Dave Klausler writes here on occasion. Now, just between us, we do not know if a word he writes is true, but heck, writing is writing, and I like it. Did Hemingway ever do anything in real life that he used Nick Adams to relate to us? I thought that I would take an opportunity here to tell a true story (are you reading me correctly, Dave?), one that nearly cost me my life even if I did not kill a bear. Maybe I would have been hauled out on a helicopter after rescue by a stray mountain lion.
We lived in Bozeman, and I was invited to accompany a couple of older gentlemen to Black Diamond Lake in the Spanish Peaks, part of the Gallatin Range. At a certain point we had to leave the trail and cross Spanish Creek, after which there was no trail. There was a log straddling the creek, which is why Bill, our leader, knew where to turn. The task at this point was to remember the route, as I would be coming back alone. Bill and a man I’d never met before, a doctor named Paul, had a few years on me. I was in my fifties, they in their sixties. Consequently, every now and then, we stopped, dropped our packs, and napped.
The going in part was not difficult, even as it was strictly uphill. At a certain point I had an encounter with a tree that might as well have been a bear, as it caused a deep gash in my right arm. I first-aided up, and carried on. I still bear that scar. We finally got to the lake after maybe three miles of bushwhacking. I remember Paul, the doctor, trying to navigate along a lake shore and slipping, getting both boots and pants wet. He swore at that time that he would not have come on this journey had he known what was in store.
We got to our destination and set up camp. It was a beautiful spot with a creek flowing into the lake. The problem, and it was mine alone, was that there were only two things to do: read, and fish. I was an avid reader and most likely had two books along. However, fishing tried my patience. I only reluctantly ate fish, and had come to a time in my outdoors adventures where the thought of catch and release was troubling my conscience. (I would shortly thereafter give it up, and at an auction by our Unitarian church (yes, we were Unitarians at that time) I offered my fishing pole and reel, and a young boy was so happy to get them that I also gave him every other piece of fishing gear in my possession, poles, reels, line, lures, tackle box and flies. That was heartwarming, as I remember as a young kid how thrilling fishing was to me.)
So my plan was to leave a day ahead of Bill and Paul, and make my way home alone. I said my goodbyes, and took Bill’s advice seriously, to stay high above the creek below the lake as long as possible before dropping down to the lower altitude. But I dropped down too soon, and found myself navigating deadfall. But it was manageable, and I knew eventually the creek ended up by the trail, so I was not lost. But I had descended way too early. “Push forward” was all I could think, as I thought backpedaling would be a waste of time and energy.
At a certain point, I found myself entering a small chasm, an area that had a narrow ledge, and foolishly made my way out onto the ledge, not knowing that it would end and leave me stranded. I saw both the beginning and end of the ledge, but the middle was hidden from view. There was no middle, as it turned out.
Keep in mind I was carrying a full pack, with food, tent, sleeping bag, camp stove and supplies, and fishing gear. Out on that ledge I faced perhaps a twenty-foot drop-off. The ledge ended, but then reemerged perhaps ten feet away, forming a u-shape maybe five feet directly across from me. I needed to turn around, but there were no hand holds, and with that pack on my back, I could not maneuver. I had but two choices: To drop my pack and try to retrieve it later from below, or to jump the five feet across the chasm, landing on the other side where there were no hand holds, nothing to grab onto.
I tried but could not remove my pack. I would have fallen. It was that tight a predicament. My only choice was to jump. If I were to fall, I would surely be injured, maybe severely. I might not make it out, and rescue was out of the question. This was in the days of no phones, and anyway, no signal.
I sat there simply aghast at my predicament, all self-inflicted. I had no choice but to jump. I was deeply afraid. I did not think I would make it, but had no choice. I gathered up all my courage, and waited, waited, waited, just wanting it all to be over. With my heart in my throat, I jumped, and landed on the far edge, my pack on my back, my hands grabbing on to nothing, and leaned, as best I was able, forward. I did not fall! I surely should have, the physics not favoring me at all. I edged my way off the ledge, and onto flat ground. I was safe. Stupid, but safe.
The rest of the journey was briars and deadfall, crawling over one tree after another, re-injuring my arm and taking on additional wounds. My God had I dropped down too soon! I must have done two miles of this grueling work until mercifully, I came upon a log, the one we had used to get across Spanish Creek. From there I made it to the trail, a bloody mess. I came upon two young girls who were joyfully hiking the trail, which if memory serves, ends up at Pioneer Falls. I was too shy to say anything, and we passed in silence, me thinking I should not be so shy, and them thinking they had just stumbled on Bigfoot. Had I spoken to them, they might have run away.
I made it back to my car, and drove home, crossing Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch, always a treat no matter my mental state. It is so beautiful, and bison roam freely. (Ted was told at one point that wolves were on his property, and the bison were endangered. He said that was OK, so long as they did not eat them all.) I got home to my wife a bloody mess, but alive, and did not tell her my tale of stupidity. Eventually, once enough time had passed, I did fess up, I am pretty sure.
She might read this now and rethink her marital choice. As the saying goes, choose wisely, treat kindly, and bring out the best in your mate. She did only two of those three things right.