When Mark set out on his Thanksgiving week backpacking trip, little did he know that it would not turn out anything like what he expected.
Mark Anders was hiking up Summit Ridge Trail. This section of the trail was along the ridge at the top of Mitchell Canyon, with a steep drop-off to Mitchell Creek below. He was hiking alone, as usual. He was known as a loner, and had only a few friends among the 2,000 plus students at Pardee High.
This hike was something special. Today was Mark’s 16th birthday. It would have been nice to share it with someone. He’d asked two of his friends and they'd been excited about coming along, but they both had to back out because of things they had to do with their families. After all, this was Thanksgiving week. That left Mark alone, hiking in the National Forest. His grandma had taken him to his favorite restaurant on Friday night for his birthday dinner. She drove him to the trailhead the next morning where he’d started his hike, then she left to visit her sister in Oxnard.
Mark was taking his time. He didn’t need to rush, it was a leisurely hike and he was enjoying himself. Now it was Monday morning, and by the time he completed the loop and returned to the trailhead it would be noon on Thursday. Just in time for his grandma to pick him up and drive home for Thanksgiving dinner.
Mark felt great. He always felt great when he was hiking. He took his time. He stopped to look at a view, take pictures, listen to birds, and watch squirrels quarrelling. He’d heard the rumors about hikers seeing bears and cougars in the National Forest, but he’d never seen anything bigger than a coyote. The only dangerous animal he’d ever seen while hiking was a skunk, and luckily that was from a safe distance. Mark grinned at that thought. Skunks really were dangerous! His dog had been sprayed by a skunk in their back yard, so Mark knew from first-hand experience just how dangerous they could be. It had taken a week before Nori didn’t smell any more.
He could hear the stream at the bottom of the canyon. There was a small rapids in this area. It would be fun to get down to the stream, but it was a long way down, and the sides of the canyon here were too steep. Someday he’d hike along the stream from where it crossed highway 74, just to do something different.
Mark heard a noise just off the trail. It sounded like a bunch of small animals thrashing around in the bushes. Curious, he moved to the edge of the trail and looked down. The bushes were shaking, but he couldn’t see anything that would cause the movement. Suddenly, the edge of the trail under his feet gave way and slid down the canyon wall, along with the bushes and, unfortunately, along with Mark as well. He fell back, his backpack acting as a cushion. After what seemed like forever, the slide slowed. Mark slammed into some trees, and his right foot became wedged between two pine saplings along with some of the debris from the bushes.
Mark looked around to get his bearings. The grove of trees that had stopped his slide was above the edge of another drop-off that was even steeper, and the sound of the rapids in the stream below was louder. It was a good thing the trees were there and that he hadn’t continued to slide down the left side of the slope. If he had he would have fallen into the boulder-strewn streambed at the bottom of the canyon, and he’d either be dead or badly injured. He twisted around and looked up toward the trail. He could see where the outside edge of the trail had broken off, a section about a quarter of the width and twenty feet long. He also saw that he was on a talus slope, and where it had been covered by plants was now scrubbed clean. The slide was shaped like an upside-down funnel, with the missing section of the trail above him at the narrower end. It was hard to tell, but it looked like he was stuck maybe 150 to 200 feet below the trail. Being stuck was a good thing. Better to be stuck than dead or badly injured.
His ankle hurt, and he was afraid it might be broken. He tried moving his leg, but that was a bad idea because it caused a sharp pain in his ankle and up his calf. The problem was that his right foot was twisted inward and stuck fast. He needed to reposition himself so he could move his foot out from between the two small tree trunks where it was jammed. He tried moving to his right, but he was on small scree, a kind of gravel. It was almost like lying on ball bearings. He braced his left foot on the trunk of one of the trees, then worked his hands into the gravel on both sides of his hips. He pushed his butt up off the ground and worked his upper body a few inches to the right.
There was a long branch from another tree on his left that was keeping his foot jammed in place. He’d have to get it out of the way to free himself. His left foot was able to reach the branch and he pulled it toward him and grabbed it with his left hand. Holding it prevented him from moving over to his right, which he’d have to do to free his foot. He decided that he’d have to cut the branch.
He lifted his left knee to hold the branch in place and reached into his right pocket. He had his pocketknife, the one from his father. He pulled it out and opened it, being very careful because it was extremely sharp. He took the knife in his left hand, and with his right he grabbed the end of the branch to hold it. He reached as far as he could with the knife and started sawing a cut across the branch, up from the bottom so he wouldn’t accidentally cut his leg. It took a couple minutes until the branch snapped and came off in his right hand. He threw the branch downslope to his left, closed his pocketknife, and put it back in his pocket.
He braced his left foot on the same tree as before, worked his hands through the gravel to the ground, lifted his butt, and moved his body to the right. He needed to do this a couple more times before he was successful, and then he was able to pull his right foot free. He was exhausted from the effort of cutting the branch and moving to release his foot, and from the shock of his fall. He lay back on his pack and closed his eyes. Now he had to figure out a way to get back up to the trail.
After a few minutes Mark opened his eyes. First things first: was his ankle broken or just sprained? He tried rotating his foot, and it hurt. But that was all; it wasn’t an excruciating pain like he would have expected if it was broken. He leaned up using his backpack to brace himself, and carefully moved his right leg so it crossed over his left thigh. He reached down, removed his hiking boot, and massaged his ankle. It was very sore, but it wasn’t as painful now that it wasn’t stuck between those trees. He decided it was probably just a sprain. Bad enough, but still, he’d been lucky.
The talus slope he was on wasn’t too steep. The bushes that had been covering the scree had come down with the slide, and were piled up against the base of the trees. Mark decided he’d try to work his way up the slope. Maybe backing up would be best. That way he’d be able to control himself if he started sliding back down. After putting his hiking boot back on his right foot, he braced himself on his hands and used his left foot to push himself back up the slope. That seemed to work, he’d moved about two feet. But the sharp gravel was making his palms sore. He pulled at his pack and moved around so he could reach the zipper on the side pocket where he kept his gloves. He pulled them out, put them on, and zipped the pocket closed. He repositioned himself on his pack and tried backing up the slope again. The gloves helped a lot, and he was able to gain two to three feet with each push. After every third or fourth push he’d slide back down about a foot or so, making it very slow going.
After about ten of these tries he was exhausted. His right ankle was hurting all the time now; he’d had to use his right foot to brace himself several times. He looked down at the trees. It looked like he’d moved maybe 15 or 20 feet up the slope. He checked his watch. It was 10:30. Damn, he should have noted what time it was when he started. Too late to worry about that now. Mark spoke to himself, out loud, “Okay, guy, let’s get the next 20 feet taken care of. Then the next 20 and the next 20 and so on.”
After a half hour Mark guessed that he’d made about three quarters of the way back to the trail. But now he had a big problem. The slope above him was steeper than down below, and he was totally exhausted. That combination was enough to make him realize that he’d never be able to make what looked like the last 20 or 30 feet on his own.
He knew that cell reception in this part of the National Forest was unlikely, but he took off and stowed his gloves then pulled his cell out of his pocket and turned it on. Sure enough, no signal. He turned off his cell and put it back in his pocket, and laid back on his pack. He was thirsty, and hungry. He moved over so he could get at the other side of his pack where he kept a liter water bottle. Fortunately it was full, and he drank about a third of it. The next pocket up was filled with energy bars, and he ate four of them, leaving eight for later.
He realized he had no idea what ‘later’ meant. He had no idea how long he’d be stuck here until someone saw him. He’d seen few others since he started his hike; the Thanksgiving holiday was probably the reason. But eventually someone should come along and notice the broken section of trail and look down and see him. So far no one had. Maybe no one would; maybe they’d just walk around the break and go on their way.
