couple of sips, and then pulled out the map and to check out where I was.

The map was so crappy, and drops of my sweat landing on it were not making things any easier to read.  From what I could tell, I was still on the first foothill, and there were at least 2 major mountain peaks that had to be crossed before getting back down to loads of foothills all the way back to Mount Washington.

Easily 30 kilometres.

We had started at 1 pm, and it was now around 3 o’clock.  The sun was beating down on me, but it felt good.  I loved this stuff, especially on my own, but I did say that I would wait, so I did.

Finally after waiting about 20 minutes, the first people on the trail appeared, but I didn’t see Bryan.

More people emerged from the woods, yet still no Bryan.

Where are you B?

Finally the first people I saw on the trail hiked up to where I was sitting on the rock.

“Hey what’s up man?  Did you climb up that cliff face?  Crazy dude!”

“Yeah, it wasn’t too bad.  I’ve been here a while, waiting for my buddy.  I don’t see him though.”

“Oh?  Well there were a few people that turned back, not sure if he was with them.”

Bryan.  You didn’t, did you?

“Well, hopefully you find him soon man.  We’re off though!”

“Yeah, cool.  I’ll probably be right behind you.”

I kept watching the trail at the edge of the trees, but saw no sign of Bryan.  There was even an elderly person hiking up with a walking stick, but still no Bryan.

A girl beaming with a huge smile came up to me on the path.  It was the girl with the big camping bag; clearly a girl scout.

“Hey!  What’s going on?”

“Hey.  I was just waiting for my friend.  I’ve been here for about 30 minutes, and I’m not so sure if he’s gonna make it.”

“Oh, crazy!  You’ve been here that long?”

“Yeah, I scaled up that.”  I pointed to the the gully that ran straight down hundreds of feet to where I jumped off the switchback.

“Nice work!  So what are you going to do?  Just sit here?”

I looked at her, and then looked back down at the trail.  Still no sight of Bryan.

Sorry buddy.

“I guess not.  This is a race!  Do you want to link up for a bit?”

She smiled.

“Yeah, sweet!  My name is Jenna.”

“Hey Jenna, I’m Dan.  It’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you too, Dan.”


Falling for You

Thankfully Jenna didn’t chat much, because I had a hard enough time just keeping my breath from hiking., but it was nice to have a companion who kept up.

We reached a fork in the trail.  The main trail went off to the right, and we could see that everyone had gone that way as they were descending down and around a sharp peak that had to be circumvented.

The trail on the left was much narrower, and appeared to turn in to a ledge that went along the sheer side of cliff that was not for the faint of hearts.

“What do you think Jenna?  Want to take the ledge?”

“Sure!  It looks shorter than having to go all the way down and around like the rest of them.”

“My thoughts exactly.  Let’s do it!”

We skipped off to the left as the light of the sun fell behind the peak to our right.  The shadows were starting to feel much cooler, and the wind had a sharper bite to it.

I walked out in front, and quickly began to notice the already narrow trail was getting skinnier.  Soon my right hand was consistently up against the side of the cliff, and there was less and less room to make any errors in my step.  The sheer cliff to the left was now more than just terrifying, as it fell hundreds of feet straight down, and then another hundred or so feet of a steep rock slide.  A fall from this height would be fatal.

I was now keeping a minimum 3 point contact in every step and trying to hug the wall as much as possible.  The trail was no longer much of a ledge.  It just wide enough for one foot at time, and occasionally pieces of it would crack and slip off.  We were traversing along the face of a shale cliff, teetering along what now looked to be like a clothesline.

Jenna made a gasp and I looked back.  She had slipped on a piece of loose shale and scraped her knee up against the rocks.  It was bleeding enough for it to drip down on her shoes.

“Oh shit!  That sucks!  Are you okay?”

“I’m okay, just keep…” and then she screamed.

Thankfully I was already facing her.  Jenna had taken a step forward but missed her footing and started to fall through the air, throwing her arms forward as I leaned up against the rocks and desperately reached out for her.  She lurched forward into me and wrapped her arms around my chest.  My fingers dug into the rocks behind me as I fought against the weight of her body and her bag, pulling me away from the wall.

“Here, try to grab the wall!  Hurry, I’m slipping!”

I pulled her forward and she reached out to grab the rocks in front of her.  Her bag swayed on her back, and then all of a sudden, I saw it fall.

“NO!”  I yelled.  My first thought was that she was falling with it too, but then I realized that she had tossed it on purpose.

“I’m okay!  I had to drop it.  It was way too heavy for this, and I couldn’t keep my balance.  Oh my god!  Oh my god!”  She sobbed as the adrenaline coursed through both of our veins.

I was so dizzy I almost puked.  The vision of her bag falling kept playing back in my mind.  I closed my eyes and fought back the shakes, and finally I caught my breath.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.  That was really scary.”

“I know.  Are you okay to keep going?”

“I think so.  It seems to be easier up ahead.”

It did start to get easier.  The clothesline widened back in to a ledge and then eventually back in to a trail.  Not long after that we were clipping along at a good pace, and the rock slide to our left rose up as the cliff faded away.

We finally reached the end of the cliff and looked back.  It didn’t seem so long when we first started, but looking back it seemed like miles.

“I have to go back down to get my bag.”

It was way down the shale slide, having rolled for a while after finally hitting the ground.  There was no way either of us would have survived that if it had been us falling.

I looked ahead, and then back to Jenna.

“It’s going to take at least 45 minutes to get down and back up.”

“Yeah, I know.  I have a med kit in my bag.  I think I’ll go down to that little lake there and clean my knee and bandage it up.”

I would stay, but…

“It’s okay.  Honestly, I think that was just a little too much for me.  I’ll probably just end up slowing you down.  I’m going to take it a little easier from here on out.”

“Are you sure?  I feel…”

“Don’t.  It’s a race.  I’ll be fine.”

“Okay.  Be careful, Jenna.  I’ll see you at the finish line, okay?”

She beamed me a big smile, her bravery swatting away any fears.

“You bet Dan.  Best of luck.”


Flex for the Chopper

I hiked for a solid hour on the trail and didn’t come up on anyone else.  I checked on the map at another water break, and decided the I was on the south side of Auger Point Mountain.  The shortcut along the cliff face had shaved some decent time off, and I felt like I was back out in front of most of the other racers.

The trail curved hard to the left and wrapped around a large descent to a small lake, but I wanted to try and cut even more time off.  I decided to go off the path and scale along the right side of another sharp peak.  I found myself hopping from boulder to boulder, this time on the bottom side of a peak that fully exposed me to the sun which was quickly getting lower in the southern sky.

I figured it was probably around 6 pm as my stomach grumbled hard.  I picked a nice boulder to sit down on and pulled a granola bar from my bag, voraciously ripping it open and devouring it as I looked across vast mountain peaks, admiring the stunning imagery of shadows and rocks that lined the horizon.

I wondered how Bryan was doing.

Probably out of breath from chatting up the cute girl he just couldn’t say no to.

I wondered if she had wished she had just stuck with the rest of the flock, or if she was thoroughly enjoying his chatty company.

I finished munching on my dinner time snack, and just as I was getting up to start moving again, I felt the distinctive thump of helicopter blades whipping the mountain air.

