I remember the cold. I mean there were other things to remember but I remember how cold it was the most. The pain in my hands when shooting my bow or climbing a rope. Being frozen to the core; my whole body ached. It was just unbearable…
It started simple enough. A nearby cave I had seen a year or so earlier when I visited that abandoned mountain town. I peeked into the cave but didn’t go too far in. I feared I’d get lost and I didn’t have any artificial light. I came back with the intention to go through that creepy dark cave. Stumbling around in near darkness for what felt like miles. After a couple of torches and several cuts and bruises I made it out to the other side. The view ahead captivated me, held me prisoner with overwhelming beauty. After some time had passed, I snapped out of my polar trance and made my way out and down the edge of a rock face.
I walked around for most of the day collecting various natural resources. There were an abundance of rosehips in the area and I was thankful to have them. The surrounding landscape was a beautiful but rather dangerous place. Night fell on my first day and I stopped to make camp. I’d packed quite a bit of cloth so I could make several snow shelters. If the backcountry of that town taught me anything, it was to be self reliant on my own shelter. The snow shelter is an old bush pilot survival technique they teach you for if you are ever stranded after a crash, or other unfortunate event.
Morning broke, and it broke icy cold. I knocked the snow away from the the opening of my shelter and had a bit of breakfast. Venison I made especially for the trip, a few thawed cattail stalks, and some water. Time to go! I was feeling great and in good spirits today. Shortly after breakfast I was hounded by a pair of skinny looking wolves. They looked like they were starving and my guess was due to the layout and the environment, there wasn’t much food here. I sorta felt sorry for them but they were a threat. So I baited one with a venison steak and shot an arrow over his head, taking his friend out. Reload and eliminated the other approaching wolf just before he got to the bait. I collected a bit of food; who knows how much I’ll have access to later.
Most of the day was spent traversing snow drifts, branches, and iced-over ponds. Finally, a very difficult climbing section. Someone left a rope so after checking it thoroughly, I used up every last bit of energy to struggle to the top, and collapsed in a nearby cave for the night. I was so tired from trudging along all day I didn’t even eat anything, just had some water and slept for a long time. I awoke the next morning surprised I wasn’t frozen. The bearskin bedroll I made for this trip was paying off as it was nice and warm. As I lay there I daydreamed of hotels, hot showers, clean clothes, and room service. You don’t even realize how much you miss it when you take it all for granted. Guilty as charged I guess. As a bush pilot I flew people all over Canada and the States. I stayed in some great hotels and B&Bs. Ah well, back to reality and this cold, dark cave…
After breaking down camp, I had a few more cattail stalks and bit of dry venison. It kinda tasted what I imagine cardboard tastes like. My rambling thoughts brought me to yet another climbing area, and again (luckily) a rope was still attached. Were there others in the area? I’d seen what looked like smoke from a cliff earlier in the day yesterday but chalked it up to seeing things. My eyes were sore from the fight against the snow blindness.
I sized up the climb ahead and made quick work of it. At the top, my small victory was penalized by a hungry wolf that had waited until I cleared the top to ambush me. I got my licks in, as did he, and then we retreated to our corners. I rested and healed up between a downed tree and a rock face that created a small wind break.
I had a small lunch and explored for a few hours. Found more cattail and a load more rosehips. Had a seat on a downed tree while I processed my gathered goods then noticed a strange looking cave. Upon closer inspection it seemed to be lit up… naturally. Before I went in I dropped a few cattails in an arrangement to mark my entrance point. Everything is starting to look the same around here or maybe I’m just losing it.
Inside the cave there was a dim glow up ahead but not enough to see. I lit one of my new torches I had prepared for this trip and moved on, deeper into the cavern. A good 20 or 30 minutes later and found the light source of the cave. An eerily blueish green glowing moss looking plant covered the cave walls. It was amazing! Soon after I left the main branch of the cave I found a small ledge and part of an old chain connected to a piton somewhere in the darkness above me. I threw my torch off the ledge and it fell down below, sparks flew about and in that instant I could have sworn I saw a pair of beady eyes and a flash of something run off down a cave tunnel below.