It was getting hot lying in the sun; he’d been there about a half hour. Mark was scared. He was irritated. He was frustrated. He felt like crying. He closed his eyes. He heard a mockingbird singing and the sound of the stream in the canyon below. And then, after a few minutes, the sound of singing.
He opened his eyes and listened. Was he going crazy, or was there someone on the trail who was singing? It had sounded like that old “bottles of beer” song kids would sing when he went on field trips in elementary and middle school. He concentrated, focusing his mind on listening. Was it his imagination, or just other sounds combining to make him think it was someone singing? Or had he actually heard… there it was again. Yes, it was real! A kid was singing. He was off-key, and his voice sounded young, but unless Mark was totally out of his mind, the singing and the kid were real.
“HELP! HELP!” Mark shouted that phrase over and over, and as loud as he could, pausing every so often to hear if there was any response to his cries for help, if they were being heard.
Three teens were hiking up Summit Ridge Trail. David, Kyle, and Ryan been dropped at the Divide Road trailhead by David’s dad at 9:30. They took the Cross Canyon Trail to where it met the Summit Ridge Trail, and they intended to hike up to Mount Hope and down to the Mitchell Creek campground. The next day they’d hike from there down the Mitchell Creek Trail to the Bitterroot Trail and back to the Divide Road trailhead where David’s dad would pick them up at 6 p.m. It was a long two-day hike, but it was a lot of fun being together in the outdoors before the weather got too cold to do this kind of backpacking. Southern California was mostly warm, but inland from the coast where the teens lived the weather did get cold starting in December.
David had backpacked and hiked with his father since he was in elementary school. Now that he was 16 he knew the trails in the National Forest almost as if he had a GPS in his brain. David and the twins had been best friends since they’d met in second grade. Kyle and Ryan were identical in every way except their personalities and the way they dressed. Kyle was quiet and studious, a straight-A student, and he dressed preppy. Ryan was always making jokes, was the school clown at Pine Valley High, and was careless about his schoolwork but still got mostly A’s with an occasional B. He dressed in jeans that came with holes in them, wild tees, and if it wasn’t hot a black hoodie.
They’d been hiking about two hours when Ryan decided to break up the monotony of birds singing and the sounds of the creek in the canyon below the trail. He started singing the equally monotonous:
Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall,
Ninety-nine bottles of beer,
If one of those bottles should happen to fall,
Ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall….
To be generous, Ryan’s voice was terrible. It was high-pitched, loud, and being on key was something he considered unnecessary.
“Hey, shut up. Stop singing, Ryan. I think I heard someone yelling for help.”
“Jeez, Kyle, you’re always trying to get me stop singing. I sing good. Or well. Or whatever.”
“No, dufus, I’m serious, I’m sure I heard someone yelling ‘help’ so keep quiet and listen.”
They stood quietly for a few seconds, then David looked up. “Hey, I heard it. Someone yelling ‘help’!”
“Oh, shit, et tu, David?”
David glared at Ryan, then cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, “HELLO! WHERE ARE YOU?”
They heard a guy’s voice in the distance, “Here, below the trail.”
“Okay, let’s keep going and see if we can find this guy.” Kyle started walking up the trail, calling out, “YELL IF WE’RE GETTING LOUDER!”
“Yes! You’re getting louder.”
This continued for another minute, calling out and listening for the response, until the trail curved and they saw where about half of a 15 foot section had collapsed and fallen away.
“Jeez, he must be down there.” Kyle pointed. “But be careful, if part of the trail fell away the rest could too.”
“Hey, guy, where are you?” David called out.
“A little ways below you, I can see you up there.”
David knelt at the edge of the trail, looked down, and waved. “Okay, I can see you. What’s your name?”
“Mark, my name’s David. What happened? How’d you get down there?”
“Trail collapsed. I was standing on it and I slid to those trees down there.”
David looked down and whistled. “Holy shit! That’s a long way down,” he yelled.
Mark shouted back, and David heard a note of panic in his voice. “Worked back up to here. Can’t get any closer, slope’s too steep. Ankle really hurts, I think I sprained it. Or maybe it’s broken.”
“We’ll figure out some way to get to you. My friends Kyle and Ryan are with me.”
Kyle looked over the edge and waved to Mark, then yelled, “Hi. I’m Kyle. We’ll call 911. They’ll send someone to get you outta there.”
“My cell doesn’t work here. Yours probably won’t either.”
“I’ll try anyway.” Kyle pulled out his cell. No signal. “Yeah, no signal, Mark.”
Ryan looked over the edge. “I’m Ryan. No cell, no problema, dude. We’re heroes, we’re here, and we’re going to rescue you!”
David shook his head. Ryan had to make everything a joke. But that’s what made him who he was.
Kyle groaned. “Okay, mister so-called hero, how the hell are we going to get him up here? It looks like he’s about 25 or 30 feet down there, it’s steep, and it’s covered with gravel. It’s not going to be ‘no problema.’”
“Well, one of us, like me, can go back to the trailhead. My cell should work there. Then I can call 911 and they can send a helicopter to rescue him.” Ryan grinned. He knew his idea was great.
“It took us two hours to get here,” David said. “Ryan, it’ll take you at least an hour and a half to get back to the trailhead. What if your cell doesn’t work there? There weren’t any cars parked in the lot. You’ll have to walk down Divide Road to the highway, checking your cell until you get a signal, or until you get to that gas station at the crossroads where you can use a phone. That’s like four miles. Think about how long that would take.
“I’ve got a better idea. I have some climbing gear and 200 feet of rope in my pack. The rope’s thin but really strong 8,000 pound test nylon. We can use that and secure it to something, like a tree. You can lower me down and I’ll tie the rope to Mark, and then you two can pull us up. It’s going to be tough. You’ll be pulling both our weights, even though I’ll climb while you’re pulling. I don’t think Mark will be able to help much, he sounds pretty exhausted. And he said his ankle was sprained or it might be broken, and in either case he won’t be able to use both feet to help climb.”
“You have climbing gear?” Kyle asked. “Why that? Do you carry it in your pack all the time?”
“Yes, I carry my climbing equipment all the time now. My dad and I did some rock climbing last summer while you guys were on vacation in Europe with your folks. I took the safety and rescue class and got my certification, so I know how to use this kind of equipment. The class taught us that we should carry it whenever we’re backpacking in case of an accident. That’s why I carry it. And I’m sure glad I have it now. We can use it to rescue Mark.”
Ryan looked at David. “Man, I’m impressed. Why didn’t you ever tell us about this?”
David blushed. He didn’t know how to handle compliments. “Guess there wasn’t a reason to.”
Both Kyle and Ryan stared at their friend for a few seconds. They had the same thought, that there was a lot more to David than what they knew.
David opened his backpack and pulled out a large coil of rope, some straps, a couple of tent stakes, a strange-looking tool of some sort, and a baggie holding weird-looking hardware. He set it all on a flattened boulder at the backside of the trail about 15 feet downhill from where it had collapsed. He walked to the edge of the trail and looked down to where Mark was lying. Then he moved up the trail about five feet to where it would be a straight shot down the slope to a position just to Mark’s left. He turned and checked the backside of the trail for somewhere he could anchor the rope. There were trees and large boulders along the back edge of the trail, including the flattened one where he’d put his climbing equipment. He thought for a few seconds, then called down to Mark.
“Hey, Mark. I’ve figured out how to secure a rope up here. It’ll take a few minutes to get things set up, so just hang on man and I’ll come down and get you.”