A chopper curled around the peak from my left, and I could see a camera operator hanging out the side window of the helicopter.  Slowing it’s roll for a good shot, the camera man locked right on me in an iconic moment of man versus machine, me being the machine of course.

I raised my arms in a strong man pose and jeered loudly.


I gave a couple more pumps of my arms, and then the chopper peeled off.  My heart was pounding.

This is getting real.

I skipped and jumped from boulder to boulder as I wrapped my way around the peak to find an opening in to a steep rock slide that I surfed down like a skier.  Rocks tumbled down and slid behind me into the small alpine lake that was nestled in to the basin beneath the peak.

Taking a small rest at the water’s edge, I splashed my face with crisp mountain water and rinsed away the sweat and dust that was stinging my eyes.  I was halfway down the first major mountain, and the sun was just teasing the horizon.

Holy shit.

The reality of the situation was starting to set in.


Down in to the Valley

The rocky surroundings quickly turned into a thick forest as I descended Auger Point Mountain down in to a lush valley.

Suddenly I heard voices and the cracking of branches below me, so I increased my pace to catch up with whoever was ahead of me.  As the darkness began to fall, I began to sense a need to link up with other people.  I had no source of light save for a lighter, and the last thing I wanted was to get lost by myself in the dark.

Once I could make out the voices clear enough to distinguish different people, I announced myself.


“Hi!  Who’s there?”

I could see movement just ahead of me between the trees.

“Hey.  My name’s Dan.  Is it cool if I join you guys?”

“Yeah, of course man.  Better to stick together.”

Three guys.  One flashlight, one headlamp.


“Hey Dan.  I’m Scott.  This is Travis.  And this is…”


“Hey guys.  Holy shit, eh?  This is nuts!”

Scott was the leader, and he had the headlamp.  Travis had the flashlight.  Joe didn’t say much.

“Yeah, this is crazy.  Travis and I knew as soon as we got off the bus that this was a huge mistake.”

Travis laughed.  “The map looks like a kid drew it.”

“I know, right!  I don’t think anybody was prepared for this, especially not for the dark, myself included.  My buddy Bryan and I thought that this was going to be an afternoon thing.”

“Where’s your buddy?”

“Ugh.  He linked up with a girl who slowed him right down.  I waited for him for a while, but when people started passing me, I kind of had to keep going.”

“That sucks.  Hopefully he’s okay.”

“Yeah, I hope so too.  He’s my ride home.”

“Where are you from?”

“Surrey, but I’m kind of between places right now.  How about you guys?”

Scott took the lead. “I’m from Van, and Travis is from Abby.”

Joe waited a couple of awkward seconds before realizing that we were all waiting for him to speak next.  “Oh.  I’m from Quesnel, but I live in Prince George.”

“Cool.  So how do you all know each other?”

Joe clearly didn’t know these guys any more than I did, but Scott and Travis were definitely buddies.

“I know Travis from the military.  I’m an air force pilot, and he’s a captain.  We went through boot camp together.”

Awesome, at least these guys know how to survive.

I liked them already.  “What about you Joe?”

He clearly wasn’t having a good time, but he at least he tried to be a part of the group.  “I met these guys on the bus.  I’m a PE teacher for a high school in PG.”

Air force pilot, captain, and an athlete.  Not too bad.

“What about you?”

“I work in IT for the most part, but I’ve been driving a cab for my cousin up in Whistler for the past year.”

“Nice, do you ski or snowboard?”

“Snowboard all the way.  I usually hike up Blackcomb on my days off so that I don’t have to buy a lift pass.”

“Haw!  A hacker rebel cab driver.  You’re a special breed.”

Scott was super easy to get along with, and these guys seemed solid.  I started to feel not so sketched out about getting stranded in the wilderness.

“Well, I’m stoked that I met up with you guys.  It would suck being out here alone.”

“Yeah no kidding.  Hopefully the rest of the hikers are sticking together.  Things out here can get bad at night.”

“So what’s the plan?  Are we just going to keep moving?”

“Yeah, I think so.  We’re almost down this mountain, and then we’ve got to summit that glacier on top of Mount Albert.  It’s probably best if we can just get over that mountain as fast as we can.”

A glacier in the middle of the night.  This was insane.

“Okay, let’s do it.  I’ll stick back here with Joe and we’ll follow your lead and light.”

We set off down the trail through the woods, carefully stepping over dark roots ,and using the trees as goal posts as much as possible.  Fairly quickly it got steeper and steeper, until we were literally grabbing branches and sliding down from tree to tree.  At one point it became obvious that we had bumped off the trail, and were now in thick forest brush.  It started to get wet from the moisture settling in to the valley, and we were going as carefully as we could so as not to slip and fall.

By the time we reached the bottom of the valley we were all panting and thoroughly soaked.  There was a thick layer of misty fog in the valley, and as we crossed the bottom fold there was an eerie vibe all around us.  Almost as if we were in a horror movie and everyone was sitting in their seats whispering “Don’t do it!  Don’t go in to those woods you idiots!”

We didn’t have a choice, we had to push on.


The Next Ascent

Scott and Travis found a gully that appeared to go straight up the mountain that was now towering above us.  Now that we had gotten a little higher than the fog, we could see the enormity of Mount Albert above us.

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah, this is not going to be easy.  Everyone stick together, and watch your step.  It’s steep.”

It did get steep, and fast.  Thankfully, I’m much better at getting up mountains than getting down.  I quickly bumped in to the pole position, using the ambient light that was reflecting off the low lying clouds to let me see where I was going.  I would routinely have to stop and wait for the rest of them to catch up.

“Dan, you’re like a spider monkey going up this thing!”

“Ha ha!  Yeah I seem to have a pretty good knack for it.  I’ll try to stick close to you though so I can share some of your light.”

Scott and Travis were methodical in their steps.  Scott always testing a rock’s stability before putting his weight on it, and Travis being extremely prudent to step exactly where Scott had just left.  I could tell that they had been in training together.  I could almost hear them whispering some type of chant under their breath.

Joe on the other hand was not so great at climbing, and that was why Scott and Travis had to keep slowing down so that he could catch up.  He was breathing deeply, and wasn’t saying much at all.

“Joe, you doing okay back there?”

“Yep.”  Heaving breaths followed.

Okay bud, I won’t make you work any harder than you already are.

It was now close to 10 pm, and we were about two thirds of the way up the gully, but it was still impossible to see just how much of the mountain and glacier was above the point where the dark rocks turned to white ice and snow.

I had turned around to wait for the guys when I noticed a blazing fire directly across the valley on the south side of Auger Mountain.

“Hey, check it out!  Looks like the others are hunkering down on that mountain.  See the fire?”

Scott and Travis turned off their lights and looked in the direction where I was pointing.

“Wow.  Are they crazy?  They are way above the tree line, still up in the alpine.  They’re totally exposed!  That’s nuts.”

I realized just how dire this situation was when I remembered that I only had 2 granola bars, and just over 2 bottles of water.  I was wearing running shoes, light shorts, a t-shirt and a light wind breaker.  I know that Bryan had a long sleeve shirt with him, but I don’t remember seeing anyone packing any extra gear, except for Jenna the girl scout.