Hesitantly, I grabbed the chain and worked my way down toward my torch at the bottom. The clink from the chain seemed to echo all over the cave. I retrieved my torch and gingerly edged toward the cave I thought I saw something run into earlier.
Just then, a wolf flew through the air and tackled me to the ground! My torch flew into a rock and almost died out. The wolf was so huge that I thought it was a small black bear at first. I swiftly brought my arm up to protect myself long enough to reach for a weapon and the wolf took that opportunity and bit down hard. I countered that by slipping my knife out of its sheath and guided it into the ribs of the beast, stabbing him almost a dozen times. The wolf made an ear piercing scream of agony jumped off of me and limped into the tunnel. My forearm and clothing were bloody and tattered. I felt sick instantly and the pain was so bad I almost passed out. I needed my medical kit and now! After lighting one of my emergency flares and patching myself up, I then sewed both my clothes and my forearm up. I decided I’d had enough of this cave. I set off down the tunnel only to find my fluffy friend had bled out about a few hundred feet down the branch. Touché wolf, but I win this round. Ahead lay the daylit path and I exited the tunnel.
I travelled along a set of tracks I think were made by a black bear or maybe the wolf from earlier, I wasn’t really sure. I had followed them until dusk but no sign of anything. Surveying the area ahead, it was clear my way out was a perilous and tough climb. I had to go down into a lakebed and climb up the other side, then another climb up to a ledge far above me. For a few seconds, only briefly, I felt like I could just give up. I’ve been in this headspace before but I’m not throwing in the towel just yet. Night fell quicker than I realized so I retreated to a secluded clearing nearby to stay the night.
Morning broke and I was ready to go. Scarfed down a dozen or so cattails and washed it down with ice cold water. I took off at a quick pace but stopped in my tracks. What was that noise? It sounds like it’s tearing the forest apart. I peeked round a tree and about 25 yards ahead of me was that bear. The one from yesterday? I started to think about camp last night and how lucky I was to wake up at all this morning. A hundred different scenarios ran through my mind. I had to shut it off and shut it out. I had to concentrate! He didn’t seem to see me but he definitely had a scent he was following. I wasn’t sticking around to find out what it was either.
By backtracking as fast as I could go the way I came and swinging back around in a wide semicircle I gave the bear a wide berth. This cost almost an extra hour but I’d rather not go toe to paw with a hungry black bear, as that would not end well.
The climb down went without any drama, however, I couldn’t say the same thing about the poor soul at the bottom. He looked like he might have fallen from above, causing an avalanche which buried him? There were no signs he’d been attacked, but it was clear he froze to death. I’ve seen my share of broken bones before and his left femur was shattered, so he wasn’t getting out of this riverbed by himself. Getting up the other side and out of the ravine riverbed went about as good as you’d expect. I was tired and my hands were calloused, some starting to bleed. I said my goodbyes to the bear and the ravine and got to the ledge climb but once I got there I wished I hadn’t. The climb was over twice the distance I’ve seen around here before. I stared at the dangling deteriorated rope and then looked up. I really wasn’t sure how safe this was going to be. There were a couple of small ledges I might be able to rest on and then I could maybe get to the top but the climb was just extraordinary. It might take all day! This was seriously starting to worry me. What if the rope breaks? What if I fall from from exhaustion? I’d surely end up like the fella in the riverbed, or worse if that’s even possible.
A few deep breaths and I went for it. I started climbing but about a quarter of the way up, my arms started burning. I hit the first ledge hurting and out of breath. My hands burned and the skin was all but gone. There was blood on the rope too. I Took a few minutes and went at it again but just past the halfway point I had to stop again on the second ledge. I just barely caught that ledge, and it’s a good thing too. At this height, I’d surely die. I may be in over my head but right now I have to rest. I fell back onto the snow covered ledge. I remember thousands of thoughts all at once and then I blacked out for some time. I woke up around dusk as the gale force winds started to blow, pushing the temperature well below zero. I had to move now or risk being stuck here all night and that, might very well be, my death sentence.
