The Carhartts of Reason
Stupid Hikers Part Two
I have said it other places; I am a wilderness chick. The idea of living any place where rugged, canvas work wear is not a fashion statement for men and women alike paralyzes me with horror. I once had a fiancé who tried to make me move to California. Worst relationship of my life. But now is now, and years ago, I was not so sure about my desire to stay up North. A tragically meh little divorce had shattered all my dreams, and I was still hanging out with my ex every chance I got and looking for a reason to live that was not being his wife.
Nevertheless, when I bought that pair of Carhartt's at the thrift store for ten bucks, I couldn't have been more smug if I had scored a Gucci handbag. Yukon is the land of men, and women who dress like men, and there is no better name in dressing like a man than Carhartt. And they fit! I stuffed my pear shaped figure into that pair of pants and the fabric actually encompassed all of my behind. I didn't take them off for a month. I might have been a woman scorned, but I was well dressed. I even found a matching Carhartt hoodie to go with.
My ex and I decided to take a little drive one day in late March. We found ourselves on the South Klondike Highway, pulled over at a scenic lookout over Emerald Lake, famous for its dramatic swirls of color in the water. Of course, it was early spring. The surface of the lake was covered in tired snow and rotting ice. There was nothing to be seen there.
However, on the other side of the highway, overlooking the lake, was hillside and a little rock face that had caught the sunshine and melted bare already. We were tired of the winter. Any chance for a hike was a good one. We scrambled up the embankment and wallowed through the slushy melt toward the promised land of bare ground.
As we got closer, it became obvious that the slope was too stony and steep to be a hike. It was more of a climb and a pretty dangerous one at that. I planted my Carhartt backside on a big boulder and told my ex to go on without me. I was in no mood to scale a cliff.
He forged onward, and I could hear him exclaiming with delight from inside a little wood where ferns poked out of the snow.
“You have to come and see this!” he called, “It's so cool in here. I think I see a way up.”
“Go ahead,” I yelled. “I'll wait.”
“No, really, you have to come,” he insisted. “It's beautiful!”
I sighed and followed him, slipping and slithering over fallen stones that ought to have given me some idea of how sheer the mountain was above them, that they were tumbled here from off it's face.
“See, it's not that bad.” My ex cajoled, once I had caught up with him. “I'm going up. I think it will be fine.”
“It's muddy,” I warned, but he set out upward. I grunted in frustration, but I picked my way up behind him.
It wasn't that bad at first. The footing was slippery, but the rock under it was grippy and the climb seemed doable. But as we rose above snow line, I found I was using both my hands and my feet. The adventure had became a scramble.
“We'll never get back down this way,” I told my ex bluntly. “It's always easier going up than coming down. We'll have to go all the way up and over the top, come down the other side, and bushwhack around to the road.”
“Yup, we'll go all the way up and over,” My ex promised cheerfully. “It would be suicide to come back down here.”
We pushed on until we came to nice gentle slope of rough basalt where the climbing was easy. We stood side by side and considered the way ahead. The very top was in sight, and it was jagged and over hung, but around a curve in the cliff, a small groove was cut in at an angle, and that looked to be our way up.
“I'll go check it out,” My ex clambered off, and I waited for his voice to call me to go after him.
Instead, he came physically back to me, looking worried. “That isn't a way up,” he admitted. “In summer it would be, but now it is running with melt water and it is all iced over. There's absolutely no way anybody is getting up there without crampons and an axe. We'll have to go down.”
“We can't go down,” I pointed out the obvious. “It's too muddy, and slippery, and sheer.”
“That is still safer than what is above us,” My ex argued. “It's just a waterfall over ice.”
We sat down on the safe spot under foot and had a rest and a reconnoiter. We could see the truck from where we were, parked neatly in the pull out. There was nothing about it that would draw the attention of any passing motorist. The South Klondike Highway was out cellular range at that time. We had a phone, but we couldn't call for help. We were not wearing anything bright. Nobody would see us if we waved, and the distance was far too great to shout, even supposing someone did pull over and get out of their car. We were stuck, and if we got back safely, it was going to be because of our own skills and ingenuity.
“We are going to get out of this,” I vowed. “I know we are, because it is not my destiny to lose my life with you. I am going to get married again, and I am not dying out here with you today.”
“Don't be melodramatic,” my ex snapped. “Nobody is going to die. It's not that steep.”
Except that it was. We picked our way down, hands and feet both busy. My ex went first, and he would stop and wait for me and point out the footholds.
We came to a place were we had to climb around a jut of rock in such a way that most of our weight was on our fingers. My ex made it down easily because his arms and legs were considerably longer than mine and his center of gravity was different. But I got partway, and I realized that my feet would not reach the next ledge while my hands were holding on.
I was in a crouching position, hanging out from the wall, clutching the top of the outcropping, and I couldn't move forward or backward. I looked sideways, and it was to far too reach in that direction, and beneath me was a straight drop of at least three meters ending in a scree, jumbled with boulders, loose and ready to roll. Panic rushed over me and my head swam. My arms and legs began to shake violently with strain of supporting me. It was only a matter of time until I fell, unless I did something very different from what I was trying to do.
From somewhere under the terror and the trembling, a fury rose, a fight for survival. I heard my own thoughts, as if they were coming from another person's head, making an oath that I would not give in until gravity and my own weakness dragged me off the rock face. All the muddy, squishy feelings about divorce and despair resolved into a blinding moment of clarity. If this was death, I wanted to live.
I knew my quivering arms were going to be the first thing to go. I could feel my fingers slipping. Without the faintest hint of a plan, I just threw myself forward and sideways into the rough stone and kicked with my feet while letting go with my hands. Miraculously, those stiff, canvas pants stuck to the basalt like lint on fleece, and I was able to wiggle, and crawl, and toe my way to the left until my feet found the footing that I was too short to otherwise reach. Given the freedom to let go of the rock entirely, my hands quickly found new grips. In a few seconds of thrashing and flailing, I had secured a place where I could comfortably stand and rest.
“Are your feet in the spots?” My ex asked.
I looked at him and realized that we had been having a whole conversation about my predicament and his recommendations for solving it, of which my conscious mind had zero recall. I might have been screaming obscenities at him, for all I could tell. What I could remember was that moment when I knew that I knew that I was not going to die willingly.
“Get out of my way!” I ordered. “I am getting off this cliff.”
My ex maneuvered out of his perch, where he had been standing trying to instruct me, and I got into it. I followed him through some muddy, slippery contortions on down to where a run of snow let me slide all the way to the bottom on my butt.
We stood in the knee deep slush at the foot of the climb and I let it rip. “You flannel licking son of motherless goat!” I hollered. “You are so freaking lucky right now that you don't have to go to the RCMP and explain why your EX-WIFE is lying dead at the bottom of an icy cliff you made her climb, IN MARCH!”
“You weren't going to die.” My ex mumbled miserably, but he was shook up as much as I was, and it showed.
My beautiful Carhartt's were soaking wet and smeared with mud when I peeled them off my red, blotchy, refrigerated, aching legs at home, later. But my heart was singing and content. I had said no to death. And death listened. I was still in that body because I had chosen to be, and choice is a good thing to have.
I still own those pants, and every time we drive by Emerald Lake, whoever is in the car asks me if I would like to go for a climb up the cliff. The answer is always no, and I always laugh, but it's not really funny. Reasons to live come in all shapes and sizes, and nobody has any right to be in your Carhartt's telling you what your reasons should be, or that your life is meaningless without them. I still live in the North and I probably always will. I wouldn't move to California for a man, not even for the one who offered me that second chance at marriage. At the end of the day, I'm the only one who has to live in my pants.