Mark was once again close to tears. This time they were because he felt that he might be rescued. His voice was a bit choked up as he called back to David. “Hey, thanks. I really….” He wasn’t able to continue shouting. He wiped the tears from his face and tried to regain his composure.
Kyle and Ryan stood watching and listening. “Okay, guys. Let me tell you what we’re going to do. I’m going to put on this harness and run the rope through the waist loops. When I get down to where Mark is I’ll help him put on this rescue harness and run the rope through the loops on it and use a latch to tightly secure the rope. First, though, up here I’m going to bolt these anchors into the back of this boulder.” David pointed to a large boulder to their right. “Then I’ll put a pulley on the sling attached to each anchor. I’m not using the anchors the way they’d usually be used in climbing… but you don’t need to know all that. Anyway, I’ll loop your end of the rope through the pulleys, and put a two-way ratcheting autoblock on a belay plate to control the rope and hold it in case I begin to slip when you’re lowering me and when you’re pulling me and Mark up. If I had them I’d put harnesses on you two, but I don’t. Instead I’ll loop the rope through the belt loops on your shorts so it goes around your waists leaving some slack in the rope between you. Finally I’ll wind the rope around that tree down the trail there and secure it with two auto-locking belays. That will hold the rope secure no matter what happens.
“First, you’ll lower me to the level where Mark is. The scree, that small gravel on the slope, makes it unstable, so I’ll go down just off his left side, the downhill side. Next, I’ll move across to him and put the rescue harness on him. Next, I’ll set up the rope so we’ll be secured together. Finally, when we’re all set you’ll pull us up the slope and back to the trail.
“You’ll need to hold on, really hold on tight, and pull. It’s going to be hard work because sometimes you’ll be pulling all of my weight and Mark’s too. That could be as much as 300 pounds. Most of the time I’ll be helping by climbing, and maybe Mark can do some climbing too, but there will be times our combined weight will be on you guys. Are you okay with that?”
Kyle looked unsure. “Man, that’s a hell of a lot of detail for us to remember, and 300 pounds is a hell of a lot of weight for us to pull. I hope the two of us can do it.”
“You don’t need to remember all the details. I wanted you to hear what I’m going to do so you can feel confident that I know what I’m doing, and how the rope is going to be set up and secured. I’m making sure that you guys will be safe up here and that Mark and I will be safe down there.”
Ryan shook his head. “What happens if we can’t hold you and we start to slip?”
“The autoblock will stop and hold the rope if it starts getting away from you. It will reset when you start to pull back again.”
Kyle took a deep breath. This was probably the single most important thing he’d ever done in his life, rescuing someone who he realized might otherwise die.
“I didn’t understand half of what you said. But I’m impressed, it sounds like you really do know what to do. Do you think we can pull both of you back up? Are we strong enough?”
Kyle turned around and looked at his brother. They stared at each other, and to David it seemed like there was a connection, some sort of silent communication going on between them.
After a few seconds Ryan looked at David.
“We’re okay. We’re strong enough, and I can tell that you have confidence in us. This is our opportunity to show that we can work together doing something important and prove that all three of us really are heroes.”
David grinned. “I don’t know about the ‘heroes’ part, but I know that you guys are strong and I’m confident you can do your part. I’ll be helping by using my arms and legs to climb up the slope. Now, do either of you have gloves?” The twins shook their heads. “Okay, I have an extra pair of climbing gloves. I’m going to give it to the one of you who’s going to be in front on the rope. Who’s that going to be?”
“Uh, me, I think, since I’m older.” David handed the gloves to Ryan.
The three teens were all business for the next fifteen minutes. David set up the climbing equipment. The twins stretched out the rope from the back of the boulder with most rolled up for lowering David, and finally to anchor it to the tree. Every couple of minutes they’d yell down to Mark to hang on. David ran the rope through the cams, pulleys, belays, and the autoblock. The twins took off their belts and David looped the long length of rope through Ryan’s belt loops then Kyle’s, with six feet of slack between them, and walked down the trail and secured the end of the rope to the tree he’d selected. He put on his hip pack and stowed his camera, a multi-tool, some climbing accessories, and a couple of tent stakes inside, and a bottle of water in the carrier on the outside.
David attached a Y-strap to his waist handhold then attached a carabiner to the ring at the top of the Y. He ran the rope through the waist loops on his rescue harness then back through the carabiner and latched the rope in place. That left about six feet of rope free for securing Mark.
When everything was finally set up and ready, David tested everything. When he was satisfied he gave his final instructions to the twins.
“The most important thing is for you to listen to what I tell you to do. There are a few simple commands, READY, HOLD, PULL, SLACK, and LOWER.
“READY means we’re about to start.
“HOLD means to stop. To rest, yell HOLD and that tells me to stop and hold on, then you pull the rope six inches back then release it forward to engage the autoblock to hold Mark’s and my weight. Do the same to release the autoblock.
“PULL means to pull on the rope. Use your leg and butt muscles by walking backwards. Don’t try to stand in one place and pull on the rope, walk backwards because that way you can get better leverage with your feet and heels. The trail is downhill in your direction so it’s working with you. Use your hands and arms to hold the rope, dig in your heels and use your legs and body to pull. That way you’ll be using your strongest muscles.
“SLACK means take one step forward slowly then hold.
“LOWER means to walk forward very slowly until I yell HOLD. Okay?”
Kyle and Ryan both nodded and responded, “Yes!” that they understood.
“There are two replies you can make to my commands. YES and WAIT. When I call out READY I want you to reply YES, then I’ll give the next command, like PULL. If you want me to stop be sure to call out WAIT after any of my commands, okay? If you need to rest, call out HOLD as I already told you. HOLD is a command that both you and I can use. Any questions about what those commands and replies mean?”
Again, they nodded and responded, “Yes” that they understood. To David they seemed tense, but then he was tense too, so he understood.
“One final thing. If you have a problem, hold immediately and holler WAIT! WAIT! WAIT! Yelling wait three times tells me that you have a problem and I’ll stop, and then you can shout out what’s wrong.”
There was no response needed. The twins didn’t want to think about what problems might arise.
David explained again what the twins would do, and repeated the five commands READY, HOLD, PULL, SLACK, and LOWER and the replies YES and WAIT. Then he called down to Mark.
“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to be lowered off to your left side until I’m next to you. Okay?”
“Yes,” Mark replied. He sounded tired. And a little scared.
David stepped to the edge of the trail at the point he’d selected, about ten feet downhill from the section that collapsed. Kyle and Ryan stepped back along the trail until the rope was taut.
He called back to the twins, “READY!”
“YES!” The twins responded together, and they braced themselves.
After a few seconds he called, “HOLD!”
David sat on the edge of the trail, turned, called, “READY” and the twins responded, “YES!” again. Then he called, “LOWER!” and as he began climbing down as the twins walked slowly up the trail keeping the rope taut.
David, with the help of the twins as belayers, was alongside of Mark in about two minutes. He shouted, “HOLD! I’m here with Mark.”
Again, the twins responded “YES!” then pulled the rope six inches back then released it forward. They were relieved to see that the autoblock engaged and held the rope taut.
Down the slope David rolled onto his right side so he faced Mark. “How you doing, Mark?” he asked.
“A lot better now that you’re here.” Mark looked at David, and the harness and climbing equipment he wore. “Wow, what impressive equipment. You guys must do rescues regularly.”
“I do some climbing with my dad. I took a climbing safety and rescue course, and I got my certificate. However you’re my first rescue. Does that bother you?”
“No. You look professional. And you’re here. That’s good enough for me.”