I went for the last bit. I fought back the cold, the pain, and the fear and at last, I pulled my exhausted body over the ledge. I’d made it! I choked back the pain and the tears as I couldn’t believe I made it with a seventy pound pack on my back. My body was frozen from the snow and constant bone chilling wind. Hypothermia was starting to set in and I knew it. I knew it all too well. I’d fought that off about a year ago in the basin of that mountain town. I was all but paralyzed from the brutal climb. I was done, I didnt wanna move, I just wanted to let go… A quick glance around nearby revealed what looked like a small cave to the right, but I couldn’t be sure between the dark and the heavy snowfall. I mustered up every ounce of everything left and with one final push, I crawled into the cave and collapsed. My mind drifted to different parts of unconscious thought. I think I was dreaming the same predicament I was actually in at one point, then, blackness…
I was awoken by birds and light that penetrated my damp, dark cave. My hands were destroyed from the climb, I stood up, but pain in my right ankle almost brought me back to my knees. I made a couple rosehips teas to help ease the pain throughout my wrecked and worn body, then collected my gear and started out of the cave, only to see that curious smoke I thought I’d seen earlier. Was it real? Were there others? I went left and walked as fast as my broken down body would allow. I had rosehip tea for breakfast and it wasn’t as good as the mouthful of ibuprofen I remember taking before, whatever, happened.
The source of the smoke was indeed a signal fire, however, from the sight of things it looked like something else got here first. The snow shelter was ruined, supplies were scattered about, and a nearby backpack was shredded. A Bear? A Mountain Lion? What the hell happened here? I found the owner of the camp several feet away. It looked like he was dragged and then dropped out here. His injuries were severe and there were claw marks on his clothes and body consistent with the ones on the backpack. I policed the scene for anything useful.
A few dented cans of food and a pack of some sort made out of an unknown animal hung in a tree. Packing the goods up in the new pack and heading out, I heard wolves howling somewhere below me, and it was time to get going. I went back the way I came, passing up my cave motel and I walked for a mile or so in what reminded me of a canyon. Rock walls rose up on both sides several stories high and ahead I found myself at a dead end. Sharp bramble like dead bushes stood between me and what looked like very familiar territory ahead. Excitedly, I pulled out my hatchet and after 15 minutes or so I’d cut a path through nature’s roadblock but not without it taking its own toll on my bloody beat up hands. A second look around revealed the same landmarks that I saw when I first entered the area. I’d made it! I tossed my pack down the rocky slope that separated me from freedom and snaked my way down, picked up my pack and headed toward the cave. One last look around as I wrestled with my thoughts. I almost died but weren’t these views worth it? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Maybe I was just lucky enough not to die this time.
I made my way back through the cave system and took refuge in the nearby church in the backcountry of town. I took the rest of the evening to reflect on the harrowing and punishing adventure I’d had. Close calls, wild animals, and beautiful views. Pushing my body beyond its limits in pursuit of survival, at any cost. The strange smoke and what happened at the mysterious campsite. Visit The Hushed River Valley and see for yourself. As for me, I’ll see you again, in the quiet apocalypse!
This is a short story that briefly describes my time in the new region, Hushed River Valley, added to The Long Dark in the Vigilant Flame update. Some items/descriptions were added or changed in pursuit of a more detailed and descriptive story. I appreciate you taking time to read my story and hope it inspires you to keep on surviving and adventuring.
My sincere and heartfelt thanks to Hinterland Studios (@HinterlandGames) & (@IntoTheLongDark) for such a beautifully crafted and consistently updated game. I don’t take your hard work for granted and eagerly look forward to more content in the future. Another big thanks to a dear friend, Shelby (@Official_FGR) for editing, assisting in publishing, and the positive influence to keep writing. Until next time!
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