Chapter 21 ~ Matt Get’s Lost
Matt slung his backpack over his shoulders and opened the cabin door. He searched the campground for park rangers, He didn’t see anyone. He closed the door and headed for the trailhead. Entry to the trailhead was closed by a single metal pole gate stretching across the trail. A sign was posted to the right of the gate.
Indian Trail is Closed Until Further Notice
The Trail Is UNSAFE due to the frequent sightings
of black bears and mountain lions
Matt looked back and saw Larry paddling a canoe to the raft. Jane was frantically waving to Larry, urging him to hurry. Matt looked toward the Ranger station next to the registration house. He saw a jeep, but no Ranger. He swiftly ducked under the metal trailhead bar. He caught his shirt on a metal barb on the pole and heard it tear. He freed himself from the barb, and felt his shirt with his hand. There was a tear. He shrugged and headed up the trail.
Matt walked Twenty yards and the trail narrowed. He was swallowed up into a tall pine forest. The trail veered sharply to the right and a steep climb before turning into switchbacks. Matt stood in the middle of the first switchback and let his eyes follow the zig zagging trail up the side of the mountain. He followed the switchbacks until they ended and opened to a beautiful still deep blue lake. Matt, climbed on top of a large boulder near the edge of the lake and stared it. He’d never seen water so still. A small family of ducks were close by at the water’s edge. He heard a cacophony of frogs come to life. And, on the other side of the lake four elk were walking in single file away from the lake. Matt wished for a moment he could tell Brad and his mom about these things, but he knew, he’d be in big trouble.
Matt slid down off the boulder and followed the trail around the east end of the lake before turning back into a grove of aspen trees. He jumped when he heard rustling in the underbrush. He froze, not daring to move. When he saw a squirrel run out, Matt laughed and called to squirrel, “You won’t fool me next time.”
Matt kept his eyes on the trail looking for arrowheads, or other artifacts he might take back with him. He turned where the trail turned. He scrambled up over rocks when the trail took a short steep climb. At the top of another slope he spotted another sign. It was wooden. The words were gouged into the sign. It read:
Elevation 7,450 feet
Indian Trail – 4.1 miles to Indian Lake – >>>
<<< – Strong Summit – 12,300 feet, 5.4 miles
Matt regarded the sign, he’d never been to a mountain summit before. He calculated the distance, 10.8 miles counting the return trip. He’d have to climb nearly another 5,000 feet to reach the summit. The trail toward the summit looked like more hikers took it. It was well worn. The trail toward Indian lake was a simple narrow path that disappeared into a steep upgrade fifty yards further up the trail.
He took off his backpack, he reached into it to check the time on his iPhone. He couldn’t find it. He sighed when he remembered he left it on his cot. He was too excited when he left. He looked for the angle of the sun. It wasn’t overhead, so it was still morning. He thought of his mom and Brad. They were probably still at the coffee shop. He decided to continue up Indian Trail for a little while, then he’d turn back.
When Matt turned onto the steep upgrade, he heard the sound of an animal crying and a ferocious growling. He froze. He was sure it was a mountain lion attacking its prey. Was it a deer? A coyote? Or, some other animal the mountain lion killed, Matt wondered. He stood still and listened to the life and death struggle taking place.
He told himself he should have listened to his mom. He heard another sound of crashing through the brush. Matt panicked. He turned and ran through the brush away from the noise, His mind told him he could turn to the right and pick up the trail back to Big Elk. He ran down the slope, jumping over fallen trees. He tripped on a branch. He fell to his knees, bracing himself with his hands. He looked at his knees, both were skinned and bloody. He took off his t-shirt and wiped the blood and dirt of his skinned knees. He stuffed his t-shirt into his backpack, stood up, and continued to run down the side of the mountain.
Twenty minutes later, Matt stopped. He still hadn’t reached the trail. He looked up through the aspen trees to find the sun. He couldn’t see it. He set his backpack down, opened it, and took out a bottle of water. He drank half the bottle, put the top on and placed it back in his backpack. He glared at the lone orange and decided he’d wait to eat it.
Matt knew he’d been climbing further and further up the side of the mountain, so he figured if he couldn’t find the trail, he could walk down the side of the mountain and it would take him to the bottom right near the lake. He no longer ran, he walked on for two hours and he hadn’t crossed a trail or come to the bottom of the mountain. Twice he thought he saw places that looked familiar.
Matt knew by the shadows, it was afternoon. His thoughts were about how mad his mom was going to be. He knew he was in for it when he got back. He sat down, opened his backpack and pulled out his orange. He peeled it and ate it one section at time. He heard sounds in the thicket behind him. He reached into his backpack and pulled out the knife his dad gave him.
He set the knife down by his feet, closed up the backpack, put it on his shoulders, picked up the knife and began to walk. He gripped the knife tightly in his right hand. “Hello, hello, anybody?” he called time and again.
The only answer he received was his echo.
It wasn’t much longer before Matt yelped with joy, he was on the trail. He’d be back in time for dinner. He’d only have to say he was sorry and he was wrong and it wouldn’t happen again, he’d promise. Matt, stopped, set his backpack down, and opened it. He pulled out the half full bottle of water and drank the remainder. He put the empty bottle in his backpack and resumed walking.
Matt didn’t have a care in the world until he saw a mountain lion sixty yards ahead dragging a deer carcass across the trail. Matt froze. His eyes bulged. He’d never seen a wild, ferocious animal in the wild. He seen them in zoos. The mountain lion let go of the deer carcass, turned and stared, blood dripping from his teeth. It let out a deep low growl.
Matt knew he shouldn’t run, but that’s what he did. He couldn’t help himself. He bolted into the brush on the side of the trail and ran. He didn’t know if the mountain lion was chasing him, he wasn’t about to stop to find out. He thought he heard crashing sounds behind him.
Suddenly, Matt found himself falling over the edge of a precipice. He threw out his arms, hoping his hands could grab hold of something to stop his fall. His left hand found a bush and he grabbed hold. His descent stopped. He looked down toward his feet and saw they were hanging over the edge of a cliff. Matt twisted around and put both hands on the bush and pulled himself up to a small ledge, no more than two feet wide. Matt rolled onto the ledge and lied there, trying to catch his breath. He turned and looked above him and saw the mountain lion looking down at him.