David smiled and the two teens stared at each other for a few seconds. Finally, David remembered why he was here.
“First, are you thirsty? I brought some water with me.”
David gave Mark the bottle and he drank about half of it. When he finished he returned the bottle to David.
“Thanks. I needed that. It’s been really hot lying here in the sun.”
“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to get your backpack off and leave it here. We don’t want that extra weight as we’re being pulled back up to the trail. I’ll come back down and get it after you’re safe so you don’t have to worry about it. Now let’s get your backpack off.”
Getting Mark’s backpack off was harder than David expected because of all the straps, the one-man tent and sleeping bag, and the heavy load Mark was carrying. But finally it was off and sitting between them.
David turned on his left side, slipped a small double ring onto each of two tent stakes, put a carabiner on each ring, and used the hammer in his multi-tool to pound the stakes through the scree into the ground. Then he rolled back and grabbed Mark’s pack, pulled it across his body to his left side, and slipped a backpack strap onto each carabiner. It wasn’t as secure as he’d have liked, but it was as good as he could do. He hoped the pack would stay put.
“Okay, Now we need to get you into your harness. I’ll put the rescue harness on you. It’ll be attached to me with the rope, so we’ll be together when Kyle and Ryan pull us up to the trail. It’s also for your safety so you can’t slide back down this slope. While I’m helping you I want you to grab the handhold on my harness with your left hand, hold on tight, and don’t let go. Once your harness is on then you can let go.”
David called up to the twins to let them know what he was doing. “I’m going to get Mark into his harness. You guys okay?”
“Yeah, no problema,” Ryan replied. Kyle chimed in, “I’m okay too. We’ll continue to hang onto the rope, David.”
It took a few minutes to get the rescue harness on Mark, over his legs and around his waist, and to make sure the strap on each leg was tight in his crotch, all the time making sure he stayed secure.
David sucked on his bottom lip, then continued, “Since this is my first rescue, I want pictures, is that okay?”
Mark grinned and nodded. “This is the first time I’ve ever been rescued, so me too on the pix.”
David pulled out his camera and took a few pictures of Mark, then handed the camera to Mark who grinned and said, “Say cheese please” but took the picture without giving David time to say anything. They both laughed, and for Mark that was the first time he’d laughed since he started his hike. He took a bunch more pictures before returning the camera. David took some pictures up the slope showing where the trail fell away, down the slope showing the trees where Mark had ended up including a few where he zoomed in for a close-up, and a picture of where Mark’s backpack was secured. He put his camera back in his hip pack.
“Mark, do you have any gloves in your pack?”
“Yeah, in the lowest side pocket next to you.”
David pulled out the gloves and handed them across to Mark. “You’ll need to wear these for climbing. How’s your ankle?”
“Sore as hell. I had to use it a few times when I was pushing myself up here from where I’d slid down, and I guess I made it worse.”
“We’re going to be climbing facing the ground, so it should be easier for you to avoid using that leg. So, here’s what we’re going to do now. We’re secured together by the rope, and I’m going to route it so it will pull up from between us. I’m going to roll to my right so I’m facing down and then kneel so I’m above the scree. I want you to roll to your left and do the same. That way we’re going to be close to each other. The advantage is that if you slip you won’t go very far because we’ll be connected together.”
Once they’d moved into position, David attached the Y-strap from his waist handhold to the waist handhold on Mark’s rescue harness so their harnesses were connected together. He ran the end of the rope through the rings on the waist of Mark’s rescue harness. He attached a second carabiner to the ring at the top of the Y. There was a ring on the outside of each leg strap. David moved to his right so he was pressed up against Mark’s left side, and connected another carabiner between those rings. Then he routed the end of the rope through that carabiner and back through the carabiner connected to the Y strap and latched the rope in place.
“What I just did is attach the two of us together so when they start pulling we’ll go up as a single unit. The rope goes around each of us, then between us and up the slope to the trail and across to a boulder. It goes around the boulder, through some pulleys that are anchored to the back of the boulder. From there it’s held by Kyle and Ryan. It goes through the belt loops on their shorts, then down the trail to where it’s tied around a tree and latched to secure it. Kyle and Ryan walked up the trail which let the rope run out and that lowered me down to you. With our help by climbing they’ll pull us, slowly and carefully, back up to the trail. Because the other end of the rope is secured to a tree, that guarantees that we won’t slide back down the slope. You’ll hear me holler commands to Kyle and Ryan, READY, HOLD, PULL, SLACK, and LOWER. I wanted to let you know about that so you won’t worry when I’m shouting.” David grinned at Mark. “I won’t be shouting at you. You okay with all this?”
“Uh, yeah. Sure.” Mark looked at David and smiled, and that made David smile.
David wanted Mark to feel confident that he knew what he was doing. He hoped that he did.
“I know it’s going to be difficult to climb because of the scree, and because you’ve got to remember to not use your right leg, but it’s going to help the guys up there pull us up to the trail. You can use your hands and your left leg. You ready?”
David hollered up to the twins. “READY!”
“YES!” they yelled back at the same time.
David yelled, “PULL!” Mark’s harness tightened and he was pulled even closer to David who thought about it and decided that felt nice, the two of them pressed together. He began climbing. He felt the rope between him and Mark tighten and loosen a bit as Mark also started climbing.
Mark realized that it was difficult, just as David had told him. The problem was trying to find stable hand and footholds in the scree, and to avoid using his right foot. To his amazement everything went ‘by the book’, and they were at the top and on the trail, at the backside as far from the edge as they could get, in about twenty minutes.
Mark took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He was so relieved and happy… no, not just happy, but joyful, ecstatic, overjoyed, to be off that slope. As he thought about it, he realized that he might have died if it wasn’t for these guys.
David removed the Y strap and the carabiner that had been holding them tightly together and he and Mark stood facing each other. David held onto Mark’s left arm so he could keep off his right foot. Suddenly Mark grabbed David in a tight hug and pulled them cheek to cheek. David returned the hug, holding Mark tight to his body. It felt… well, it felt wonderful, better than anything David had felt with anyone else.
Mark’s voice was soft, and he spoke in David’s ear. “Thank you, man. You saved my life!” Then it sounded to David like Mark whispered, “I'll never forget you.”
Mark pulled back and said out loud, “I don’t know what I would have done without you, David. You saved my life. You and Kyle and Ryan, too.”
That embarrassed David; that old problem accepting praise. He could see tears in Mark’s eyes.
“What say you sit on the edge of this boulder. I’ll get you out of your harness, then you can sit back and stay off your foot. I want you to meet Kyle and Ryan.” He looked down the trail and saw that the twins were sitting on the ground, too tired to move. “They’re the ones who lowered me down to you and busted their butts pulling the two of us back up to the trail. They did the hard work getting us up and onto the trail.”
David was having a difficult time getting Mark out of the rescue harness. Everything had cinched up tight. David knelt and saw that the leg straps were tightly pulled up into Mark’s crotch. “Okay, hold on to my shoulders and lift your butt off the boulder, and I’ll be able to open the buckles and get the harness off you.” Mark lifted up and David was able to open the buckles on each leg and pull the straps through. He unbuckled the waist strap and pulled the harness down. Mark sat on the edge of the boulder, lifted his legs, and it was off. David pulled the rope out of the loops on the harness and set it aside.
Mark tried to slide further back on the boulder. The top was smooth, his left foot slipped, and he started to slide off. He put both feet down to keep from sliding off onto the ground.
“OW! Damn it!”
David grabbed Mark in his armpits and lifted him, pushing him back onto the boulder. Mark started laughing and twisting around.
When Mark was sitting, still laughing, David stood back. “What’s so funny?”
