On the Ropes

The second story in my Out of Place Series. Enjoy!

“This is gonna hurt. I have to make sure the harness is secure, which means-”

“I get it.” I reply, bracing for the pain as I stand on the washed out trail. The overcast sky creates a dull backdrop behind the ponderosa pines.

Darren, the bear of a man who tied the rope around my legs, grabs the loop where I would later clip in and yanks up hard. I cough and let out a short “ow!” I had completely forgotten how much that hurt.”Oh, man…”

“Told you it would hurt.” Darren chuckles. “These things aren’t made to be comfortable. You alright?”

“Yeah, fine.”

“Great.” Darren hands me a locking carabiner with a rope tied in a figure-eight knot around it. “Go ahead and clip yourself in. You’ll anchor Robbie so if he falls your weight will stop him from swinging too far down.” I nod in compliance, clipping the carabiner to the loop Darren had just pullled and screw the locking mechanism tight.

“Tom, are we clipped in there?” Darren calls over his shoulder.

“Yep! He’s all set.” Tom replies. I glance over at my friend and coworker Robbie, who’s working with Tom, as he adjusts his white helmet. “Gary, we secure?”

Upslope Gary tugs on a rope fed through a contraption that’s supposed to stop the rope should we fall. “We’re good. Send them down.”

“Okay,” Darren says to me and Tom, “Step back, guys.”

I look to Robbie, who walks off what remained of the trail, never looking up lest his footing fail him. The rope between us goes taut, and I start back down the treacherous slope. I hold the rope, little faith in my footing. The soft, dry dirt shifts beneath my feet.

“Lean into it, Adam! It’ll take your weight!” Gary shouts to me. I try, but I feel myself falling and grab the rope even tighter. “Sit into it!” He shouts again. I obey, and the makeshift harness take my weight and press into my groin uncomfortably. The rope holding me into the tree vibrates as it goes taught.

As I adjust my harness to try and make it even a little more comfortable I look to Robbie, who’s talking to our team leader up the trail. The rest of our team waits several yards behind him. Two of them assemble the yellow, plastic litter to transport the patient; the rest stand on the trail, fiddling with their pack straps and exchanging anxious glances.

In front of me and Robbie our patient lies on his back, broken ankle braced, two team members supporting him on his left side so he doesn’t fall down the slope. The medic at his head has made it perfectly clear that if the patient’s ankle was moved even a little bit it would lead to serious complications. Two groups of hikers have been delayed for several hours on either side of the patient, and they’ve been getting restless. In the dying light of the setting sun, we don’t need to say anything to recognize the urgency of our situation.

“Okay,” Robbie says to me, “I’m gonna start handing you packs, just keep passing them to the other side.” He hands me a blue pack with poles and a tent strapped to the outside, and I grab it and hoist it up to Darren. This goes on for several minutes until one of the packs slips from Darren’s grasp. I don’t think; I leap to catch it, grabbing it with one hand and catching myself on the ground with the other. My heart races; my feet begin to slide out from under me, and I quickly scramble back upright.

“You okay?” Gary asks.

“Yep.” I say.

“You alright?” someone else asks.

“I’m fine, I’m fine. Take this.” I say hurriedly, handing the pack off to an outstretched hand (I think it’s Darren’s). I adjust my harness again, grimacing.

“Adam, grab that shovel.” Robbie directs. “Start digging out footholds, we’re gonna send people across. Darren, sit there-” (he points to the trail near me) “-and act as a handhold so they don’t fall. Adam and I will spot them as they move across.” Darren hands me the small spade, and I attack the dirt across the slope in equal spaces apart. Before too long people are crouched down as they navigate the holds we’ve dug out for them so they can continue on their way. Fortunately no one slips like the pack did.

“Thank you guys!” One of the adults shouts back as he waves goodbye to us. I wave back, hoping they get to camp before dark.

“Adam, I need you to move up a little bit.” Our team leader commands. “You and Robbie are going to spot the rest of us on your side while we move the patient onto the litter.”

“Don’t let his leg move too much.” The medic reminds us. She looks down at the patient and says gently “We’re going to move you on to the litter now, this shouldn’t take long.” I scramble up the hill as more of the team sets themselves in the footholds we dug out. I put my hands up close to the backs of my teammates, fingers together. Different voices begin talking over one another.

“Get that vacu-splint!”

“Where’s the other blue strap?”

“Bring the litter over here, now!”

“They should cross over.”

“Can someone get me that pump?”

“Adam, can you get up here?” Amidst the confusion, I obey and get a hand on the patient.

“Alright, we’re ready to move him.” The team leader’s voice cuts through the rest, and the team falls silent.. “On three, roll him to his left and we’ll put the vacu-splint under him. One, two, three!” The people on the other side roll him over and shove the pad under him. When it’s completely under him, someone pumps the air out of the splint, conforming to the patient’s body and stabilizing him. “Good. On three, we’ll lift him and set him in the litter. Hand on. One, two, three!” The rest of them are lifting as I spot them. My friends and coworkers gingerly lower the patient into the litter.

“Adam, Robbie, unclip.” The team leader commands. “I need you to spot on your side so the people on the litter don’t fall. If you’re on the litter, secure the patient get your straps on. We’re going to lift the patient and start moving forward.”

Darren, Gary, and Tom begin to undo the rigging they had set up around the trees. As I unclip myself from my harness I massage my legs where the rope dug into my flesh.

I notice the ground in front of me was illuminated, but none of the surrounding earth was lit. I had turned on my headlamp at some point. Where did the time go? I look at my watch: nine-fifteen. I don’t remember how much trail we had to cover before the vehicle, but I remember hiking this trail years ago in the daylight. It keeps going up and doesn’t stop for what feels like forever. Massive rocks will create some serious obstacles.

At least I’m not clipped in to that harness anymore.

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