“Holy shit.  They’re going to freeze.  It’s already getting cold.”

We watched the fire flicker and dance, and then we turned back towards the peak above us.  We had to keep moving, so I sprung my way up ahead.

Shit Bryan, I hope you’re okay.


Summer Snow Flakes

The gully got steeper, and the temperature dropped deeper.  I could now see my breath in front of me when the light hit it just right, and as soon as I stopped moving I would feel the knife-like stabbing pain start in my toes and my fingers.  We were gaining elevation quickly, and now the weather was starting to get nasty.

By the time we hit the ice and snow pack, the sky had filled in with a dark, gray cloud. The warm mist that we had been soaked with at the bottom of the valley turned in to a stinging freezing rain that was starting to make my wind breaker get crunchy and crispy.  My fingers were freezing, yet I had no choice but to keep using them as we climbed up, up, and still further up.  Finally the ice became covered with a crunchy snow pack on top and it made the hiking a lot easier, but in return, now my shoes were soaked and freezing.

It was about midnight when we reached the glacier.  All sense of direction had been stolen by the freezing rain cloud, and the wind on the top of the mountain was piercing.  We were all shivering, and breathing heavily into our hands to try and keep them warm.  Scott and Travis had gloves, and I almost punched myself in the face for being so unprepared but then quickly remembered that I had 3 pairs of socks in my bag.  They weren’t going to be nearly as warm as gloves, but I painfully slid my hands in to a pair and my fingers started to feel a little better with some cotton around them.

Scott flashed his headlamp ahead as he clapped his hands together to get feeling back in them.

“OH MY GOD!  It’s SO COLD!  Guys, it looks there’s not much of a path up here.”

He then pointed at some stacks of rocks.

“I think these are cairns.  Hikers stack the rocks to mark a path.  We should follow them.”

Thank god for friendly hikers.

“Okay Scott, you take the lead.  I can’t see so well anymore and you’ve got the light.”

We formed a single line and trudged on, following Scott and each other’s footsteps in the crunchy snow on top of a glacier that nobody in their right mind should have been on at this time at night.  Every now and then Scott would stop and look around, and then continue on to the next stack of rocks.  We had been clambering over ice and rocks for what felt like forever.

We all quickly realized that the wind had been blowing the stacked rocks over, and it wasn’t very long before all we could see were piles of rocks everywhere.  Panic started to set in as we realized that we were now essentially blind, in a freezing rain storm, on the top of a massive glacier, in the middle of the night.

Joe started to get agitated.

“We’ve got to get the off this mountain, now!”

Scott tried to reassure him between breaths.

“I know man.  We’re trying to find a way down.”

Every time Scott would stop to shine his light around and look for a sign, one of us would have to push past him to keep moving.  The pain that set in when you stopped walking was excruciating, and the fear was mounting steadily as the wind seemed to howl and scream at us from every direction.

“Here!  I think I see a way down!”  Joe had pushed off to the right and was heading down a slope.  To his credit, it did look like a path, and the rocks turned in to more of a shale.  We all started to followed Joe, as his sense of urgency clearly wasn’t waiting around for anyone else.

“Okay guys, stick together.  It’s dark Joe.  Let’s get Scott up front with the light.”

Joe didn’t seem to care, and I couldn’t blame him.  We all wanted so badly to get off of this frozen tombstone.


Sliding in to Chaos

For a moment, I had stopped thinking about or even feeling the pain in my fingers and toes.  We were clearly descending, and as the rock had turned to shale, it was easier and easier to take bigger bounds.  I may have even taken a few playful jumps from side to side, mimicking the movements of a speed skater, and laughing like a kid in a sandbox.

The crunching of the shale rocks beneath our feet started to amplify, and then it became a wave of sound all around me.  That’s when I realized that the rocks had started sliding with us.

I tried to slow down, and realized as I kept moving the we had started an avalanche of rocks.  I felt a few ping off of my back and realized that they were coming from Scott and Travis who were about 15 feet behind me.


I could see Joe try to put the brakes on.  Almost like a snowboarder who is going too fast and tries to heel brake, he started to lean too far forward.  His feet started to kick up shale as his arms reached forward for balance, and then the worst possible thing happened.  His feet dug in to the rocks, and he went flying head first on to his stomach.


We could all hear him grunt as the wind was knocked out of him when he landed on his stomach like a star fish.  Head first with his hands desperately trying to shield his face from the rocks, he continued to slide downwards.


We all started bounding down the scree slope again, this time in a frantic pace to catch up to Joe.  He had managed to roll over his right shoulder on to his side and then in to a sitting position.  He was screaming in pain, but no sound was coming out of his mouth.  His diaphragm had locked up, and he could neither breath nor exhale.

No matter how hard I dug my feet in, the rocks all around me were now moving on their own accord.  Joe was still sliding on his ass, desperately trying to get back on his feet but unable to get a footing.  There was now a considerable avalanche of shale sliding farther ahead of Joe, and the sound of rocks crashing over more rocks was deafening.

“Hold on buddy!  I got you!”

I managed to get within a few feet of him and then my own personal avalanche of rocks started to pelt Joe from behind, showering him in more pain and terror.  I grabbed the back of his hoodie and backpack, and started to pull him up towards me as we both continued to slide out of control.  Scott and Travis were right behind us, their flashlights now shining ahead of us in an erratic, almost strobe like manner.

That’s when I heard it, or should I say, the lack of it.

Ahead of us about 40 or 50 feet, there was a dead silence.  The light of the flashlights behind us were disappearing in to a rapidly approaching pitch black darkness.

We were sliding towards the edge of a very big cliff.


Rocked in to a Hard Place


It was such a surreal thing to see death creeping up towards us.  It’s mouth opened up in to a dark, silent void.  The avalanche of rocks beneath us plunged over into it’s nothingness.

We’re going to die.

I can remember having the most insane thought flash through my mind at that moment.

I always wanted to learn how to fly.

And then, just as if an angel guarding us from heaven heard my fearless reckoning with the inevitable and cast down a miraculous beam of light to save us; a boulder emerged from the darkness to my left.

Still holding on to the back of Joe’s hoodie and backpack with my right hand, I leapt to my left and started to drag him with me towards the boulder as we neared the edge of death.


My voice was hoarse as my my throat filled with the dust of rock chips flying around all us.

Joe was on his knees now, scrambling forward with his hands while I pulled him with my right, and clawed my way across the rock slide with my other.

Scott and Travis were behind and above us, jumping sideways and digging their hands in to the rocks, desperately pulling themselves over to our only salvation.

I need to make it.  Please let me make it.

At the last possible moment before I knew that wouldn’t make it any farther, I lurched forward one more time.  I pulled Joe so hard he went flying forward on to his hands again.

Sorry bud.

I reached out with my left hand.

Please, God.

As my fingers dug down in to the shale, I could feel the rocks cutting through the socks and tearing open my skin.


Solid rock grabbed on to my soul, as my bloody fingers wrapped around a life line that had been sent to us straight from the divine.