“I’m real ticklish. Especially in my armpits.” He took a deep breath and looked at David. “I can’t believe that I’m laughing so much when an hour ago I thought I might die.”
“Laughter is a release, and that’s a good thing after an experience like you had. Hey, I can see that Kyle and Ryan are coming this way, so you’ll get to meet the rest of your rescue team.”
The twins joined David and Mark.
“Mark, as my dad would say, we should have formal introductions. I’m David Murphy. These guys are Kyle and Ryan Sanderson. Guys, this is Mark Anders.”
“I want to thank you, all three of you. You guys saved my life, you are heroes, and I’ll never forget what you did for me today.” He smiled at the twins. “Whoa, you guys are twins?”
“Yup, identical. Two peas in a pod. Or two pods in a pea. I’m not sure which. Anyway, I’m Ryan, and this is my younger bro, Kyle.”
Kyle groaned. “By only 5 minutes!”
“I know that I keep repeating it, but I just have to. Thanks, guys. All of you saved my life. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t rescued me. I owe you, big time.”
“Uh, that’s probably going a bit far, but I’m glad you think so,” David said. “Now I’ve gotta get back down there and get your backpack.” He turned to the twins. “You two ready to do this again?”
The twins had caught on to the rappelling technique, and David was down and back with Mark’s backpack in ten minutes. The twins started congratulating each other for a magnificent job well done. David shook his head and laughed as Kyle and Ryan ‘helped’ each other detach the rope from the tree and remove it from where it was wound through their belt loops and around their waists.
David walked over to Mark. He’d taken his right hiking boot and sock off, and was rubbing his ankle and foot which were swollen and sported several purple, blue, red, and yellow bruises.
For about 30 seconds David stood and stared at Mark who didn’t notice because he was concentrating on his ankle. Finally, Mark looked up and saw David and noticed his smile.
“Oh! I didn’t hear you come over.”
David could feel himself blush. That was very embarrassing. He sat down so Mark would be less likely to see him blushing. “How’s your ankle, Mark?”
“Sore. I can’t put any weight on my right foot without the ankle hurting a lot. I don’t think it’s broken, just sprained. But I’m not sure. I suppose there could be a hairline crack. What I do know is that I won’t be able to walk on my own.”
“We were heading up the trail to our campsite for the night. Where were you heading?”
“Up Summit Ridge to the main trail, then a couple more days hiking to get back to the West Side Trail. I was taking the grand loop. I started on Saturday. My grandma’s going to pick me up at the trailhead off highway 74 on Antonio Road at noon Thursday.”
“My dad dropped us off at the east side trailhead at Divide Road this morning. We’re a lot closer to there, and it’s mostly downhill.” David turned to where the twins were sitting. “Hey, guys, we need to talk about what to do now.” The twins walked to where David and Mark were sitting.
“Mark told me that he can’t put weight on his right foot. That’s means he can’t walk on it without help. He’s going to have to come with us. We’ll have to help him walk, he can use us like a crutch. We need to head back to where my dad dropped us off so Mark can get to a doctor ASAP. It’s closer than the other trailheads, and it’s mostly downhill. His ankle probably has a sprain, but it’s still possible that it’s broken. So, it’s our job to get him down to the trailhead. As soon as we can get a cell signal we need to phone my dad or yours to pick us up, and that might take some time if one of us has to walk down to the gas station at the crossroads.” He grinned, then told the twins, “Guys, this is all part of a rescue operation, getting the rescued person to a doctor or hospital.”
Kyle and Ryan started talking at the same time, and Ryan put his hand over Kyle’s mouth. “We agree. The most important thing is to get Mark to a doctor fast.” Kyle pushed Ryan’s hand away.
Mark took a deep breath. “I sure screwed up your hike when I fell, didn’t I. It’s my fault that you guys aren’t going to complete your hike. I feel really bad about that. But I sure appreciate you guys helping me out.”
Kyle shook his head. “Hey, man, you didn’t screw up our hike. There was no way you’d know the trail was going to collapse, and we feel great that we came along to get you out. And we aren’t done yet, your rescue isn’t finished. You need to have that ankle taken care of.”
Mark shook his head. “I still feel that I caused all this. I know that I shouldn’t backpack alone, but the guys I asked wanted to come along but their folks said no because of Thanksgiving. Besides, I should have been more careful when I heard some noise at the edge of the trail and walked right over to the edge so I could see what caused it. I really fucked up.”
David saw that Mark was close to tears. He also knew that Mark would be totally embarrassed if they saw him crying. That was the way he’d feel if anyone saw him crying. Guys their age, 15 or 16, never want to be seen crying. He sat next to Mark and put his arm around his shoulder. “Hey, I would’ve done the same thing. You’re not responsible for the trail collapsing. Now what we’ve gotta do is get you out of here so you can get that ankle taken care of. I’ll pack my climbing gear and we can head out.”
David saw Ryan watching them, and motioned with his eyes asking him to come over and talk to Mark. Ryan nodded to show he understood.
David grabbed his backpack and saw Kyle leaning against another boulder. “Hey, Kyle, give me a hand with packing up, okay?”
“Sure thing. What can I do?”
“Let’s start by coiling the rope.” David pointed down the trail. “We can start at that end.” They walked to where the end of the rope was laying about 20 feet away, chatting and congratulating each other on what they’d accomplished.
Ryan sat down next to Mark. “You kept telling us that you’re sorry we’re missing our hiking trip. Ya know, if you hadn’t had that accident and if we hadn’t come along and rescued you, we wouldn’t have a chance to get our names on TV and in the newspaper. You’re the one who let us be heroes. We should be thanking you!” Ryan grinned. “So, thank you Mark. You’re gonna make all four of us famous! And the only downside is your sore ankle. I can see it now, ‘Ryan Sanderson Rescues Hiker.’ Cool.”
Mark laughed and shook his head. Ryan was a weird but funny kid.
“And besides, this is the best hike I’ve ever been on. Do you know how exciting it is for us that we got to do our very first rescue? I never knew how to do anything like that before today. This beats any hike I’ve ever been on. And figuring out how to get you down to the trailhead is gonna be a blast.” He looked at Mark, who was grinning. “Think about it. When we get back to school after rescuing you and getting you to the trailhead and taking you to a doctor we’ll have so many stories to tell. If we’d just gone on a regular hiking trip I wouldn’t have anything interesting to say. My friends would say, like, ‘You went on a hike? Man, how booooring!’” With that, Ryan started laughing, and Mark joined in. Ryan thought: ‘Job accomplished.’
“Hey, Ryan, how ‘bout giving us a hand here?”
“Okay, little brother. Be right there.” Ryan turned to Mark. “Just relax and we’ll be packed up and ready to go. Oh. Hey, you were down there for a long time, right? Are you thirsty or hungry, or do you have to pee or… uh… anything else?”
Mark grinned. “Thanks for asking, Ryan. I was able to reach the water bottle in the side of my pack, and I ate some energy bars, and David had a bottle of water when he got to me. I was able to roll onto my side and pee, and I don’t need to do ‘anything else.’ So I’m fine right now. I’ll sure be ready for a hot meal later, though.”
“HEY! Ryan!” Kyle sounded irritated.
Ryan looks down the trail. “I SAID I’d be right THERE! Lemme finish finding out if Mark needs anything, okay?”
He turned to Mark. “Well, I gotta help David and my bossy brother pack up. Just hang on and we’ll have you on the way down the trail sooner, man.”
Ryan started walking down the trail, shouting, “See? I’m coming, I’m coming.”
