July 1995 by Ricardo McCharles, Survivor
This is the draft copy I sent to the editor of the red-eye, our friendship newsletter. It is an expose of our hike on the Rockwall Trail.
I asked that the Reditor edit. I know everyone needs an editor. Even Hitler. His original title for MEIN KAMPF was “Four-and-a-half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice.”
I write in order that the truth be known, and to dispel the many rumours about what happened in the Rockies. This is the story of what we suffered and how we stayed alive. It is a catharsis, yet I hope it may prevent such tragedy in the future.
On Thursday, July 13th, five would-be mountaineers set off from Bragg Creek for Kootenay National Park in British Columbia. Reports of good weather elevated the spirits of our ill-prepared band, though most of us were badly hungover. To steel our nerve, we had been drinking heavily on departure’s eve. Ironically, we snacked on “prairie oysters” at Bottlescrew Bill’s Testicle Festival.
The sixth hiker in our party, Ana Farries, left her home in Kimberly, British Columbia to rendezvous at the trailhead. Ana, a journalist whose byline occasionally appeared in publications of a lesser sort, was a first-time alpinist. She didn’t yet know what she didn’t know about mountain survival. No one expected her to live.
We met as scheduled and, overconfident in the bright sunshine, our rough tribe set off. An interpretive walk … to Hell.
Party-leader Rocco (Party-on, Rock!) Ciancio feigned enthusiasm, a picture of false bravado. A professional ass-coverer for the Petro-toxin industry, Rocco’s legendary shitheadedness might help him survive.
Herr Professor-to-be, Juan Long was stoically calm. Late 30s, thin, neat, and unmarried — not that there is anything wrong with that — he was just finishing 23 years of education in order to become an electrician. Juan would be valuable if any of the flashlights went kaput at high altitude.
Ronaldo Shewchuk, the bulky “Buckfart”, anticipated a particularly grueling ascent. Tough and experienced, the cost-unconscious Ronaldo was, none-the-less, heavily laden. And he presented too tempting a caloric windfall as he lumbered up the path ahead. He was also vulnerable in that he slept in his own tent, alone or with some one night bag-boy.
I feared most the menacing Roberto Glaser — sullen and brooding, haunted by ghosts from his past. A latter day Lord of the Flies, I only barely resisted raising a war council against him. Roberto inevitably charged ahead of the group. I stayed close in order to stay in the first echelon of power, and to avoid ambush. I did not intend to go down easily, and Roberto knew it.
I had announced my intentions clearly to Rob’s wife, and mother of 3, Judith, as we departed. “Six-in, six-out. That’s the goal.”
I knew that if I failed we would be killed-off one-at-a-time. Fresh meat. But who would be first?
Most at risk was the trail-rookie Ana Farries. She immediately fell back, left behind to be dispatched by the bears. When Roberto backtracked to claim her corpse, the spunkster was still hobbling along despite gangrenous feet. Disgusted, Rob abandoned her again.
Night 1 — Helmet Creek
We got immediately, and utterly, Shewchuked. While the others tried to out-inebriate each other, I carefully substituted my own Tequila with creek water. I calculated that the highest probability of violent mortality would be at the height of a drinking binge, not on some icy ridge.
Late in the evening, Ana somehow stumbled into camp. Too bad. Now she would suffer the indignity of the rookie hazing.
Yet, somehow Ana survived the profane song, nudity, the physical abuse. I admired her tenacity! Venus envy, I guess.
Night 2 — Tumbling Creek
Camped for the night., we got Shewchuk-faced, again. Roberto decided to give away some of our food to two starving dike fingerers. “What the Hell was he thinking? What’s coming down?”, I fumed, re-checking my secret stash of life sustaining licorice jaw breakers.
Forebodingly, Rocco sang Dolomite. Would it be his swan song?
Day 3 — Tumbling glacier
Roberto’s bestial passions rose as we gained elevation, approaching the high and hideous Tumbling glacier. The impassable and lifeless rock wall loomed immense on our right.
In environs of utmost desolation, astoundingly, that metamorphic shist disturber Rocco collected … rocks, adding them to his pack even as he sucked at the oxygen depleted air.
Night 3 — Numa Creek
Somehow, still alive. Unwashed savages, somehow few peccadilloes offended. Unstated, we knew that we must stick together if we were going to get out alive. But we trusted no one.
What about tomorrow? Would we be lost? Poisoned? A Swiss-army-knife-related fatality at a luncheon boil-up? I slept fitfully.
We had to hike dry — no booze and scarcely any food unless you count the dozen packages of strokanoff which we all refused.
Live dangerously, dread naught.
At low ebb, I could smell freedom. Ana and I took the last of the food and fled the group in a race for civilization.
We got immediately lost. Done for. I had sabotaged Roberto’s pack to discourage pursuit but forgot to nick his map. We were forced to simply follow the creek down the mountain.
At midday on Sunday, July 16th, we walked out of the mountains. No rescue team. No helicopters. Simply eyes-closed-home-run-hitting, numb, dumb luck.
Six-in, six-out? How did our tribe of 8-balls; of back-country boozers, do it? I have no idea.
Somehow, life had won out over death.
There’s no moral. No reason. No justice.
Live dangerously, dread naught. Who dares, wins. You can hike and survive. It happened to us.
Inspired by the novel Alive and the Himalayan writing style of Hunter S. Thompson.