A night on the ledge. (a little drifty in the head this story at the moment, not sure where I am taking it, may change considerably yet – first draft only, unedited)
Many years have passed since Megan Corey led a life of global adventure; some say she is just as adventurous today, rock climbing on a weekly basis at either the quartzite crags of Mt Arapiles, or the sandstone faces of the Grampians. Guiding young enthusiastic rock climbers out on their first climbs, she leads by example, with her ethics to life, living, and the environment; to leave no sign or trace behind.
Today, the Sun has set, and shadows long gone, here on a verandah a dozen or so kilometres outside of Horsham a small gathering has come together on a property close to Megan’s heart.
“Aunty, tell us a story about one of your adventures,” comes a young voice from near the door.
“You must have heard all of my adventure stories by now, Andrew,” replies Megan.
“Yes Aunty, tell us a story, perhaps one with Jack in it, please?” Naomi asks looking up Megan in her chair from the floor of the verandah.
Megan feels a slight welling up inside as she begins to recollect the times she would bump into Jack at the most opportune of moments. The gathering of Megan’s nieces and nephews and their families all move in closer to listen, as Megan pauses for a moment and wipes a small tear from her eye.
“Have I ever told you about the time when I spent a whole night stuck on 2 foot ledge on Yucatan Peninsula, while Jack was in disposed by some interesting armed bandits?” responds Megan to Naomi’s question.
“Aunt Megan, I thought I have heard all your stories, but this one sounds new,” replies an older nephew, James.
“Thanks James, now where to start,” says Megan as she ponders for a moment.
I was in Ecuador at the time when I got a call from Melbourne asking me to fly to Mexico, and that a ticket with information would be waiting for me at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport in the morning. So I packed my gear, I had only been there a week on my holiday, and my Ecuadorian friend was sad to see me leave so soon, as we were preparing to go climbing the following week. But, I soon assured her that I’ll be back as soon as I can, and that I will only be about 5 days. The next morning she gave me a lift to the airport, and with a parting kiss, and a long hug I was off, on another new adventure.
What a time to be in Mexico, currently spring, and flying into Mexico City there is always so much time lost just trying to get away from the terminal. While waiting in a long line for a taxi, a voice from behind me echoed in my ears.
“Hey colourful stranger, need a lift?” came a voice from past encounters.
I turned to find Jack standing a few metres away looking down and smiling. How does he do that, spot me in a crowd of people, and then let me choose a response.
“Sorry, of topic there, back to the story,” says Megan.
Stepping out of the line Megan walks over to Jack, luggage in tow. “What’s dragged you away from your usual spring break of climbing in Spain, Jack,” asks Megan, knowing he is probably here for the same thing she is, just a little different.
“Well, you already know the answer to that one, that freak earthquake two weeks ago in the south-west of the Yucatan has developed into an interesting new rift land formation, now a couple of hundred metres in height,” responds Jack, as he pulls a map, photographs, and a preliminary report from his pack sitting on the ground.
“I know, a professor back in Melbourne has asked me to see if I can collect some samples, in particular, from a section of the new formation that seems to be an unusual form of rock,” explains Megan, while taking her pack off the luggage trolley.
“Where do you need a lift to then,” asks Jack?
“I need to get to my motel, as the university has organised me a hire car from there,” replies Megan.
“I meant air lift down to the site, Toby and Andes here are giving me a ride to the heliport right now,” responds Jack while pointing to Toby and Andes a few metres away. “You do know that they are only letting essential logistics traffic, and medical services in and out by road, a helicopter is the only other option,” says Jack, as he thinks, that university has left Megan short on budget and information again.
Megan leaps at the offer, “Sure, a helicopter ride sounds just the trick, are Toby and Andes coming too?”
“No, they have to coordinate some work here for the next week or so,” replies Jack.
The packs are loaded into the back of the van and then Megan, Jack, Toby and Andes set off to the heliport to board a commercial converted Black Hawk for the flight to the devastated Yucatan area. Toby and Andes return to the city.
30 minutes into the flight and the aftermath of the quake starts to be noticeable, collapsed houses, broken roads and rail lines, automotive pile-ups, and many people in camps on the side of roads.
Megan, about another hour before we get to your site based on those GPS coordinates you gave Tim up front,” say Jack into the mic on his headset. Megan gives a thumbs up, smiles and goes back to looking out of the door.
“You know, Jack, this beats the hell out of driving down there, thank you,” says Megan into her mic. Jack just laughs, and checks in with the pilot.
Soon the Black Hawk arrives at the remote location from the GPS coordinates where what looks to be a 200-metre continuous rocky crag stretching for miles into the forests of Central America.
“You’re going to have rope in, there no suitable landing spots, and we need to get these supplies we have to the medi-vac centre,” Tim calls over the headset.