That caused Kyle to blush, and David to bust up laughing because of Ryan’s double entendre.
Ryan didn’t get it, though. He was like, “What?” but David was laughing too hard to answer and Kyle was too embarrassed to tell him, so Ryan just shrugged and ignored them as he helped pack the climbing equipment into David’s backpack.
Finally everything was ready, and they walked back to where Mark was sitting.
David stretched. “Anyone hungry or thirsty? It’s gonna take at least two hours to get to the trailhead.”
Everyone agreed that they were hungry. The guys had bottled water, the peanut butter and jam sandwiches that Kyle and Ryan’s mom made for them, and there was plenty to go around for all four teens. They finished with some gorp and energy bars.
David put on Mark’s pack because it was the heaviest, Ryan put on David’s pack, and then David walked over to Mark and had him put on Ryan’s pack because it was the lightest. That way Mark wouldn’t tire out as he would have if he was wearing his own heavy pack. “Okay, let’s give the human crutch approach a try and see if it’s gonna work.” He walked to Mark’s right side and gave Mark a hand so he could stand on his left leg. Mark put his arm on David’s shoulder and they tried walking around that part of the trail as a practice session.
After about five minutes it was obvious that Mark using David as a crutch wasn’t going to work. Trying to keep themselves oriented so they could walk together was a problem. Walking downhill was a problem. Walking faster than a crawl was a problem. Mark keeping his right leg raised all the time was a huge problem.
David guided Mark back to his boulder. “This isn’t going to work. You agree, Mark?”
“Yeah, it was really clumsy. I don’t think I could hold my right leg up for more than five minutes at a time, max. Maybe you three guys should go ahead and get somewhere you can make a call and get someone to come and get me.”
David shook his head. “I don’t like that idea. First, we’re not going to leave you here alone. Second, I don’t know when a rescue team could get here to pick you up. I don't think they could do it by helicopter because the whole area, except for the landslide, is covered with trees. It would probably be a long wait. Let me think.”
He stood looking at Mark. Most of it was trying to come up with a solution that would let Mark go down to the trailhead at a reasonable speed. Part of it was that he liked to look at Mark. David knew Mark probably wasn’t gay, but he was a really attractive guy. He might as well look at him while he had a chance. And Mark was looking back at him, and that was interesting. Could it be possible tha….
“Hey, David, you figured out something yet?” Ryan was always impatient.
David continued looking at Mark. “Yes, I do have an idea. It’s based on how I set it up when you guys pulled the two of us up to the trail. Here’s my idea. We’ll put the harnesses back on me and Mark and latch them together at the waist and leg straps. Then I’ll make a sling to hold Mark’s right foot up off the ground and tie it to one of his waist straps. It probably won’t be terribly comfortable, but at least he won’t get tired holding it up and there’ll be no way he’d use his right foot by accident.”
Kyle looked at David, “I don’t get it.”
Mark grinned. “I get it. I think it’s a great idea. It’ll be like a three-legged race at a picnic. David’s right leg is the right leg, my left leg is the left leg, and his left and my right legs strapped together are the middle leg. My right leg’ll be in a sling so it’s up out of the way. With a little practice our three legs would work together like two.” He looked at David. “David, you’re amazing. I want you as my friend forever.”
As usual, David blushed, and that made Ryan start laughing, then he choked it off so David wouldn’t be too embarrassed.
David took off Mark’s pack and Ryan took off David’s pack. David pulled out the harnesses, some slings, carabiners, and his rope. He uncoiled about four feet of rope. He pulled out his multi-tool, opened the knife blade, and tried cutting the rope, but without any success or noticeable damage.
“Damn. I thought my knife would cut through the rope. But I can’t even get through that outer layer.”
“I have the solution for you. I’ve got a knife.” Mark reached into his pocket and pulled out his knife and handed it to David.
“Be careful, it’s real sharp.”
David opened the knife, and the blade gleamed in the afternoon sun. It easily cut through the rope.
“Oh my god! That’s the sharpest knife I’ve ever used.” He carefully closed the knife and handed it to Mark. “Where’d you get it?”
“It was my dad’s. He was killed in Afghanistan, and when his possessions were returned by the Marine Corps my grandma gave it to me. It means a lot to me.”
David looked into Mark’s eyes. He smiled, and so did Mark. There was a connection between them, and David felt it was very personal. It reminded him of the connection he’d seen between the twins. They continued to look at each other, and David knew, really knew, that he and Mark were destined to be together. That made him happy, maybe happier than he’d ever been. Both teens had broad smiles.
“Uh, guys, get a room!” Ryan was watching them, a smirk on his face.
Kyle shoved Ryan. “Shut up, asshole! Leave them alone.”
Of course, by then both David and Mark were glowing red with embarrassment. David realized that Mark was thinking the same that he’d been thinking. That was something to explore later. Now they had to get down to the trailhead.
David created a sling by folding a Gore-Tex poncho he had in his pack into a wide diamond shape.
“Kyle, get me the roll of narrow duct tape from my backpack please.”
Ryan was incredulous. “Duct tape? You carry DUCT TAPE when you go backpacking?”
David laughed. “Sure. Why not? Duct tape is good for everything! I’m going to use it for the sling I’m making for Mark’s right leg.”
He used Mark’s knife to cut a hole near each of the pointed ends of he poncho and pulled the ends together. Then he strengthened the holes by wrapping them with strips of duct tape.
“Come here, guys. I’m going to put the harness on Mark, then I’ll measure where this sling should be positioned. Kyle, let Mark hold onto your shoulder for support when I lift his right leg.”
David put the harness on Mark and cinched it on his waist. Mark giggled when David tightened the leg straps in his crotch, and that made David giggle too. Ryan was about to make a comment, but Kyle shot him a look that said, “NO,” so he kept quiet.
“I’m going to lift your leg using the sling. I don’t think we should lift it too far up because it would become uncomfortable. As I lift, let me know if where I’ve moved it to is more or less comfortable than where it was before.”
David lifted the sling, bringing Mark’s right leg up and back so the tip of his hiking boot was about six inches off the ground.
He raised it about another three inches.
“Not as good as the first.”
David raised it another three inches.
“Not good. I don’t feel as stable as I was when it was lower, and I can feel it in the muscles in my calf and the back of my thigh. I liked the first one the best.”
“Okay, it’s back to the first. Is that good?”
“Perfect. Do you think it’s far enough off the ground?”
“Yeah, it’s six inches and that should be okay. I’m going to put a carabiner through the holes on the sling, and another on the loop on your waist, and attach a cinch at each end of the rope. Once we’re hooked together I’ll have Kyle adjust the positions of the cinches so the tip of your hiking boot is at six inches. Now I’m going to make you a walking stick so you have something for your right hand to hold onto and we’ll both be stable as we’re going down the trail. I’ll need to borrow your knife again, this time to cut a tree branch.” Mark handed him the knife.
David walked around looking at trees. He finally selected one and climbed up the slope above the trail. He reached up with Mark’s knife and cut off a branch. The branch was an inch and a half thick so it took a while. He scrambled down and used the knife to trim the wide end of the branch so it was flat and the edges were smooth. It was sort of like whittling. He stood and held the branch with his fist like he was using it as a hiking stick. He laid it flat on the boulder where Mark was sitting, cut off the excess to about a foot above where he’d been holding it, and trimmed and smoothed the top. He took his roll of wide duct tape and wrapped it, starting about six inches from the top and continuing down about a foot, then repeated the wrapping three more times. When he was finished he looked at the almost empty roll of duct tape.
“I guess I gotta get a replacement when I get home.”
