I sat at the bottom of the ravine in a daze. Blood trickled from my nose and my left hand sported bright blotches of red as well. The only positives to falling were that one, I landed exactly where my flashlight had come to a halt, and two, I hadn’t slid into the river. Rising to my feet, I noticed that nothing appeared to be broken and that the blood on my left hand was coming from surface level lacerations suffered in the slide. Even though I desperately needed my gloves, I couldn’t see them anywhere in sight, so I would sinp,y have to do without for the time being. Still dazed from the fall, I immediately started trying to climb back up to Ted. I headed perpendicular to the area I had slid down and climbed about 5 meters up until arriving at the base of an ice-covered rock wall. I could see the ridge only 2 meters above, but it would require a bit of tricky hand and footwork to reach it. In dry conditions in daylight it would have been a non-issue but I was gambling with my life. Even one small mistake here, and I’d take an even nastier tumble that I’d just experienced. Wisely, I looked for another option. Spying a fallen tree that spanned the entire length of the ravine, I inched my way over towards it before losing my grip and sliding once again on the rocks. Fortunately I only slid two meters bef0re coming to a halt. A few steps further and downward I slid again. If I didn’t find a way out of this ravine it would be game over.
Looking a short distance down the ravine, I spied a tree clinging tightly to the rock face. I had no idea if it would hold my weight but I had no other options. All I needed were two strong footholds. Bracing my left leg against the ledge I was standing on, I stretched my right foot out and found a foothold. Counting to 3, I forced all of my weight on my right foot and let my momentum do the rest. I grabbed the tree trunk with my bare left hand, swinging up until both feet hit snow. Next, I simply extended my right hand upwards until it meet the next tree branch. By now I had already lost feeling in both hands but was pushed on by the unseen force of survival. I climbed in silence, reaching the base of Ted’s feet a few minutes later. Ted had lost a lot of body heat waiting for me to emerge from the abyss, so he was anxious to get a move on. After a quick examination of my facial injuries, Ted continued climbing towards the ridge while I attended to my hands. I reached in my pack and pulled out my down jacket. Taking off my wet outer later, I put the down on over my fleece and immediately zipped my outer layer on top. Pulling out two kairo heating pads from my pack, I grasped one in each hand while sliding my fists inside the sleeves of my down jacket, and winched the flaps of my rain jacket tightly to create a vacuum. Even though I’d have no more use of my fingers at least they were out of the elements. Ted and I continued our slow climb towards higher ground. We’d grab onto a tree, hoist ourselves up, and collapse to catch our breath after every vertical meter of height gained. The snow continued to fall in heavy sheets, adding to our woes. Because my hands were essentially immobile, I wrapped my forearms around the tree branches for extra grip in my best imitation of an ancestral mountain gorilla. Step by step, meter by meter, the two of advanced higher and higher above the valley floor, eventually topping out on a ridge.
“Look, there are red tape marks here,” blurted Ted. We had found our ridge trail for the third time that fateful day. Nearby we spotted a concrete survey marker with the number 74 written on it. I fished out the cell phone and immediately called my friend Mike in Kyoto, who was expecting us for dinner. “We’re lost on the mountain,” I explained, “call the police”. After hanging up, I noticed that the clock read 9pm. Time flies when you’re fighting for your life.
Mike discerned some information on our whereabouts through a series of e-mail messages, while Ted and I started gathering kindling. Even though there was a blizzard, making a fire was our best chance of surviving, since we were both soaked from sweat and from our mindless dip in the river. Rummaging through our supplies, I tossed the guidebook over to Ted so he could start tearing it apart. “Do you mind where I start tearing from,” questioned my companion, mindful even in the most dire of times. “Best start from the back,” I returned, knowing that if we had to burn the entire thing at least I’d have the guidebook cover to have as a keepsake.
Ted tried in vain to get the fire going. The waterproof matches were fine. The worn out striker was the problem. Add a lighter to my growing list of essentials for future hiking trips, if we make it out of this alive. After several minutes we gave up completely, deciding once and for all that we would need to find a way off that mountain. Suddenly, as if on cue, both of us saw a series of glowing lights on the adjacent ridge. To me, it looked like a subdivisi0n of rustic retreats built by rich executives in Osaka. To Ted, they appeared as a series of headlights. Perhaps the cops had gotten word and had sent their four-wheel drive vehicles up the forest roads. “Tasukete“, screamed Ted, as I blew loudly into my emergency whistle that I had somehow slipped around my neck during this ordeal. Our calls for help went unanswered, as we both came to the realization that we were victim to a wicked optical illusion. Yes, those were lights that we were seeing, but they were down in Takashima city on the shores of Lake Biwa, nearly 30 kilometers away. At least we knew which direction was east now, since my compass had completely cracked and froze in the tumble.
A short time later, my phone rang. It was the cops, informing me that I needed to call 119 if we really needed rescue. Hanging up the phone, I put out the distress call. The operator was expecting my call, and asked me for my GPS location. Ted’s smart phone had died hours ago, so we had no access to coordinates. “Survey marker #74″, I answered, knowing that the information would be as useful to her as telling her I was on planet earth. The operator informed me that the earliest they could send someone was daybreak, and that we should stay in cell phone range and wait until the morning for rescue. Thanking her, I hung up the phone and broke the news to Ted.