Joe’s weight pulled me face forward through more rocks as he slid around beneath me, stretching every tendon and muscle from my left hand and fingers, across my shoulders and down to my right hand that refused to let go of Joe.  I desperately turned my face to try and take a breath away from the rocks and dust that continued to crash over me.


Scott and Travis had managed to cross enough of the slide to get to the top of the boulder, and Scott scaled down the side of the rock to the underside where I was dug in and clinging on for dear life.  As much as I just wanted the constant barrage of rocks crashing over and under me to stop, I was so happy when Scott reached down and grabbed my left wrist.  He pulled me up as I dragged Joe behind me.  One by one we grabbed on to the life saving boulder and turned around, wedging ourselves in to a squat up against the rock to hold our ground.

Travis swung around the boulder and helped Scott to pull Joe up against the boulder.

We sat there, spitting and coughing, desperately trying to find air.

Suddenly Joe’s wind came back, and after a deep rasping breath in, the sound of his guttural sobs echoed out over the cliff, bouncing off of unseen mountains for miles and miles away.


Back to Reality

Fuck, my fingers hurt.

I looked down at my sock gloves.  My left had was dark and wet, presumably from the bleeding cuts within.  My right hand was just dirty, and both of them were still freezing cold.

Joe was still sobbing as he hung his head between his knees.  Scott and Travis had been silently sitting next to him, catching their breath and squeezing Joe’s shoulders.

Scott turned his head toward me.  “Dan, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I think so.  My hands and knees are kind of cut up, but I’m okay.  You?”

“We’re okay.  Thank God.”

Joe began to sob deeply again.  Scott turned back to him.  “Okay man, it’s okay.  We’re okay.”

Joe screamed between his knees so loud that the echo lasted for what felt like forever.


“Joe, buddy.  Just take it easy.”


Scott squeezed Joe’s shoulder again, and tried to console him.

“Yeah man, that was really scary.  But we’re okay.  Just get your breath.”

Joe reverted back in to unintelligible sobs that reverberated off the walls of the mountains.

Scott looked over at Travis who hadn’t said a word.

“Travis.  Can you shine your light back up around the boulder and see if there’s a way out?”

Travis carefully turned himself around and leaned over the side of the boulder.  After a few moments, he turned back and shut off his light.

“It’s super steep on this side of the boulder.  It looks like there’s a bit of a ledge about 40 feet up where the slope isn’t so bad, but I don’t think we can get up this side without sliding.”

“Dan.  What’s it look like on your side?”  Scott handed me his headlamp and turned it on.  The light blinded me and I had to close my eyes for a second.

I leaned over to my left and poked my head as far around the other side of the boulder as I could get without having to move my feet and maybe lose my footing.

The slope on this side of the boulder was a lot gentler and it looked like we could climb back up to get to the ledge that Travis was talking about.

I carefully twisted back to my squat spot and gave the headlamp back to Scott.

“It doesn’t look too bad.  We will have to cut over to the right a bit and then we can switch back when we get to that ledge.  From there we just have to cut sideways back up the way we came.”

“Okay.  Joe?  Are you good to go?”

More unintelligible sobbing.

“Joe?  Come on buddy.  We have to get moving.  We can’t stay here.”

Joe shrugged Scott’s hand off his shoulder and began screaming again.


Come on, Joe.  We gotta go.

Scott turned and looked at me, and then back at Joe.

“Come on man.  I know you’re scared.  We’re all scared.  But we can’t stay here, it’s too dangerous.”


“Dude we’re not leaving you, and we’re not staying here.  So there’s only one option left.”

Scott went to squeeze Joe’s shoulder again and Joe lashed out at Scott, pushing his arm away.  Scott almost lost his footing and started sliding again.

“FUCK JOE!”  Scott reached down and grabbed Joe with his left hand, and then promptly brought his right hand down in an open handed slap across Joe’s face.

All we heard for miles was the echo of Joe’s face meeting Scott’s hand, followed by silence.

“Shit, I’m sorry Joe.  But you have to get back to reality here bud.  We have to go now.”

Joe didn’t say anything.  He spit between his feet, and breathed heavily between his knees.

“Scott, I’m going to try and climb up.  Don’t get too close behind, but stay close enough so that if we start sliding we can grab each other.”

“Okay Dan.  Take it slow.”

I gripped the sides of the boulder as I carefully pulled myself around and started to claw my way up the loose rock.  Each step was like a heart attack as the rocks gave way beneath me.  It was a constant struggle to maintain forward momentum, but inch by inch, I started to climb.  By the time I got to the top of the boulder, I yelled back.

“Okay!  I’m at the top!  Start coming up and I’ll wait until you get here.”

I could hear Scott and Travis coaxing Joe to get moving.  Finally I saw Scott’s head pop around the side of the boulder and start clawing his way up.  Shortly behind him came Joe, and then Travis.

That’s how we spent the next hour and a half; slowly inching our way up and across the precarious rock slide that threatened to give way at almost every step we took.  Joe continued to cry and blubber as we climbed, but at least he was climbing.  Travis stayed at the back of our pack, constantly watching ahead in case any of us started to slide.

Inch by inch, we clawed back up to where we had gotten lost, and where the devastating wind and freezing rain was waiting for us again.


Adrift on a Glacier

“I think this is where we dropped down in to the slide.”

I couldn’t tell for sure, but it seemed familiar.

Scott pulled up next to me and shone his light around.

“Yeah, it seems like it.  So then we came from over that way to the left.”

“Yeah.  So let’s go to the right and that will keep taking us along the glacier.”

Travis pulled up and heaved a couple of deep breaths.  We all looked behind and Joe was keeled over with his hands on his knees, gasping for air.

“Joe.  You okay?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Scott’s light caught Joe’s face and we could see the cuts that lined his forehead from falling in to the rocks.  Luckily, they weren’t bleeding that bad.

Probably frozen shut.

“Okay, so we think that the best way is to head over to the right.”

Joe pushed himself up from his knees.  “Screw that.  We should go back to the rest of the crew and stay with them until morning.”


We looked at each other.  I waited for a professional to speak first, and thankfully Scott finally did.

“That means going all the way back over the backside of this mountain, down and then back up Auger Mountain.  It makes more sense to just keep going and get down on this side.”


Joe, calm down bro.

“Dan?  What do you think?”

“I think we should get down this side.  It’s already like 3 am, it’s insane to think about going back that far now.  Let’s keep going, we’ll find it.”


“I’m with you, keep moving forward.”

“Okay Joe, are you good with this?”



“Yeah, fine.  Look, I’m sorry guys.  I know I freaked out back there, but this whole situation is messed, and my face hurts so bad.”

We all winced, and snickered at the same time.

“Yeah, you cut it up pretty bad on those rocks there, but you’ll be fine.  Okay, let’s find a path down.”

We clambered back up on to the crunchy glacier and dug our hands as deep in to our pockets as we could to keep them from turning black.  The wind was screaming at us again, and all of the dirt and sweat we had just covered ourselves with was now freezing the clothes to our skin.  This was not much of a better situation, but at least we were moving again.

We trudged along as our footsteps were instantly wiped away by the dry frozen rain that drifted across the loveless crest of Mount Albert.


Splitting Up to Stay Together

Another hour passed.  Sometimes there were more cairns, and other times there were just tumbled rocks in every direction.  We were lost, frozen, tired and hungry.