Ryan grinned. “Hey, I’ll not only replace your roll, I’ll buy a roll of both sizes for all four of us. Hell, I’ll buy us two rolls of each size! Now I see why duct tape is so great to carry when we’re backpacking.”
David handed Mark his knife and Mark put it in his pocket.
“Thanks for letting me use it.”
Mark reached up and held David’s hand. “Thank you. You’ve used my knife to do things that would make my dad proud.” They kept holding hands, and they both had the same reaction: holding each other’s hand felt so good, so natural, so right, it was something they wanted to do again. Many times. But neither said anything. They let a perfect moment slip away.
David stood and put on his harness. Next was to get him and Mark strapped together. Kyle and Ryan helped and it took less time than David had expected. The sling on Mark’s leg seemed to work great, and Mark loved the hiking stick because it let him keep his balance and made him feel more secure.
With Kyle and Ryan’s assistance David put Mark’s backpack on. It weighed at least twice as much as his own, which was heavier than the twin’s backpacks. He realized how strong Mark was, carrying such a heavy pack on a six-day hike.
Then Kyle helped Ryan put on David’s pack.
“You okay, bro?”
“Yup. No problema.”
Kyle and Ryan stepped back and looked at David and Mark and started laughing. It was Ryan, as usual, who had to make a comment.
“Me and Kyle thought we were the only twins on this hike. But we have competition now. You two are connected like you’re Siamese twins!”
Mark turned to David. “Methinks that those two are jealous.” David busted up laughing, and started to say something but Kyle interrupted.
“We’re not jealous.” He looked at Ryan who nodded. “The last thing we’d ever want to be is connected together as Siamese twins.”
Now all four were laughing.
“Okay, we need to have a practice session to learn to walk. Let’s give it a try, Mark.”
“Wait!” Kyle shouted. “Gimme your camera, David. We’ll all want pictures of this.”
They walked up the trail, practiced turning, walked down the trail, and repeated these maneuvers several times. Kyle took both still pix and vids.
“I think we’ve got it. You agree, David?”
“Yeah, I do. The only thing I’m worried about is on the Cross Canyon Trail. Parts are rough, and there’s a rocky part where a creek flows across the trail. It’s going to be tough for us to negotiate.”
“Nothing to do about it, so let’s figure it out when we get there.”
“Yeah, you’re right Mark. So, let’s go!” David checked his watch. “Shit, it’s after three. Where the hell did the day go? Kyle, you lead, and Ryan, you follow me and Mark and stay kind of close without crowding us. If we start to fall, grab us using the handhold on my harness.”
“Got it boss! Hey, everybody, get your respective asses in gear! Move it! Vámonos!”
As they started down the trail, Mark was laughing.
“What’s so funny,” David asked.
“Do you know what ‘vá monos’ means?”
“Uh… go something. I’m not sure.”
“Well, you got half of it right. It’s a command that means, literally, ‘Go, monkeys!’”
“Okay, Ryan’s gonna get his when we finally get home. ‘Go, monkeys’ indeed!”
Ryan’s reaction was to say, “What!?” and start laughing, then David and Mark were laughing too. Kyle just shook his head.
The trip down the Summit Trail to the Cross Canyon Trail was totally uneventful. David and Mark polished their tandem walking technique, and Mark no longer had to rely on his hiking stick to keep his balance though he continued to use it.
The Cross Canyon Trail was more of a challenge. In places the trail was sloped to one side, and they decided that the Cheryl Creek crossing would have been easier if they hadn’t been connected together. But they got across without getting too wet.
About halfway down the Cross Canyon Trail Ryan shouted, “STOP!”
He rushed forward holding his cell. “I have a signal! I tried my phone and it works! David, you can call your dad!”
It was true. Out there, in the middle of a forest, nowhere near civilization, there was a cell signal. And it was two bars out of five, not great but not bad at all. Ryan keyed the speed-dial number for David’s house and handed the phone over.
After four rings David was thinking that his dad wasn’t home, but at the fifth ring he picked up.
“Dad! Can you come and pick us up where you dropped us this morning?”
“David? Is there a problem? Is someone hurt?”
“It’s too complicated to explain it all, but none of the three of us are hurt, but we rescued a kid who was in a landslide but his ankle’s hurt, and it might be broken but it’s probably just a bad strain and we want to get him to a doctor and I don’t know how long the cell connection is gonna last but we rescued him so can you come and pick us up ASAP?”
“So you and Ryan and Kyle aren’t hurt but someone else is and you want me to pick you up?”
“Yeah. Soon please!”
“Why not call an ambulance?”
“It’s probably just a sprain so he doesn’t need to go to a hospital so he doesn’t need an ambulance and I remember you told me how expensive ambulances are. He needs to see a doctor. Can you please pick us up?”
“What’s his name? How old is he?”
“His name’s Mark…” David had forgotten Mark’s last name and didn’t know his age, so he whispered, “Your last name and age?” as he leaned toward Mark who whispered, “Anders, I’m 16. Today.”
“His name’s Mark Anders, and he’s 16 and today’s his birthday. Can you pleeease pick us up right away?”
“Alright. I just wanted to make sure he wasn’t someone older who would… well, you know. I’ll be at the trailhead in about 30 minutes.”
“Great. Thanks, Dad!”
David handed the cell back to Ryan. “Guys, today is Mark’s 16th birthday. Let’s sing Happy Birthday.”
They sang a more-or-less-accurate rendition of Happy Birthday, and Mark smiled the even though they were pretty bad at singing.
The trail leveled out and the rest of the hike to the trailhead at Divide Road was easy. They passed a group of six elderly hikers who stopped and stared when they saw the tandem duo. Ryan, of course, held back to tell the story as the others continued to the trailhead. He caught up with them just as they arrived at the trailhead parking lot.
“They just about didn’t believe me when I told them we’d rescued Mark. But I think I convinced them. One guy works for the Tribune, and he took down my name and phone number, and when I left I heard him calling his office. That’s so cool!”
Kyle stared at his brother. “I suppose you took all the credit and called yourself a hero, right.”
“No, wrong, I told them the whole story, about how it was David Murphy who was the real hero, but you and I had a big part in it too. And I told them we rescued Mark Anders, and on his 16th birthday. So there!”
Kyle smiled. “Okay, cool. I believe you.”
They pulled off their backpacks, and it took Kyle and Ryan’s help to get Mark’s pack off David.
After a few minutes David’s dad, Phil Murphy, pulled into the parking lot. He got out of his SUV and stood there, staring at David and Mark, still strapped together. He walked over to them, and around them, and when he was back in front he started to laugh.
“Do you two have any idea how funny you look?”
Of course, Ryan had to interject a comment. “I told them they looked like Siamese twins.”
“You’re right, Ryan. They do look like Siamese twins. Did anyone take pictures?”
Much to the discomfort of both David and Mark, and despite the pictures and video that Kyle had taken using David’s camera, a collection of pictures were taken by David’s dad and by Kyle and Ryan, including some more videos. David knew they’d be on YouTube before the night was over. He began to laugh, and when Mark asked what was funny all he said to a shocked Mark was, “YouTube.”
Phil looked at Mark. He was a nice looking kid, actually very handsome. He wondered if this had been noticed by his son.
“Hi, Mark. I guess I skipped over the introductions. I’m David’s dad, Phil Murphy.”
They shook hands. “Nice to meet you Mr. Murphy. I want to tell you that David and Kyle and Ryan saved my life. You should be very proud of your son. He’s amazing. He’s fantastic. He’s wonderful….” Tears were flowing down Mark’s cheeks and he was choked up. David’s cheeks and ears were bright red with embarrassment.
