As the light increased, Tim realized that this was nowhere he had ever been before. There was no familiar landmark anywhere. He was in high, broken country surrounded by manzanita and scattered junipers. The low hanging clouds kept him from seeing any landmarks he might have recognized, and those clouds seemed to be getting thicker. Without his compass or a view of the sun, he didn’t even know east from west.
He let his campfire burn down. It was time to leave, but he had no idea which direction to go.
How long had he wandered in his dazed condition? More important, how far had he wandered, and in which direction? He might be within a mile of some familiar place, but if he set off in the wrong direction he would only make matters worse.
Tim looked up at the low hanging clouds and began to worry. If it should snow or rain he would be in serious trouble. His poncho – two ounces of flimsy plastic – would have been enough to protect him, but it was gone.
STOP. Stop, think, observe, plan. Tim had learned that phrase in outdoor school as a sixth grader, he had never really thought he would be in a position to use it.
He had certainly stopped and thought. He had observed that this bald knob was no place to find food, water, or shelter. His immediate plan was clear. He would move off downhill. Since he was on the California side of the Sierra Nevadas, any downhill movement would take him westward, which was the direction he wanted to go. If he did not find a familiar landmark, he would at least find a better place to build a survival shelter.
He rose to leave
His right ankle turned beneath him
He cried out as he fell. He took the force of the fall on his shoulder to spare his ankle, but the pain did not go away.
The pain did not go away. It burned on like a hot knife deep into the joint and Tim knew he had not caused all this by a simple misstep. It had to be something he had done in his fall or his semi-conscious wanderings.
He carefully removed his boot and sock. The flesh was pink and swollen, but not sensitive to his touch. The injury, whatever it was, lay deep. Setting his foot down, he bumped it and the pain almost made him faint.
If he had not been in trouble before, he was certainly in trouble now!
His ankle did not seem to be broken, but how could he be sure? Strained, sprained, twisted, or broken – it made little difference, really.
He needed wood for a splint, and for his fire. Now that he could no longer just walk away, that fire had become a matter of life or death once again. Sliding on his back, with his left leg drawn up to hold his right ankle above the ground, he made his way to a nearby dead juniper. Taking his knife, he cut off the stiff lower limbs until he could reach no more, then balanced on his good foot and continued. Every time he made an unguarded move, the pain in his ankle shot through him.
He stripped the tree of branches, then threw them one by one back toward the fire. Then he dragged himself back. Halfway there, a terrible weakness came over him. more tomorrow