The last time he'd ventured to the summit of Folarskarnuten, Hamar Baltzersen had been forced to admit defeat in the search for Annika's body. He'd somehow managed to avoid going back for the two-thousand nine-hundred and twenty-eight days since.
'I'm sorry bossman, my crew is tied up over on the west side, or we'd take it.'
Hamar noted the obvious pain and regret in Mika's voice, but since his Mountain Rescue team covered the entire region of the Hallingskarvet National Park, it was always going to be a matter of when, rather than if, he'd have to go back.
'It's fine, Mika, I'm already saddling up.'
He wasn't. In fact, Hamar had spent the last hour giving the minimalist Norwegian Pine lodge another once over. There was never much by the way of legitimate cleaning to be done, but he kept it battle ready at all times and filled the space between rescues by meticulously testing, calibrating and wiping down the equipment. It passed the time and took his busy mind away from more undesirable thoughts.
Hamar collected what he estimated they'd need for the call out and positioned it in priority order by the solid, windowless front door. He checked and then double checked he'd remembered everything for every foreseeable eventuality. It wasn't until Hamar fastened and unfastened the clasps on his lightweight kevlar rucksack exactly six times that he realized his OCD was in danger of rearing its ugly, if not orderly, head. He took a serious of deep breaths as he'd been taught to do in his mindfulness class and shook it off. Outside, he could hear that Marek had already fired up the chopper and the radio chatter emanating from the mount atop his mahogany roll-top desk signaled the imminent arrival of both Lump and Begovic, the other two members of his barebones team.
Still largely voluntary, they hadn't received a funding increase for the eighth year in a row. Instead of a big budget, they were forced to rely on their extensive experience and knowledge of every slope, crevasse, tree, and ridge to overcome their shortcomings. But it was always in the back of Hamar's mind that one day they'd be found wanting. He hoped today was not that day.
It was the twenty-third call-out they'd attended since the start of the season and by this time every year, peak season came to mean 'peak idiot'. Especially since the recent surge in popularity of 'snokiting'. Catching a lift on thermals to the top of the mountain and then ski-ing or snowboarding back down had become the thing to do for extreme sports enthusiasts and their extremely rich hangers-on. It was the hangers-on that had the tendency to overstretch their own abilities and subsequently the resources of the Mountain Rescue teams in the area. Together, the two factions had apparently made Folarskarnuten the epicenter of the sport.
Hamar sighed as he strapped on his boots and he trudged outside, across the knee-deep power, to the waiting chopper. Marek nodded sternly and waited for Hamar to slide over and don the spare helmet and headset.
'Fucking snokiters, man.'
'If it wasn't them it'd be someone else', Hamar replied.
Once Lump and Begovic were safely on board, Marek lifted them up and away from the snow-covered lodge. Hamar had noted the temperature before he left. Minus seven. Not extraordinary, but the wind chill took it down to about minus fifteen and high, swirling gusts buffeted them until they were up and way. Not much else was said for the ten-minute ride, which suited Hamar just fine. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine what it'd feel like to be back at the scene of Annika's demise in an attempt to pre-process it before he had to.
His focus snapped back to the rescue when he spotted the snokite party waving them in. Hamar watched ever-mesmerized as Marek majestically wrestled the controls to set their bright yellow rescue shopper down gently, amidst the howling elements. He was the best pilot Hamar had ever known and he routinely thanked the powers that be that, by luck, Marek's dismissal from the Slovakian air force two years earlier due to an unauthorized use of aircraft had led him to his door search of regular joystick jockeying.
Marek nudged him with his elbow. 'Your turn', he said with a shit-eating grin.
Hamar waited until Lump and Begovic had disembarked before following suit. They each methodically kitted themselves out and then returned to the chopper to fetch the sled as they had done together hundreds of times prior. A well-oiled machine. Often too oiled in the case of Begovic, but he'd never let Hamar down yet, despite his penchant for Aquavit.
They got themselves clear of the whirring blades and noise and huddled for their standard pre-rescue talk before approaching the waiting group.
'Apparently, these geniuses waited three hours before calling it in, as they didn't want to get in trouble.'
'Well they're in fucking trouble now', Lump offered.
'Remember, we're here to help, first and foremost.' Begovic tried not to smile at himself.
The pair saluted Hamar and pulled in behind him to ski over to the stricken individuals in a rigid single file formation.
The first snokiter, Maximillian, a typical wannabe kitted out in designer gear, rushed forward.
'He just disappeared, man'. Down there'.
He pointed to the outline of a large crevasse. The Mountain Rescue team knew it well. Despite the warnings, blocked-off area and strict instructions dotted around the resort, once a year someone would gravitate toward it. Hamar knew it intimately. He'd spent nearly three days searching every reachable inch of it looking for his wife.
