24 Hours

As I watched her drive away my mind was in a spin.

Only one day earlier I had been a contented, happily married father of two lovely kids. Now I’m just confused.

*****

All I wanted was a day and night alone in the mountains to be away from the stress and office politics and get some badly needed exercise. “Go on. Enjoy it. We will all be fine for a couple of days,” she said as she kissed me goodbye with one child under each arm.

I drove directly to Cauterets and parked my car in a lay-by near to the footpath I wanted to take for the climb up. The weather was stable and the forecast dry and clear. I even debated with myself whether to take my waterproofs along as my rucksack was already over 35 pounds, but previous experience had taught me a few hard lessons. In the mountains be prepared for anything.

By mid-morning the sun was high and it was already in the mid-twenties. It would be a hard climb up to the ridge in this heat, especially in my condition. I hadn’t done this kind of thing for a few years and apart from the heavy rucksack I was carrying other unwanted extra pounds.  After two hours I sorely needed a break and was thinking that at this rate I would be lucky to reach my bivouac destination.

In the hot afternoon sun I pressed further up towards the ridge, but could thankfully see that some clouds were starting to build near the peak which should soon protect me a little from the direct heat. I made a final stop about two hours before the ridge, watching the swirling clouds building darker and angrier around me. A flicker of concern passed through my mind. I had no tent with me, only a sleeping bag and plastic sheet for emergencies. “No, I will be alright.” I quickly dismissed the concern.

My goal was to cross directly over the ridge and drop down a couple of hundred metres onto the other side, where a small flat bivouac area lying directly below a glacier would offer some protection from the wind and provide tremendous views of the valley mountain lakes. I had read about this place a few years before, in awe at some of the wonderful photographs. I was keen to experience it first-hand for myself.

As I set off into the last climb I noticed the wind picking up and the sky was now very dark and angry. This was not supposed to happen. I decided to push on quickly and to get over the ridge before it became too bad. I expected more protection from the weather on the other side.

Not long before reaching the highest point the storm broke. The lashing rain and ear-splitting thunder which landed just a fraction of a second after blinding lightening, told me that I was getting into trouble. From one second to the next the conditions had deteriorated to the point where I began to fear for my safety.

I stumbled over the rocks, losing my balance a few times due to the top-heavy rucksack. I could not remain where I was; it was far too open. I could feel my body temperature going down by the minute as the freezing rain pelted at my body. My weatherproof gear was for summer use, not intended for such conditions. I yelled at the rain “Come on you bastard, do your best yahhhhh!!!.” This was my peculiar way of coping with my nerves.  However panic began to creep in. I couldn’t go over the ridge without the fear of being blown off, but I couldn’t stay here either.  I became momentarily mildly insane. I screamed even harder at the sky. Random, illogical screams as though the storm was some kind of living creature. “Come on! You can’t hurt me. Yahhh!”.

It was now almost dark due to the thick black cloud. The flashes of lightening opened up the landscape into a series of still photographs. My whole existence became a cocktail of excitement and terror. I had decided to try to push for the ridge, when I suddenly thought that I heard a cry. The storm is full of random unidentifiable noises like shadows in a night forest but something made me stop to concentrate and listen. I heard it again, very muffled but sounding like either an animal or person. I could no longer walk upright due to the strength of the wind, so I crawled in the direction of the sound. There it was again! It was more like someone sobbing.

As I crept and stumbled around a large boulder the sound became clearer. A flash of lightening temporarily illuminated the source. A figure was hunched up against the boulder. From the hooded jacket I could not tell whether it was man or woman. I crawled closer to within 5 metres and shouted “Hello.  I am Jim. Are you hurt?”

A very frightened face looked up startled in my direction. She was shivering. A trembling, crouched form was wearing a very thin jacket which provided no protection from the rain and wind. She didn’t speak but just looked at me with an expression of pleading.  I slid up close to her. She was very cold already. We didn’t speak more. I took the plastic sheet from my rucksack and started to wrap it around us both. One look at her face showed me that she didn’t object to the intimacy of our closeness.

