The whiteout was incredible, one of the most amazing things Jack Graham had ever seen. Unfortunately, one thing he hadn’t seen lately was the rest of his team. He knew he had to keep going . . . otherwise he would freeze in this stark, hostile, white world. The shrieking wind bit his face and blew ice crystals into his beard and goggles, giving him the appearance of a snowman. He checked his oxygen. Just six minutes’ worth left. Jack struggled to stand against the snow and ice and wind. He shook out his beard and stumbled into the field of colorlessness. Was that ice he heard cracking? He took a step, felt the ground give way, and fell. He screamed as he plummeted and was silenced as his shout was replaced by the cracking of bone on hard ice.
Jack awoke to the sound of voices above. He tried to yell, “I’m down here, in this pit,” but the sharp pain in his chest caused it to come out, “Oohwhuph.” He could hardly breathe and his chest, arm, and head hurt, and were all throbbing. He slowly got to his feet. At least his legs hadn’t been hurt. He took a deep breath and looked around. He saw a blue, icy cave with glistening walls and sunlight at the top of a wide, vertical shaft. If only I was back in Arizona, he thought. He could feel the cool pillows and sheets of his bed back home. What I would give for some chicken noodle soup. He longed for the beautiful sunsets and dry warmth from the afternoon sun. Snapping back into reality, he headed for a patch of ice with the most light coming through it and pounded on it with his good arm. The tiny crack where he hit the wall brought fresh air into the cave. He grabbed as much of his climbing gear as he could and, remembering his ice ax, chopped a hole big enough to climb through, and slowly, with great pain, he passed through. He was greeted by the harsh winds of the north face of the mountain, the only one never climbed by man. He staggered onto a ledge, and began a slow and agonizing descent. After several minutes, his head began to spin, and he tottered and teetered perilously near to the three-thousand-foot drop-off next to him. He slipped and blacked out.
When Jack woke up, he was lying in a rock-walled cave, with an insulated blanket draped over him, and the smell of something sweet wafting through the thin air. He looked around at decades’ worth of used climbing gear. Bottles, stoves, parkas, goggles—a treasure trove of all things mountaineering. A hulking, gargantuan figure stood over a fire, boiling tea. Its hair was shaggy like a mammoth’s, and it had no visible eyes or mouth. The beast turned toward him, and he recognized it from pictures he’d seen, and stories he’d heard. It was the abominable snowman himself—the yeti. He was in awe, afraid and curious and realizing that the yeti had rescued him from certain death. Just then he noticed a strange, hard object around his arm and a bandage around his head. He touched the gauzy substance and felt warm blood in a circular area on it. I must have taken a nasty spill, he thought. The great mass of hair hobbled over to him, bringing a cup of sweet liquid, and the man drank. Sleep came quickly, and for the third time his eyelids fluttered open and the huge beast was gone. He stood up, put on long underwear, insulated snow pants, two parkas, and his boots. He grabbed his ice ax, gave himself fresh oxygen, and left.
Jack fumbled and stumbled down from the cave ledge. He paused for a second, looking down at the white valley below. How am I ever gonna get down there? he wondered. It’s hopeless. Upon reaching a larger ledge, he promptly hit his arm on a rock and howled, his voice echoing through the valley below. When at last the noise died down, he heard a rumbling from the peak above. “Avalanche!” he yelled as he ran. The torrent of snow swept him off his feet and he tumbled, twisted, and was whipped around by the wave. As the avalanche slowed, it came nearer and nearer to a patch of yellow rocks. The stones became larger and larger until the avalanche stopped and Jack was close enough to realize that they were the tents of his team. There was just one obstacle left.
As he approached the edge of the gorge, he could see that no ladders were still bridging the twenty-foot gap. He would have to descend, and ascend again on the other side. He hammered a spike into the permafrost. He tied a rope onto the spike, and clipped himself onto it. Slowly and cautiously he lowered himself into the dark abyss of the canyon. Finally his feet hit solid ice. Turning, he saw another gap, but couldn’t see the end in the dim light. He couldn’t take his chances going down further; he didn’t have enough rope. The only way to cross was to jump. He first took off as much gear as he could. Then he unclipped his rope, took a deep breath, and broke into a full run for the edge of the drop. Leaping into the air with a loud yell, he flew, eating up the distance. He felt himself slowing, and looked down. The blackness was still there.
He stretched his legs out in front of him as far as he could, and felt a knot tighten in his stomach as he began to fall. In one last effort to save himself, he reached his hands out as far as he could, until they ached, and, by the fingertips of both hands, caught a ledge. He pulled himself up, and pain shot through his broken arm, causing him to let go momentarily, and then catching himself again. Gravel from the side of the cliff clattered against it and he didn’t hear it hit ground below. He tried to ignore the pain and somehow managed to climb onto the shelf. After catching his breath, Jack hammered a first spike into the wall. He hammered another, and stepped up. He put up another, stepped onto it, and pulled out the lowest one. He continued the process slowly, pausing to rest. The light became brighter and brighter until he could see the edge of the cliff above. Just ten more feet.
His ribs hurt more and more every time he drove a new spike in, but he kept going. He climbed foot after painstaking foot, and finally he peeked over the edge and saw the tents again. He hurled himself up, and collapsed. He slowly and shakily stood, staggering forward. He gave a yell toward the tents. He took another step, and stood, listening. A figure emerged from a tent. He said a silent prayer, and collapsed again. Soon his team was looking over him, and they were getting ready to carry him back to his tent. He had not given up, and he was going back home to Arizona. But even more importantly, Jack Graham was alive.