“Ugh.  I keep wanting to stop, but my legs lock up right away.”

“Yeah Dan, it’s better to just keep moving.”

“Do you think we’ve gone too far?”

Scott stopped, opened his fanny pack and pulled his map out.  He unfolded it with his crunchy gloves, and then a gust of wind blew the map out of his hands, disappearing it in to the clouds.


“Damn it.  Oh well, it’s not like that map was doing us much good anyway.”

“Yeah, but seriously!”

Sucks, this sucks a ton.

Scott was the first to suggest it, but I had already been thinking it.

“We should split up and try to find a path down.  We need to try and stay within earshot of each other so we don’t lose anyone.”

Earshot?  In this wind?

Travis stared at Joe who looked like he was going to throw up.

“I’ll stay with Joe.  Scott and Dan, are you guys okay on your own?”

I have no light, but sure.  It must be getting close to daylight anyway.

“Dan?  You okay with this?”

“Yeah, I’ll be okay.  Can you guys whistle?”

Both Scott and Travis reached inside their jackets and produced whistles that were on lanyards around their necks.

Of course you would be that prepared.

“Okay.  I can whistle fairly loud, so let’s stick to 1 long whistle every minute or so to stay within earshot.  And when we find a way down, just whistle like crazy and don’t stop.”

“Sounds good.  Travis, you good?”

“Roger that, let’s go Joe.  We’ll head along this ridge for a bit.  You guys head down that way and that way.”

And that’s how we split up.  I was in the dark, and I was alone.  Every minute or so I would blast out a whistle which was excruciating as I had to put both index and middle fingers of each hand in to my mouth to make it work.  Luckily the socks on my hands were now so trashed that I could pop my fingers through some handy little holes to make it happen.  Blood and dirt filled my mouth, but the sound of my piercing whistle and the returning sound of theirs was soothing.

We were split up, but still together.


Path to Enlightenment

I had no watch on my wrist, but it felt like it was almost 5 am.  We had split up about an hour ago, and sometimes I could hear them whistle back, but sometimes I wondered if it was just an echo of mine that the wind was playing tricks on me with.

I was exhausted, and my knees and thighs were swollen from the pounding abuse of stomping downwards and then climbing back up when I realized I still had not yet found a way down.  It began to feel like there was no hope, and I started to feel very alone again.

I stuck my fingers in my mouth and tasted more dirt.  I blew as hard and for as long as I could.  I waited.  Nothing returned.


I was just about to turn back up when the wind distinctively changed.  It seemed to be blowing from beneath me all of a sudden, and it had a sweet, almost pungent taste to it.  It may have been the warmth of the wind that made me stop and turn my face in to it.  Yes, it was definitely warm air.  My cheeks started to tingle with the pins and needles that you feel when life starts coming back in to frozen or numb appendages.  I closed my eyes, and breathed in deeply.

Maybe this is frostbite.  Maybe this is what they say it’s like when you reach the end.  It actually feels good.

I held my eyes closed for another moment, and then I opened them to an entirely new surrounding.  The foggy cloud that had been around me was evaporated, and I could see straight down the mountainside.  I was literally standing in the middle of a long, straight path that went hundreds and hundreds of feet down, eventually disappearing in to a dark, thick treeline.

This isn’t real.  I’m hallucinating.

I blinked my eyes, but the path was still there.  I laughed.

No friggin’ way.

The excitement was instant, and all of a sudden I felt warmth racing through my veins.

“YEAH!”  I was jumping up and clapping my hands.  There may have even been tears streaming down my cheeks, but they were tingling so hard I couldn’t tell.

I didn’t even want to turn around, just in case when I turned back, I’d realize that this was all a dream.  That my body was lying lifelessly on the frozen ground, and that this was just the in-between place where pain and fear didn’t exist anymore.  I didn’t care, I had to know if this was real.

I turned around and looked back up the mountain.  I put my fingers in my mouth, and started whistling over and over, and over.  Spit was flying out between my fingers, and I was definitely crying now.  There was so much fluid in my sinuses that my whistle turned in to a coughing fit, and it took me a minute to get my breath back before I could try again.

Where are you guys?

My whistle pierced the air, and now that the clouds had lifted, it echoed across valleys beneath me.

Come on.  Answer me!


I whistled again, and again.  Still nothing.

NO.  This isn’t happening.


I waited.  I cocked my ear every which way I could to try and hear just one more whistle.

Please, give me a sign.

One more loud, solid whistle pierced my ears as I blew all of the air from my lungs through my fingers.

And then finally, there it was.

A faint but distinctive whistle in return.


I whistled hard again, and another reply, getting a little louder.

Again, and again, getting closer and closer.

Finally I saw the headlamp.


I was sobbing now, and I realized that I was on my knees.

I couldn’t even whistle anymore, but it didn’t matter.

They were on the path, and they were now running straight towards me.


Watch Out for the Bears


“Oh my God!  I’m so happy to see you guys!”

Scott ran right in to me and picked me up off my knees.  Travis came right up behind him and we joined in a tight hug.

“Where’s Joe?  Is he okay?”

“Yeah, he’s right behind us.  Dan, we thought we lost you.  Travis and Joe ended up on the completely other side of the mountain.  Oh man, you found the path!”

“I was whistling so hard, I think I split my lip.”

“Crazy, all of a sudden the clouds just lifted straight up, and then we could hear your whistle bouncing off the other mountains!”

“Yeah man, so weird.  I was standing on the path and I didn’t even know it.  Then the clouds disappeared and, look!”

I pointed straight down the mountain at the unnaturally straight line that was our salvation.

“Holy shit man!  We’re going home!”



Joe came bounding down the path and stopped just before us, panting hard with a beaming smile on his face.

“Nice work man!”

“Thanks buddy.  I’m so glad you guys found me.  I was freaking out.”

Joe clapped me on the back, and I grabbed him in to a hug.  He didn’t seem like he gave out a lot of hugs, but he let it happen anyhow.

I looked over at Scott and Travis, and they were tightening up their laces on their hiking boots.

“Boys, better get ready to rip down this mountain.  The light is getting brighter, but be careful.  We don’t want any injuries now.”

I looked down at my tattered shoes.

At least I still have shoes.

“Okay hold up one sec, I’m just going to change my socks.”

I threw the tattered sock gloves that were covered in blood, spit and dirt back in to my bag, and grabbed a fresh pair.  I carefully took each shoe off and inspected my toes before I slipped on a fresh sock.  Nothing broken, nothing bleeding, just frozen feeling, but not at all black.  I was in okay shape.

I slammed the rest of a water bottle, and scarfed down another granola bar.  I had 1 fresh pair of socks, 1 granola bar, and 1 water bottle left.  I no idea of how much farther we had to go, but at least there were no more glaciers or massive mountains.

“Okay, ready to go?”

“Yeah.  Scott, are you in front?  You have the best light.”

“You bet.  Try to keep up!”

It wasn’t that hard.  The sky was brightening as it must have now been close to 6 am.  What was hard, was slowing down, as the path was steep and we were so excited to finally being back on track.