The plastic sheet shook and flapped providing very little protection. This prompted me to release my sleeping bag from the two rubber bungees which held it tightly to my rucksack. I could fix one end of the plastic sheet to the ground with the two bungees which enabled me to pull the sheet over us both and hold the free end down with my body and hands. At least we were secure, and could speak to each other without yelling.

I asked if she had any other useful equipment with her which rather embarrassingly revealed that she only had a daypack, not even a sleeping bag. She had been hoping to get back down to the village before dark. As we spoke I noticed for the first time just how attractive she was. She was about 30, with long blond hair and with very white, even teeth. I saw these as she smiled when I asked her if I should put my arms around her for warmth. Raindrops dripped from the end of a perfectly shaped nose as her warm green eyes studied me curiously.

We decided to sit tight and to ride out the storm exactly where we were. It was cold, but no longer life- threatening now that we were wrapped in the sheet. I also managed to open my sleeping bag to pull over us, which soon gave us enough warmth to feel better. We stayed like this for a few hours. Like me, she was also married. Her husband had gone to his parents for the weekend with their child while she went hiking. She had missed it tremendously since the birth of their son, 3 years before.  We discussed our shared love of the mountains, a passion which our partners didn’t have. Even in this difficult situation we both held an inner feeling of excitement and awe at the power of the nature around us.

As true darkness fell the storm still raged, but it was definitely reducing. We became quite intoxicated with the excitement as we realised that we were now over the worst. We cuddled close and eventually both fell into an exhausted sleep.

****

Something woke me after a couple of hours. The storm had died down and Rebecca was breathing calmly on my shoulder. I suddenly realised, shocked, that the thing that woke me was her hand against my bare tummy. In her sleep she had found a space between my trousers and jacket and had slipped her hand between. My immediate reaction was to jump up and correct the situation, but she was sleeping so nicely and I am certainly no saint. I grinned to myself. I’d better not tell my wife quite the whole story when I get back. I dosed for a while and unconsciously moved away the plastic sheet, leaving us more comfortable under my sleeping bag, beneath the now clear starlit sky. I remember waking at one moment to marvel at the clarity of the night sky. I surely could have reached up and touched the stars. Can anyone avoid the thoughts of a possible Creator when faced with such beauty?

Just before dusk I woke again. Rebecca had snuggled in tighter, my jacket was open and she was still resting her hand on my bare flesh. I became worried that when she woke she would blame me for this intimacy and become angry. I tried to move her hand gently but she just gave a light groan and returned it to my tummy.

After some few minutes she opened her eyes and took a moment to realise where she was. She immediately moved her hand away and came up on one elbow. I pretended to remain asleep as I thought it to be more prudent. She amazed me by putting her head back onto my shoulder and her hand back onto my tummy. I slid my hand onto hers to show that I was now awake. We lay like that for a couple of minutes longer.

Then she looked up at me with those sparkling green eyes and simultaneously as she said “I love my husband very much” she began to slide her hand further down. I just let it happen. I was paralysed.

We made love under the last remaining visible stars. It was gentle but very passionate. My head was in a swirl with guilt, responsibility, desire and pure lust. We didn’t speak; we just simply enjoyed each other because it was the right thing to do at that moment.

The trip down the mountain was quick and without conversation. We soon arrived at the car park where Rebecca had left her car. She thanked me for the help. She said that she owed her life to me, although I thought that this was overstated. I began to say that I would never forget the experience but she stopped me saying “please don’t”, but I could see in her affectionate smile that she didn’t regret one minute of our union.

As I watched her drive away my mind was in a spin.

Only one day earlier I had been a contented, happily married father of two lovely kids.  Now I’m just confused.

2 thoughts on “24 Hours

  1. well, the only question that comes in my (as you know) weird mind is

    is there no english word for rucksack?

    HP 🙂

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