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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Climbing

Redcloud and Sunshine
Floyd Frank

The 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 to solve.

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 Audi wagon.

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 undisturbed sleep.

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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