We were taking leaps and bounds, laughing and cackling between our panting breaths and the occasional gasp when one of us slipped a bit and had to regain our balance.  Thankfully nobody was falling, and we were ripping down the mountain.

As we started to get closer to the treeline the path began to level out from it’s steep decline, but we continued to keep our pace at a solid run.  The trees started to pop up and thicken around us, and I could smell the richness of the forest green air filling my lungs.

Ahead of me, Scott was trying to keep his head pointed straight so that his headlamp kept the path fully illuminated.  I saw something dark seemingly roll across the path about 40 feet ahead of us.

That was weird.

Then another black ball rolled across the path.

What was that?

Then Scott turned his head slightly to the right and yelled.  “WATCH OUT FOR BEARS!”

No way.

The thing is… when you’re running downhill, it’s not at all easy to stop.  When there are people running behind you, you know that if you slam on the brakes, somebody is going to get hurt.  Scott knew this, and that’s why he yelled at me, and turned his head straight back on to the path and increased his pace.

“What did he say?” Joe choked out behind me.


“I think he said… WATCH OUT FOR DEER!”  I figured it was probably better to lie a little right now, and hope for the best.

We were right up on the crossing path now.  Scott took a huge leap and kept sprinting down the path.  As soon as his foot had touched the ground, another black ball burst across the path and barreled in to the bushes on our right.

“WATCH OUT FOR THE BEARS!”  I screamed as I leapt forward, and prayed.  I thought I heard Joe throw out a ‘WTF’ but honestly I couldn’t hear anything.  My heart was exploding in my head, and I was running as fast as I could now.  Scott’s light was well enough ahead of me that I was running on my toes and just praying that I didn’t trip on a root.




If I had enough air in my lungs I would have laughed but all I could do was heave my lungs in and out, in and out.

Don’t look back.


Streaming All Morning

By the time Scott decided to stop running, both Joe and I were throwing up between our gasps for air.  I didn’t have much to give, but a pasty granola mix still came out anyway.


“That was close.”

Travis had such a calm way of understating things.  Clearly this guy had seem some form of combat.

Scott took a slug of his water spout from his backpack and wiped his lips.

“Travis, did you see them?”

“Oh yeah.  The mother bear ran across the path right behind Joe.  That’s why I fell back a bit and waited.”

“You waited?”

“Uh yeah, she would have been 10 feet away if I stayed behind Joe.  I wanted to make sure she was gone.”

“Holy shit man.  If she had…”

None of us wanted to hear the rest of that nightmare.  We all realized that we had literally left a man behind and didn’t even know until just now.


“It’s okay.  I knew what I was doing.  She was more interested in protecting her cubs and she stayed with them.  We were making way too much noise and they scared off.  I was only there for 30 seconds and then it was clear.”

Holy shit, it’s one level of crazy after another.

Joe puked again, this time on his shoes.

“Oh shit man.  Are you okay?”

He spit, and wiped his face.

“Yeah.  Clearly I need to up my game at school.”

We all laughed a little.  I wanted to crack the last bottle of water, but managed to stave off the thirst for just a little longer.

“Okay., let’s move.  It looks like we’re in a stream bed now, so let’s stick to this and it will hopefully take us somewhere.”

The path had turned in to a stream bed, or we just ended up running off the path in to a stream.  Either way our feet were getting wet again.  Now we just had to watch out for slips as the rocks were getting greasy.  We splashed our way through the stream, sometimes going up and other times going down.  It was a little annoying at being wet, but at least we could reach down and splash fresh water on our faces when we started running hot.

The sky was brightening so I figured it was probably half past 6.  The birds were starting to wake up around us.


Backwards to get Forward

The endless foothills seemed relentless, and the stream we had been following eventually trickled away to a small lake that didn’t appear to have any structures around it.  We circled the lake to the opposite side, but still found no path.  We were back to bush whacking through the forest.

“I’m so exhausted.”

Scott stopped and looked at me.

“Okay, a quick break but we should keep moving or our muscles will seize.”

I collapsed on the soft forest floor that was covered in pine needles.  It smelled so good.

I could just sleep here.

Then I remembered the bears, and decided that wasn’t a great option.  I opened my bag and grabbed my last pair of socks.  Now that we were out of the stream, I wanted fresh socks.  I knew that they would be wet as soon as I put them back in my shoes, but at least they wouldn’t be full of all the grime and grit that these old ones had picked up from the stream running.

I cracked my last water bottle and took the smallest sip that I thought I could afford.  I didn’t want to eat my last granola bar just yet, so I just zipped up my bag and painfully stood up.



We continued picking our way through the forest.  Sometimes it appeared to open up a bit, and then all of a sudden it would close back in on us and we found ourselves clambering over dead fall and slippery roots.   Occasionally light would peak through gaps in the canopy, and I started to get an uneasy feeling.


“What’s up?”

“It feels like we’re going in the wrong direction.”


“I mean, I haven’t looked at the map or anything.  But it just seems like the sun might be rising over there now.  And I thought we were supposed to be heading north east, kinda.  Now it seems like we’re pointing west.”

Scott stopped and pulled out a little key chain compass.

Well, that might have been handy on the mountain.

“Shit.  We’re definitely heading west.”

Joe put his hands over his eyes and squeezed his temples.  “Seriously?”

“Yeah, Dan’s right.  We’re going the wrong way.  We need to be heading in the opposite direction.  Damn.  Sorry guys, I guess I got lost in the trees.”

It was 7 am now, and the first rays of the rising sun poked through the trees.  We turned around and pointed ourselves just to the left of the sun.  Nobody said another word.


Pulling in Front

We trekked through almost another hour of forest with little excitement.  Eventually, the treeline broke open in to a wide field of grass, and we could see the foot hill descend down in to another valley and then back up in to another forest.

At least it was something different.  The field looked fairly smooth, and so we all started to jog over the tall grass down in to the valley.

“Do you think we’re close?”

“It feels like we are.  I don’t see anything yet that looks familiar, but I think we’re getting there.”

That was good enough for me, I just wanted this to end.

Before I knew it, we had cleared the valley and were climbing back up in to the next forest.  I sure didn’t want to be climbing uphill again, but there wasn’t any other option at this point.

Then, just like that, I saw through the trees, a couple of hundred feet away, the distinctively human construction of a wooden boardwalk.

“HOLY SHIT!  It’s a path!”

“Thank God.”

We trudged our weary bodies down the last bit of bush through the forest, and finally stepped on to the next best thing to a road.  We were in an official park now.


High fives all around.  The sun was up, and we all looked like garbage.  Joe’s face was battered and cut, with dirt and blood smeared away from his eyes.  Travis’ eyes were dark and sunken and he was definitely favoring one leg.

“Travis, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I think I may have tweaked my knee on that run down the mountain.  It feels tender.”

“You gonna make it?”

“Yeah, just no more bears please.”

“Ha.  I think we should be good now.”

We all started walking on the boardwalk, our footfalls making a much different sound than what we had become used to for so many miles.

Birds flew overhead and between trees, probably wondering who their early morning visitors were, and why they smelled so bad.

I felt an overwhelming urge to lie down.  The adrenaline that had been coursing through my body all night was now depleted, and I started to feel my muscles shaking.

