Battle on the Mountain
The mountain path crumbled and gave way . Nick's feet slid out from under him. He fell over the side of Mount Carter. Rocks tore at his clothes. The trees in the valley below spun like a pinwheel .
He was going to die.
Something hit him in the stomach with terrific force. Everything went black.
Nick! his sister, Anne, called.
Nick! she called again.
Yeah, he answered, finally.
Are you all right?
He tested his arms and legs. He expected to feel the crunch of broken bones. But everything moved normally. He tasted blood in his mouth from a broken tooth. He had fallen onto a narrow ledge .
I'm OK, he called.
He inched forward and looked over the side of the ledge. The mountain dropped straight down. He felt dizzy, as if he were falling over the side. He moved away and waited a moment. Then he sat up and leaned against the cliff. He saw Anne's head about fifteen feet above him.
Nick, I'm going back to camp to get Dad, she called.
Wait! He looked at his watch. It was noon. They had hiked for four hours. It would take Anne that long to get back to camp. It would take them four more hours to return. By that time it would be too dark to climb up.
He looked at the sky. Storm clouds hung low in the west. It would rain.Maybe even snow. He had to get off right away.
Nick studied the rock face of cliff. He searched for cracks that he could grip with his toes and fingers. He noticed veins of cracks in the granite running up in a straight line. Then they moved to the left, toward firm ground.
I'm going to climb, he said finally.
He glared at her. "See those clouds, Anne? I can't stay here during a storm. The wind could blow me off."
But Dad will -
Dad is eight hours away, round trip , he said. The calmness in his voice startled him.
He looked near the top. The last ten feet of the climb was out over the valley floor. There would be no ledge to protect him if he fell.
Nick took off his jacket, socks, and boots. He gazed upward, rubbing his hands together. A handhold started just above his head. He gripped it with his fingers. Pushing his foot into a toehold , he pulled himself up off the ledge. The granite was rough. The skin on his fingers and feet scraped and tore. He ignored his stinging flesh and groped his way up.
Remember what Dad told you about rock climbing, he told himself.Hug the mountain. Don't look down. Think only about the next step.
He scraped his cheek. The broken tooth began to throb .
He looked up and saw a piece of green moss. It marked the point where he should move left. He shivered. The air was colder. The breeze was stiffer. The storm gathered around him.
Calm. Stay calm. Go slow.
The wind whipped at his back and urged him to hurry. Where was that piece of moss? He looked around slowly. Oh, no! He had climbed too high. The moss marker was below him. He would have to go back down.
Up wasn't too bad. He could see every handhold. But he wasn't good enough to climb down. Sweat ran down his back. He hugged the cliff.
Maybe I should keep going straight up. No, it's too dangerous. The path might crumble again under my weight.
He couldn't chance it. He had to climb toward Anne.
He pictured the last foothold below him. Then he lowered himself. His foot found the crack. He dug in his toe and crawled down.
Foot by foot. Grope. Grip. Lower.
He spotted the moss marker and breathed a sigh of relief. Slowly his hand inched out and grabbed a narrow crack. He climbed out over the valley floor. The granite was speckling with fat, cold raindrops.
Toehold. Fingerhold. Up.
Rain trickled down his face like tears. He was close now. The wind whipped at his back.
Nick! Anne called. "You're almost there!"
He looked up. Less than three feet separated him from his sister - and safety. His left hand inched across the granite. He found a crack and gripped it. His right foot sought a crack. A depression . Anything.
Nothing. He desperately searched the cliff. There. A toehold. To the left.
He clenched his teeth and felt a sharp stab from the broken tooth. He moved his left foot toward the new toehold.
Over. Over. Closer. His right fingers slipped, just slightly. He was off balance. He held his breath and reached again.
Almost there. Got it! His left hand reached up - and felt nothing but air.He was over the top!
Anne pulled at his shoulders. Nick threw himself over the edge. He lay on his back. The storm rains pounded onto his face. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
He had won. Somehow he had beaten the mountain.