Phil now knew that David had indeed been noticed by Mark. “Thank you, Mark. I know that David’s amazing. I want to hear the entire story of your rescue, and how and why you got into this… this being bound together. But right now if we’re going to get you to a doctor we’d better extricate the two of you from… that… whatever it is.”
Kyle and Ryan began detaching straps and the carabiners. Kyle let Mark put his hand on his shoulder so they could remove the sling. They were finally released from their bindings.
David put his arm around Mark’s waist and helped him walk over to the SUV. He opened the front passenger door and helped Mark sit down. Then he removed Mark's harness, with special attention to the straps at Mark’s groin. Then he took off his harness. He left the door open so they could continue to converse as the twins got all of the backpacks loaded and they and his dad were seated.
“Where do you live, Mark?” Phil asked. “I can take you home, or to a doctor there.”
“We live in Pardee. I’m not sure, but I think that’s about 50 miles from here. I live with my grandma, and she went to see her sister in Oxnard. She won’t be back until Wednesday around noon, so no one’s home.”
“Tell you what, I’ll take you to our doctor. He’s a relative so I can talk him into treating you with my okay. At the hospital they’d need your parent or guardian’s approval to treat you.”
“Thanks. I hope it’s no trouble.”
“No trouble at all. His office is near where we live.”
On the way to the doctor’s office David, with many interjections by the twins and Mark and questions from his dad, told the entire story with all the details from beginning to end. Then once again without most of the interjections.
Doctor Kevin Nolan was told the story about Mark’s fall and rescue, at his insistence just the one minute condensed version. He checked Mark’s ankle, had it x-rayed, and declared it a Class 2 sprain, in layman’s terms a bad sprain but not the worst.
He put a self-adhesive elastic compression bandage around Mark’s ankle and showed him the correct length to cut it and the right way to put it on so it was tight enough to reduce the swelling but not so tight that it restricted blood flow. He gave Mark a roll, and said to keep his ankle wrapped except when he was showering. Assuming that Mark would avoid showering until his ankle felt better, he told him as soon as one bandage started getting rank smelling to throw it out, wash his ankle with soap and water, and put on a new one.
He also gave Mark three strap-on gelpacks that he could keep in the freezer so they’d be available when he needed them. He told him to apply an ice cold gelpack to his ankle for 15 minutes every hour when he was awake for the first two days and then four times a day for the next two weeks.
He told him that it was very important to keep his foot elevated, to avoid unnecessary walking for five to seven days, absolutely no hiking or running, and to take two ibuprofen three times a day with meals for two weeks. He gave him a crutch and adjusted it to fit and told Mark that he should use it for the first week, and longer if he couldn’t walk using his right foot. He advised Mark that his sprain would take four to six weeks to heal, and to call him if he had any increase in pain or swelling. He wrote the instructions and gave them to Mark.
They were finished, so Doctor Nolan walked Mark, who was using his new crutch, to the waiting room.
Mark thanked Doctor Nolan. “How much do I owe you?”
“For what you just did for me, for my crutch, for these bandages, and for these gelpacks.
“Nothing. No charge. This is a freebie.”
“Really, I can pay.”
“It’s no use arguing with me about paying. I have nothing to do with it. Go argue about it with your boyfriend and his father.”
Both David’s and Mark’s eyes opened wide, they turned pale, they started to sweat, and their mouths hung open.
Doctor Nolan looked at Mark. “Yes, boyfriend. I’ve been watching the way the two of you have been looking at each other the entire time you’ve been here. So, boyfriends, like in gay boyfriends. It’s something that should be obvious to anyone who watches you. Right Phil?”
“Right, Kevin. And these two being boyfriends is just fine with me.”
David was in shock. What did his dad say? David turned his head and looked at him. Phil was smiling, and he reached over and squeezed David’s shoulder and nodded his head. “Your mom and I have suspected that you’re gay. David, and that’s okay with us. You’re the best possible son for us, gay or straight.”
David turned to look at Mark, who seemed frozen where he was standing, leaning against the wall next to the receptionist’s window. David got up and walked over to Mark and hugged him, carefully because of his crutch, then stepped back and grinned. “I guess I’ve been outed. And that my folks are okay with it.”
Mark took a deep breath and nodded. “And I guess you figured out that I’m gay.”
“There’s no guessing about it.”
Ryan was bouncing in his chair. “Finally, finally, finally, finally! Kyle and me… sorry, Kyle and I have been wondering when these two idiots’ gaydar would kick in, but nothing, nada, nichyevo. I really wanted to say something to them, but Kyle convinced me to let fate take its course. I’ve been so frustrated that I could have screamed watching them moony-eyed and drooling whenever they looked at each other and not doing anything about it.”
“Mark, what about your grandma? You should call her and tell her where you are and… uh… everything else. Will she be okay with us?”
“Grandma knows I'm gay. She'll be happy for me that I have a boyfriend.” Mark paused. “I have a boyfriend. Are we boyfriends? Shouldn't you ask me to be your boyfriend? Or shouldn’t I ask you?”
David was grinning. “Which way do you want it?”
“If it's okay with you, would you ask me?”
David made it a big production. He got down on one knee and took Mark’s hand. “Mark Anders, will you be my boyfriend?”
Mark let out a big sigh and smiled. He pulled his hand away and placed it softly on David’s right cheek. “David Murphy, I will be your boyfriend.” As David stood they came together slowly, and kissed.
There was an eruption of clapping, whistling, and hollering in Doctor Nolan’s waiting room, including his receptionist who was dabbing her eyes with a tissue.
Perhaps, other than David and Mark, the happiest people in the room were Kyle and Ryan. They high-fived each other, then went over and pulled David and Mark into a four-way hug, ignoring Mark's sore ankle and his crutch.
Mark didn’t mind. Suddenly he had a boyfriend and two best friends. That felt wonderful. He was tired being a loner, having few friends at school, having no friends outside of school. His life had improved as the result of an accident that could have killed him. It amazed him that something so bad could turn into something so wonderful.
He reached his hand into his pocket to pull out his handkerchief to wipe the tears from his eyes. Instead he found his pocketknife. He took it out and looked at it. There was a silver plate on one side with his dad’s name: Matthew Anders. Mark rubbed his finger over that name and thought, ‘Thank you, Dad, for watching me, and guiding me, and helping me, and for David, especially for David.’
Mark looked up to see David standing next to him. He put the knife back in his pocket as David put his arm around his shoulder.
“You ready to come home with me, Mark?”
“Yeah. That sounds perfect.”
“We can shower. Then we’ll have that hot meal you said you wanted. My mom’s a great cook. And she’s going to totally love you. Dad called her so she knows about you, and she’s fine with everything. You can stay with us until your grandma gets back on Wednesday. Then we have to figure out a schedule for getting together.”
“That sounds even better than perfect.”
“Come on, Dad and the twins are waiting. Let’s go, boyfriend.”
Mark looked at David and smiled. “I’m ready, boyfriend. Let’s go.”
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing Rescue!
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This story and the included images are Copyright © 2010 by Colin Kelly (colinian). They cannot be reproduced without express written consent. Codey's World web site has written permission to publish this story. No other rights are granted.
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This story may contain occasional references to minors who are or may be gay. If it were a movie, it would be rated PG (in a more enlightened time it would be rated G). If reading this type of material is illegal where you live, or if you are too young to read this type of material based on the laws where you live, or if your parents don't want you to read this type of material, or if you find this type of material morally or otherwise objectionable, or if you don’t want to be here, close your browser now. The author neither condones nor advocates the violation of any laws. If you want to be here, but aren’t supposed to be here, be careful and don't get caught!