Hamar moved the worried onlookers away from the edge and gave Lump and Begovic the nod. They quickly formed a rope team and edged forward to allow him a slight drop-in from which to take a look over the edge. As expected, he couldn't see much other than snow. It was coming down now and would probably force any further action on Folarskarnuten. Any later and these bright sparks would have had no way to signal for help.
Hamar approached Lump. At six-seven, two-hundred and twenty pounds, it was like approaching a mountain in itself. He already knew what was coming.
'Yep, I'll take anchor and we'll lower you down slowly'.
'You got it, Lump.'
Lump's real name was Greg McKinley and his nickname was afforded only to the chosen few that he trusted with his life. Woe betides any 'normals', as he referred to them, who tried to use it. A timidly spoken Scotsman, Lump was a slow burner but he'd go off like a firework if he felt slighted by someone outside of his inner circle. Although Hamar had been forced to pull him out of the odd bar brawl or public argument, any personality issues were clearly and literally outweighed by the benefit of having someone of his size on the team. It also meant they could perform four-man rescues with the salary requirements of three.
Once Begovic and Lump were tied on and in position, Hamar clipped himself on to the rope and crept his way toward the crevasse edge. He took a moment to check everyone was ready to take his weight before stepping backward and over the lip.
Deep focus enveloped Hamar as he conscientiously and deliberately lowered himself down into the icy abyss. After the first two meters, the swirling snow stopped and was replaced by a serene darkness. He angled his headlamp and began actively scanning the crevasse walls and layer upon layer of ice shelf for the stricken snokiter.
Hamar had spent nearly three days, consecutively and without a break, scouring the same mountain for Annika eight years previously. He'd even checked this very crevasse upwards of ten times during that frantic search, yet still doubted he'd seen even five percent of the nooks, crannies, rock splinters, ledges or gaping holes she could have ended up in. He didn't think about that now though, only the potentially and probably critically injured party that was counting on him being luckier today.
The sound reverberated and bounced back off the craggy-crystalline blended walls. Hamar caught his foot on an overhang, only for a second but it caused a wobble and threatened to send him into a spin. He crossed his ankles and relaxed every fiber of his being to quickly bring it under control. A spin and detangle could waste precious minutes. Minutes it didn't sound as though they had judging by the agony and fear echoing through that cry.
Half-man, half-cow was how he'd describe the noise if asked later. And pain. A perfect audible rendition of searing pain. It could have easily been their final death throes. He quickened his descent while turning his head to cover as much area in the beam. About another three meters below, Hamar caught a glimpse of blood. Given the spread and pattern of it, a compound leg fracture was probably the minimum he could expect to find suffered by its former owner. He clamped the rope and used his ice picks to pull his body in the direction of where he could see the rest of the victim. They lay motionless, nestled on a ledge with half a foot of solid rock in each direction before the seemingly endless crevasse continued. Fortune had indeed been on their side. If you could call it that.
'Nearly there. I promise.'
Hamar knew from his twenty-two years experience that talking to a victim could often buy you time. If they knew you were coming, they could hold on for minutes, sometimes hours, longer. The human mind could, on occasion, stave off death by willpower alone.
He was against the face of the crevasse now and had precisely lined himself up with a suitable landing spot beside the target. It was then he got his first glimpse at the full extent of the damage. Both arms were perpendicular to the body, face caked with frozen blood, eyes undiscernible under a smashed ski mask. The moans had stopped and the one leg he could see was at a right angle, in the wrong direction.
With both feet on the ledge, Hamar slacked off his rope and set to work. He took the sled off his back and secured it to the wall with a pick.
'Can you hear me?', Hamar asked hopefully rather expectantly.
He checked for a pulse. Affirmative. Despite the loss of blood evidenced by the surrounding claret, they'd put up a hell of a fight for someone he had himself often accused of being spoiled, privileged or lacking in character.
He traced the path of blood back to its origin. The right leg wasn't hidden by snow, or clothing or buried. It was completely missing from below the knee.
Hamar checked around the operational vicinity as if trying to find a lost lego brick or the back of an ear-ring as he considered the feasibility of a leg snapping off completely during a fall. The victim had been down there for over three and a half hours at this point and so the wound had possibly been cauterized by temperature. Hamar didn't have the time, medical supplies or inclination to risk disturbing it further.
Once he'd dragged the patient on the sled, making sure not to overcompensate and lose them both, Hamar decided to set-up a pulley system so that he might actually be able to help Lump and Begovic pull them both up. It wouldn't be the fastest method of retrieval and the victim would have to be left alone, but even with Lump on the other end of the rope, the 'main force' technique whereby a victim is hauled up out of a crevasse by brute force alone was out of the question.
After he'd guided the sled up and over his head and watched it disappear from sight, Hamar stood alone in the frozen guts of Earth. The crippled dam holding back Hamar's dark thoughts finally succumbed to an intoxicating flood of the past and present.
Where did the leg go?
Where did Annika go?March 24, 2018, 3:18 p.m. 0 Report Embed 0
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