Vo l . 7 N o . 1 Now it seemed that a wrong move might be my last. I’d never heard of a snow-buried person being able to tunnel out. I pictured myself suffocating right here 400 yards from the lodge. And while part of me knew that one day I will have to say goodbye to life, viscerally I wasn’t ready to chance dying here, today. I didn’t want the worst to happen to Bill, either, who bought me my first hiking boots and has walked this life with me. Nor to my mother, who climbed this mountain a decade before I was born, and now depends on me. I would call for rescue. A chest flutter subsided. No time to wish my cell phone were around my neck; I had to fish it out from my jacket. My thick glove had to come off my right hand. I reached over to my dangling left hand and used just those fingers to quietly tease off and hold the glove I might still need. Urgency and delicacy fought each other, but at least now I had something to do. I eased the phone Water Spirit out with my free right hand without moving any other part of my body. I pressed the emergency button on the back. I didn’t know what this button was supposed to do. Maybe it was something I should have set up. I opened the clamshell and tried to see the tiny dark keys—the streaked, bulky goggles had to go. I pulled outward against the stretchy band so as to clear my glasses and lodged the goggles atop my hat. Now I could see the keypad, but only for a moment before white flakes found it. I wiped and punched 9-1-1. Nothing. My tense calm disintegrated. A second and third try. Put it up to your ear, Jean! “Clackamas County 9-1-1. Where are you?” I had been down maybe four minutes, in mental overload, and I grabbed at the lifeline of this woman’s voice. My words came fast. “I’m on Mt. Hood snowshoeing, near Timberline Lodge, and the snow has given way and I’ve fallen into a large crack.” “What county are you in?” I blinked. What county? I wasn’t a local. “I don’t know. I’m at Timberline Lodge!” Fairly shouting, sure this would tell her everything. But evidently she didn’t know historic Timberline Lodge, the turn at Government Camp off Oregon Highway
97 26. Or maybe she heard “timber line”—tree line—and not the lodge part. “Well, the mountain is split between two counties and I need to know because they have different sheriff and search and rescue operations. Are you over by Mt. Hood Meadows by any chance?” I boggled. That was miles away, on another road. “No! I’m . . . I’m so close to Timberline Lodge, if you call them they can find me. I’m on their snowshoe trail.” “Is this an avalanche situation?” Her serious tone settled me a bit. “Yes! . . . Sort of.” What did I know? I didn’t want to overstate this. What made me so conscientious even while frightened? But aren’t avalanches those spectacular movies showing tons of cascading snow sending up fluffy plumes while running like a train to the bottom of a long chute? This slab had arrested itself. So far, anyway. It was no movie. I had never been to an avalanche awareness class, figuring a nonJennifer Andrulli adventurer has no need for one. But I’d been schooled in the last few minutes—the movement of a broad, deep, soft slab of snow is unpredictable, dangerous. “I’m below the surface,” I continued. “The crack I’ve fallen into is unstable--it’s already moved a second time. I’m worried it’ll tumble.“ “Hold on, I’ll call them. Stay on the line. Also, do you have any health issues?” I was warming toward her, my safety net, though I wanted her to hurry. “No, just arthritis and I’m in a bad position with one foot way up and one down.” And, “My jacket is blue, and my elbow is still showing.” I was thankful for every pore in its non-stick shell. She hadn’t given her name, or had she? Her inflections sounded like mine, Oregon-bred, perhaps in her thirties with a hint of fatigue—I’d bet she had kids at home. I waited, on hold and holding on, delicately pressing the snow lip—with a slight tug toward me, as though I could keep the slab from slipping away—and just enough downward pressure to hold me up. My gloveless hand got cold, my hip was close to cramping. By the delay, I knew she wasn’t getting through yet.