International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Climbing
woods have always been my playground. When I went to college in
Colorado the Rocky Mountains were a natural extension for my love
of the outdoors. I learned a lot about nature's ways during a lifetime
spent exploring her big and little challenges. I encountered many
mysteries that I solved with persistence, patience and the curiosity
of a wildcat.
Redcloud and Sunshine were typical Colorado 14'ers.
A decent dirt road
led me to a trailhead with a four or five mile hike to the summits.
Five hours of easy steep hiking on the ridges got me to both peaks.
I returned in three hours, taking a shortcut in the glacial valley between
the two mountains. I enjoyed a pleasant day. The only noteworthy item
of my climb is that Redcloud was sunny and Sunshine was cloudy.
This adventure is unforgettable to me not because of the climb but because
of the night before. I encountered a mystery that I am still unable
The Night Before
I left the tavern in Lake City and drove up to the ghost town of Silver
Creek. It was a drizzly black evening. I was not looking forward to
sleeping in my car so I was gladdened to see that one of the cabins
had some roof intact. I would have some dry floor to spread out on and
sleep comfortably. I checked it out in the diminishing daylight. Part
of a second storey showed above a wall that had a twenty-penny nail
driven partly into it. I prepared for what I thought would be one of
my more cozy and pleasant nights in the mountains. Packrat droppings
covered the floorboards. I brushed them off and got my gear from my
It was about ten o'clock when I had my bed ready. I put a water bottle
and a new roll of toilet paper close to my head so that I could find
them easily from my sleeping bag in the dark. The dark! It was scary
dark! I was glad I didn't believe in ghosts. I honestly could not see
any hint of my hand in front of my eyes. I would have no trouble getting
to sleep tonight. I stretched out, nestled my head into my makeshift
pillow and slid into sleep. Suddenly something ran up my stomach and
over my face! It was big enough to feel through my down bag and it startled
the bejesus out of me. I sat up in the blackness, my heart beating so
loudly I could hear it. After a few seconds I realized that a packrat
had run up my sleeping bag. My little camp was in the middle of his
house and he was not in a sharing mood. I was suffused with a feeling
of uneasiness, although I knew that this cute furry animal could not
hurt me. I lay back, knowing that nothing there could bother me. Dreamless
sleep overtook me in the absolute darkness and silence. I was soon to
experience how a reluctant host could become downright hostile.
Something woke me up. In an instant I was sitting straight up with wide-open
eyes. I turned, trying to discover what woke me. I could see nothing.
I was overwhelmed by a feeling that I was being watched, watched by
a malevolent being that was close enough to touch and so big that its
eyes were at the same level as mine. My entire being was in a state
of terror. I felt threatened by a force that I couldn't see but its
hatred for me was palpable. I felt small and weak.
As I became more alert I also became rational. Out loud I told myself
that no packrat could be as big as a wolf or a cougar. My mind was just
playing games with me. My earlier encounter with a running rat was magnified
by my uneasiness, causing me to have a nightmare. For the third time
that night I lay down. My jangled nerves settled and I drifted into
Dawn had no trouble finding me in my ramshackle shelter. I awoke slowly
as my eyes adjusted to the grayness of early morning. I reached for
the toilet paper so I could clear my stuffy nose. It was not where it
should have been, so I rose up and looked around. I finally saw it.
The end of the roll was about seven feet to my left. The unrolled strip
of paper lay across ten feet of floor and went straight up the wall
for about eight feet. It went over that nail, back down to the floor
and extended ten feet across the floor to my right to the remainder
of the roll. I was almost surrounded by the unrolled paper. I caught
my breath, got up and went over to the roll. It was less than half its
size of the night before. I tore some paper from it, blew my nose and
got ready to go climbing.
The cool humid air was refreshing as I walked off the stiffness of sleep.
I settled into my rhythmic pace of hiking and breathing deeply. I soon
reached the warm morning sunlight of a beautiful day. The immediacy
and challenges of my climb made me forget the cabin for the next few
hours. I have remembered it often though over the last decades.
What was it that stared with hatred at me in the dark? Is my imagination
capable of manufacturing a force so evil and threatening that I felt
totally vulnerable? Or was some thing really there? Something was busy
doing something when I woke up. I may have interrupted its activities.
I may have been lucky.
© Floyd Frank April 2009
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