“Guys, I’m so tired.”

“I know Dan, but we can’t stop now.”

“I don’t want to stop, but honestly I think I need to run.  If I don’t, I’m going to lie down and go to sleep.”

Joe scoffed at me.  “You want to RUN?  Are you nuts?”

“Yeah, I guess so.  Anyone want to run with me?”

They all shook their heads.

“Okay, I gotta go.  If I don’t make it, please wake me up when you pass me.”

“Ha.  Yeah, sure.”

From somewhere deep down inside of a place that I didn’t even know existed, I turned on an engine that rightfully should not have even had any gas, and I began to run.

I ran like I was back in high school, chasing the girl of my sweetest dreams.

I ran like I was on a mountain trail at night with a family of bears chasing at my heels.

I ran like the wind, because as much as my entire body was hurting so bad, it was the only thing I could now feel.


Road to Seventh Heaven

The boardwalk wound around little placards and signs scattered throughout the forest and marshes.

Tourists must read those.

I was putting all of my efforts in to just not falling off the boardwalk because if I did, I would have just given up and drowned in the swamp.

Oh my God, please end already.

And then it did.  The boardwalk opened up in to a small clearing and I was running on a road.

I’m on a road!

I pushed myself to keep going.  I lifted my head and saw someone about a hundred feet ahead, clearly slumped over in a chair.


As I got closer, I saw a ski lodge appear in the background.  Cars were parked in front of the lodge.

There’s the bus!

I was almost at the guy in the chair.  He was definitely sleeping, but he abruptly woke up when he heard me panting and wheezing up the road.  He jumped out of his chair and started waving his arms.  “Here!  Over here!”

Yeah, no shit buddy.

He started running towards me, then turned around and looked genuinely confused.  He didn’t know what to do, so he turned back towards me and ran up to meet me.

“Oh my God!  You made it!  Are you okay?  Oh wow, your hands.  Uh, one sec.”

He pulled the radio off his hip and squawked in to it.  “Base, this is Josh.”

Go ahead Josh.

“Yeah!  Someone’s here.  1 guy.”  He looked at me inquisitively.  “What’s your name?”

“Dan.  Dan Thorburn.”

“His name is Dan.  Dan… Foreburn.”


Click.  “Uh, Thornburn.”


Squawk.  “Thanks Josh.  Send him up to the lodge.”

Oh my God.  I don’t know if I can make it any further.

“Okay, just head up there to the lodge.  Go upstairs and check in.  Somebody there will help you with your hands.  Oh and there’s some food and stuff too.”

“Thanks man.”

I stumbled my way across the parking lot.

Holy shit, Bryan’s car made it.  Sweet!

There were more stairs in the lodge, and I almost just sat down at the bottom of them and cried.  Whose cruel idea was to put the check-in upstairs?  I wanted to have some words with them.

I got to the check-in table and almost collapsed on top of it.  The girl behind the table leapt up and ran around to support me.

“Oh my God!  Are you okay?  Come sit down.  Nancy?  Get the med kit.  Here, have some water.  Sorry, what’s your name?”

“I’m Dan.  Dan Thorburn.”

“Hi Dan, I’m Sally.  You’ve had quite the night it looks like.”

“Yeah.  Ow ow ow.”  She was wiping the blood from my hands with a napkin.

“Oh sorry!  I’m so sorry.  That looks pretty cut up.  What happened?”

“Ugh.  I don’t…”

“It’s okay.  I’m sure the police will want to talk to you soon.  Here, just relax.”

“The police?  Why?”

“Oh.  I guess you haven’t heard.  I’m not sure that I should be the one to tell you.  Somebody will be by here in a bit.  Nancy!  Where’s the…”

Cute girl Nancy popped out of the door marked ‘STAFF’ with a big red medical kit in her hands.

“Thanks love.  Okay, so Dan, are you hurt anywhere else?”

“Uh, mostly just my hands.  My knees are a little scraped up too.”

“Yes, I can see that.  Not too bad though.  Let’s clean up these hands and bandage them up for you, okay?”


I looked around the lodge room.  I could see a couple of resort staff talking to each other, looking over their shoulders at me.  Not a lot of action though.  Something was up.


“Yes dear?”

“What place did I finish?”

“Nancy, can you grab me that sign in sheet please?”

Cute Nancy grabbed the sheet of paper from the table and handed it to Sally.

“You said your name is Dan Thorburn, correct?”


“You finished seventh.”

“Seventh! So I qualified!”

Sally and Nancy exchanged nervous glances as Nancy quickly retreated to the table, trying not making eye contact with me even though I could tell that she kind of wanted to.

“Um, I guess so.”

“What do you mean?  I finished seventh.”

“Yes, well, like I said… somebody will be by to discuss everything with you.  Right now you should just rest.  You must be exhausted.”

I didn’t respond, because yes, I was just too exhausted.  To be honest, I almost fell asleep with Sally dressing my hands.  It just felt so good to be warm, and not eaten by a family of bears.



One Last Spot

Once Sally had finished bandaging my hands, and I had exchanged enough flirty glances with Nancy, I made my way over to the table with some snacks, coffee and juice.  I stuffed my face with as many scones as I could manage, and then washed it all down with a coffee and an orange juice.  The combination hit my stomach like a typhoon.


Nobody had come to speak to me, and Sally wasn’t at the sign in table anymore.  I walked up to Nancy and instantly felt so self-conscious about my body odor.


“Hi.”  She still smiled even though I smelled like a garbage truck.

“So my buddy Bryan, that’s his car out there.  The black Ford Focus.  Somebody drove his car back here.  Do you know who has his keys?”

“Hold on, one sec.”  She got up and went through the staff door.  A few moments later she returned with his keys.

“These the ones?”

“Yes, thank you.”  I tried to manage a wink and a smile but I think I bungled it, as she looked at me like I might be having a stroke.  I had to get out of there.

I held the railing tightly as I almost fell down the stairs to the lower level of the lodge.  My legs had seized up.  There wasn’t going to be much more walking in my near future.

I stumbled through the dusty parking lot, and just as I reached Bryan’s car, I saw my hiking buddies appear on to the road.

Holy shit, it’s them.

I struggled to walk towards them on the road, and began to wave my hands above my head.


They couldn’t hear me.  I trudged farther down the road.


The look of complete disappointment exchanged between Scott and Travis, and then Joe started to run ahead of them.  I could see from a hundred feet away that both Scott and Travis knew that if both of them weren’t getting in, neither was.  So Joe the blubber bucket ran ahead.

He finished eighth.

“I’m eighth?”

“Yeah man.  Good job.  You gotta go up in to the lodge to check in.  Someone there will help you with your cuts.”

He brushed past me without so much of anything that I didn’t already expect to not get from him.

I waited for Scott and Travis.  As they reached me, they both smiled.

“So you made it?”

“Yeah, I finished seventh.  Sorry guys.”

“Sorry?  Don’t be.  You earned it.”

“We all did.  I’m just glad we’re okay.”

“Yeah.  Us too.  Funny that Joe pushed so hard to get that last spot, hey?”

“Meh, whatever.  There’s coffee and stuff inside.  And apparently there’s police, but I’m not sure what’s going on.”

