APAGear - Volume 5, Number 6 - October 2003

Snowjob: Lioness of the North V1.1

Bryan Lee

Author's Note: This is a rewrite of a prior submission.

"She's going to do what?!"

The look on Elspeths face is priceless. I can't but grin a little as a result while I finish checking my backpack. She was the newest addition to our merry band of Rangers, the most inexperienced and the easiest to shock. A tried and true City Girl, from Innsbruck I think she said, coming up to the wild mountains to live like a Climber for a few years. We get a lot of kids coming up north for a vacation at the end of the school year or they're trying to find themselves. The problem is that most of them have no idea what spending time in a real wilderness entails, thinking that our thick forests and mountains are just a bigger version of the parks that dot the urban landscape. Rael took one group of students into the Huron valley on the south side of Logans Peak two summers ago. He said that they were so scared of the deep forests that they were practically jumping onto him when the wind rustled the trees. It was like that for the entire week. We called folks like that Clingers after that little story. Elspeth isn't quite as bad, although it wouldn't surprise me to find her hugging trees. Of course it also wouldn't surprise me to find her spooked by the first Squeeril that we come across.

"Relax El." Rael says calmly, hardly moving from the bench that he was lying on. Half his face was still covered by that silly hat he likes to wear. Rael, one of the more experienced Rangers in our group, had this amazing ability to fall asleep on any surface, like the personnel bench in the Cargo hold of a Rock Beetle helo. People also had a tendency to mistake him for dead when he was totally flaked out like that. It makes for some funny stories. "This isn't the first time that anyone of us has done this. We were all out on the mountain the week before you arrived."

I can just see her face light up in that confused yet nervous look. The one that someone shows when they realize just how crazy their new co-workers really are. We're not really as crazy as I might make us sound. We just have different ideas of winding down after a long week. Especially when it involves freshly fallen snow.

We were just flying back from a Northern Guard base north of Innsbruck, training with the local Mountain Regiment for a couple of weeks. The idea was simple. The High Command would bring in a bunch of us Climbers and we'd show the Guardsmen something about surviving in the bush and mountain. It was old hand stuff for us but for the Mountain Regiment guys it tended to be a lot of work. Most just thought that we'd be going on a simple little camping trip but that changed after the first 10km route hike up the rocky face of a mountain slope.

I had been listening to the weather reports for the entire week that we were down there. Several days did not look at all too cooperative, too cold and stormy especially at the mountain peak, but the last couple of days were absolutely beautiful. Perfect weather, just as I had hoped. So we altered our flight path a little bit. Just out over the mountains a bit more than the original return flight plan had called for. This was my time to wind down and have some fun.

"Spad!" I yelled into the headset wrapped tightly over my head, hoping to be heard over the noisy engines of our aircraft. "What's the word?"

Spad pilots our Rock Beetle helicopter and he's one of the best bush pilots that I have worked with. "Six minutes to drop point Leonie." He replies. I can almost hear him smiling, he loves flying through mountain ranges. "Weather looks okay, there was another small snowfall last night. You should have fine powder and weather for the next couple of days."

"And the pack that we dropped earlier?" I ask. This was the key part. I was planning to be out here for a couple of days and couldn't take all of my gear with me when I left the aircraft, it would only weigh me down for the first leg of the trip. So we tossed out a large duffel and parachute a little ways back. The hard part would be finding it on the ground, hopefully in one piece, but as Rael said this wasn't the first time that we've done this.

"Transmitters working perfectly. Got a good signal. Just as expected." He radios back.

The signal is good news and I let Spad know without stroking his ego too much. After racing down the mountain, getting in a good dose of skiing, I'd meet up with the pack tonight, use the gear to camp out and make my way over to the Ranger Station in another day or two. A perfect plan.

"But she's going to do this alone?" Elspeth speaks up again. I'm kind of surprised at just how vocal she is about this. She might be new to our team but I would have thought that she would know us a little better.

"Remember how territorial the Mountain Skags are?" Rael says. I can barely see his eyes under that hat. "Well our little Lioness here is just going out to mark her territory."

Spad breaks out laughing. They like to call me Lioness for some reason. I think it was because Rael found out that my name means Lion. "That's not too crude. You make her sound like some kind of animal" Spad adds.

"Are you sure that you don't want to come with me Rael?" I coo in my most alluring voice, hoping to get a rise out of him. "Just imagine you and me together, alone in the wilderness. We may have to cuddle together for warmth."

"I'll pass." He says. To my surprise he actually lifts the hat up and reveals his eyes with a smirk. "Elspeth and I have a hot date tomorrow. We're going to be working on cliff face rescues."

"Elspeth and Rael on a cliff face for the entire day. Lucky girl." Spad says. I can see that I won't be needed for the next couple of days.

"But what about the reports of Skag attacks?" Elspeths voices her concern. The Skag attacks are something that we have to look in on and I thought to take a quick look while I'm out here. It was not unheard of for wild mountain Skags to attack hikers and such. We get several attacks a cycle. Mostly it's hikers or campers just being stupid. We tell them to be careful when in the mountains but they all believe that they know better than us. For some people the best way is to learn through experience. And an occasional attack keeps everyone else in line for a few weeks. Sounds cold of me to say I'm sure but it's the truth. Out here nature makes the rules and if you don't respect them you end up getting yourself or someone else hurt.

"I'm going to be in an area where there's lots of game so I'm not really worried. Besides you know how careful I am." I reply as I sling the rifle over my shoulder. We always carry firearms out here. You just never know when you may have need for some self-defense. It's like I said out here Nature rules.

Spad radios back and tells me that we're getting near the drop point and starts to hover the Rock Beetle. I double check my pack, making sure that everything is where it should be and not dangling loose, and then tug on a pair of thick winter gloves. I pick up my skis and move to the side cargo door, pulling it open with a practiced ease. Elspeth hesitates for a moment as I grab the loop for the winch and then she moves over to the control panel. I take a quick look over at Rael. Maybe I'm just hoping to see Raels hat fly off his head but he holds it tight with one hand while holding himself onto the bench with the other. Damn. It really is an ugly hat.

"Get a move on girl." Rael yells over the wind at El. "Our Lioness doesn't like to be kept waiting." Elspeth looks over to me and I give her a thumbs up as I swing out. The mountain looms beneath me and once again I am held in awe of the imposing pile of rock.

Elspeth starts to lower the line. Prophet, how I've been looking forward this.

To be continued