“Huh.  Not surprised.  Okay mate, we’re going to go in and clean up.  See you in a bit?”

“Sounds good.  I’m going to crash in my buddy’s car for a bit.”

“Oh nice.  Yeah maybe we can find somewhere to have a nap too.”

“Okay, see you guys.”

I walked over to Bryan’s car and opened his passenger door.  I painfully climbed in, closed the door, and I was asleep before I had even leaned the seat back as far as I could.



Cruising on Empty

Dreams of terrifying replays of the rock slide kept waking me up, except in my dreams we didn’t grab on to the boulder.  Instead we all went sailing off the cliff in to the deep, dark void.

Every time I closed my eyes after waking from a terror sweat, it was the same thing.

I’m okay.  That’s not how it happened.  Please just go to sleep.

Finally my dreams backtracked to a happier place, earlier in the race, when I was fist pumping on the side of Auger Point Mountain, cheering at the helicopter as it flew by for an epic shot of me conquering the mountain.

Woof woof woof.  I could feel the helicopter pounding the air in my dream.

Woof woof woof.   Wow, this is a pretty vivid dream.


The car was shaking as I awoke to my dream being a reality.  I looked up over the dashboard and I couldn’t see a thing, there was dust blowing everywhere.

What is going on?

I half thought that this was another weird dream, or that maybe the whole morning had been a dream and in fact I was dead on the mountain, and that this was some wicked trick of the afterlife.  I had no idea what was going on as I sat up in the chair and rubbed my eyes.

Directly in front of Bryan’s car landed a Search and Rescue helicopter.  The engine wound down and the dust settled to a minor hurricane level.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  If I hadn’t been sure that I was actually sitting in Bryan’s car, I would have figured instead that I was being airlifted off the mountain, suffering from hypothermia induced brain damage.

I watched the dust clear as the rotor blades slowed, and then I witnessed one of the most bizarre things I had ever seen.  The door to the helicopter opened, and Bryan jumped out.  He was furious, waving his hands and yelling.


Bryan limped painfully over to the car, and violently swung open the drivers door, climbed in and then slammed the door shut.


I was still rubbing my eyes, looking at Bryan, and then looking back at the helicopter.

I’m still dreaming.  This is too ridiculous.

“Uh.  Bryan?”


“Did you just get out of a helicopter?”



“Don’t you fucking ‘woah’ me buddy.  I’ve had a SHITTY night.”

“Are you okay?”


I didn’t say anything.

Bryan took a deep breath in, and exhaled.

“Sorry man.  It’s just been really shitty.  How the are you even here?”

“I made it, man.”

“You made it?  What?  You hiked all night?”

“Yeah man.   I’m honestly too tired to talk about it right now.  And don’t you need to go check in?”

“Check in?  NO!  Dude this whole thing is so fucked!”

“What do you mean?  I checked in.”

“DAN.  There is no check-in.  The whole thing was a scam.  The cops are looking for David.  Apparently his name isn’t even David.”


“Yeah!  He never had permission to do this.  Nobody at the resort knew anything about it.  And people nearly died last night man!”


“Yeah, WOAH.”

“Well, they got food and coffee inside, if you want it.”

“DAN, I DON’T WANT ANYTHING.  I just want to get out of here.  I’m so pissed right now.”

“Okay bro, let’s go.”

Bryan started the car and slammed it in to reverse.  He chirped the tires in to second and spit gravel all over the parking lot.  Yeah, he was pissed.

We ripped out of the parking lot and I looked back one more time as the chopper was lifting off, presumably to go rescue more ‘Bryans’.

As we passed the point where the boardwalk met the road, I saw a friendly face emerge from the shadows of the trees and step on to the road.  It was Jenna.

I rolled down the window and leaned out with a wave and a smile.

“JENNA!  YOU DID IT!”  She threw up a victory sign and continued up the road.

Right on girl.

“Who was that?”

“Oh, just a girl I hiked with for a little bit.  Man, she nearly fell off a cliff, it was intense.”

“Intense?  Try spending all night huddled on the side of a mountain around a fire with 30 people!”

“Dude!  I saw the fire!  I wondered if you were there.  I’m glad you’re okay.”

“So you hiked all night?”


“You’re one crazy white boy, Dan.”

“Yeah, it was crazy, I’ll tell you about it one day.’

Just then, the car sputtered, choked, and went quiet.  Bryan looked down at the dash, and then started pounding on the steering wheel and the horn.


And that was how we cruised down the Mount Washington road all the way to the bottom, riding dirty in neutral.  I don’t think Bryan touched the brakes the whole down, and I had to do everything in my power to stop myself from bursting out laughing.  He would have just killed us both, and I wouldn’t have blamed him.  That was one hell of a ride.

Seventh.  I legitimately qualified for the shit.

‘David Martin’, if I ever see you again…

What follows is the only remaining news clip article I could find about the failed reality TV qualification race.  In the article, the author incorrectly quotes the number of contestants at 29.  It was closer to 89, with approximately 75 needing to be rescued either via helicopter or ground escort.  Only 1 girl finished, and that was the brave girl scout Jenna.  My friend Bryan attempted to lead a class action lawsuit against one ‘Ronald Morrison’, and for years he was pissed that I didn’t want to be a part of the suit.

I was just pissed that I never got to be on ‘Survivor Canada’.

Huge shout out to Scott and Travis… and Joe.

Another Survivor Tall Tale
No, I’m not going to have anything in this post about Richard Hatch. Instead, we’ll head to the Great White North (Canada) where an entrepreneur with a checkered past decided to try his hand at developing a Survivor show.

“David Martin” came up with the idea in 2004 of a back-country hike/race, with contestants going from Buttle Lake to Mount Washington (via Mount Albert Edward) in British Columbia. His race did get at least 29 contestants…and 29 individuals who had to be rescued by search and rescue teams. The report of the incident is rather terse:

10 Comox Valley and 18 Campbell River SAR members responded to rescue the participants of a Survivor Canada Hike on Mount Albert Edward. The hikers were apparently dropped off and were to complete a hike to Buttle Lake. The participants sustained numerous minor injuries and were not equipped to be out overnight. A total of 27 individuals were escorted out of the trail system by ground and another 2 were flown by helicopter to Raven Lodge where they received medical attention.

Needless to say, the show didn’t get picked up. But Mr. “Martin” did; it turns out he was really Ronald Morrison, wanted for skipping parole (on a fraud charge). He has served the remainder of that sentence.

Anyway, Mr. Morrison was accused this year by Canada Revenue Agency of filing false tax returns. According to Canada’s version of the IRS, Mr. Morrison used the names of individuals he had been in touch with and created returns for each of them. Amazingly enough, all of those returns had refunds. Not so amazingly, all of the money refunded made its way to Mr. Morrison’s bank accounts. And even less amazingly, the CRA discovered the tax fraud (sooner or later, the CRA would wonder why there were two returns for some individuals). Mr. Morrison was charged with 15 counts of claiming a false refund and two counts of forgery. He was being tried; this past week he pleaded guilty. It appears he’ll have another chance to visit a Canadian penitentiary.

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 30th, 2009 at 7:00 pm and is filed under Tax Fraud. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.