“Okay,” responds Jack putting the packs out first. “Megan you right to go,” asks Jack. Megan hooks up and is on her way to the ground below, Jack follows. Then from out of nowhere, a gust of wind catches Tim and the helicopter off guard launching Jack off the end of the rope into flight out over the 200m drop. Megan catches what’s going down and dives to catch Jack by the arms as his back slams into the cliff face.
“Cheers Megan, needed those extra pair of hands, just let me turn around, and help us up,” Jack says as he gasps for a little air.
“All good, Jack, I know you would do the same for me,” Megan responds with a smile.
Soon Jack is back up on top with both feet on the ground, they wave Tim off, that all is okay.
“Jack, your back is bleeding,” announces Megan.
“It’s okay, the kit is in the top of my pack,” Jack says as he removes his shirt to survey the damage.
Hey, how long have you had that for,” cracks Megan with her question?
“Had what for?” Jack says with in trepidation.
“That tall ship sailing through what looks like red desert dunes, with the giant eye and teardrop on your back, that’s what,” responds Megan.
“Oh that, it is a bit of a long story, but one I might tell you later,” Jack replies with a small laugh.
Soon Jack is all patched up, and is in a new shirt. They do a reconnaissance of the area before setting up camp away from the edge, by now the day has gotten on so they settle down to watch the sunset, and have some dinner before a big day tomorrow. Hours pass and soon sleep sets in for both Jack and Megan.
“No, no, no, help!” yells Jack, waking up in a cold sweat. Megan wakes abruptly.
“What’s going on Jack!?” Megan asks, knowing Jack has had nightmares like this before and passed it off as just a bad dream.
“You’ve asked me that before, do you really want to know,” Jack asks back, not smiling not happy?
“Yes Jack, spill it,” Megan says in a frustrated voice.
“Okay then, back for what now seems so long ago, that sometimes feels like yesterday, I was 16 at the time. We, as in my family were climbing in Yosemite, I lead the climb out setting up cams as I progressed. I got 2 thirds of the way up and locked off to wait for my mother. Just as she was coming up past the first cam, which I placed at 15m instead of every couple like I had told too, just not thinking. It gave way, my mother fell slamming into the rock face, six months later mum died of complications. My father never forgave me then, or now. I carry the nightmare with me wherever I go. It is a daily thing, most days are better than some, and the responsibility I feel, it never goes away,” Jack tells his story.
Wow, what can I say, I have never been where you have been in that situation, it must be devastating,” Megan says softly.
“Right now, not a lot anyone can say, it is the past, and for the moment, I just want to sleep, see what the light brings in the morning,” says Jack.
“Good night then, Jack,” Megan responds.
Morning breaks on the new plateau, Jack has been up for a hour cooking breakfast. Megan catches the scent it, and crawls out of her swag.
“How long have you been up for,” asks Megan?
“Long enough that it’s time to eat,” says Jack with a smile. “About last night,” Jack says.
“Don’t worry about it, I won’t push for answers,” Megan responds.
“Okay, thanks, let’s finish breakfast and then see if we can find that coordinate location of yours,” says Jack as he hands Megan a plate of hot food.
Megan and Jack finish breakfast, to gather up their gear and set out to find the location of the strange rock formation half a kilometre away noted in the preliminary report. The way is tough going, but using machetes on occasions, they make it to the location. They drop their gear and get down on their bellies to have a look down over the edge.
“Look Jack, it is like a black glassy expanse stretching for about 200m to the south,” says Megan with some excitement.
Megan and Jack soon rig up a number of drop off point locations along the 200m in order to go down and collect some samples. Jack stays topside working the belay system while Megan works at collecting samples. As the day draws to a close they reach the last station having derigged the rest as they progress.
“Megan, we finish this one then we can radio for a pick up and be out of here tomorrow morning,” says Jack.
“Sounds good to me Jack, I just want to get back to my holiday in Ecuador, even though the new crag like climbs here would be a challenge to take on,” Megan responds with relief.
“Say hello to your friend for me when you get back, hope she is doing well,” says Jack with a smile.
“You should come visit, plenty of Tequila to go around,” Megan laughs.
“Maybe I will,” replies Jack, laughing back.
“This one has a ledge, so you can have a bit of rest while I collect the last samples,” says Megan with a quirky look on her face.
Jack lowers Megan down over the edge to a ledge about 70 metres down, where she then anchors in with 3 cams into a fracture in the rock and starts collecting samples. The crystal like black rock for the most part, has few hand and foot holds, with a slippery surface, apart from partial fractures that are few and rare between. For the most part, the surface is a wicked one and might make a climber happy one day. The light is beginning to fade, Megan hears some commotion happening up top, and just as she looks up, she sees the entire rope, rig, and harness come hurtling past her without Jack attached.
“What the fuck!! Here we go, brace up Megan,” Megan says to herself.
As the rope and rig reach the end of the line it tugs hard on her harness almost pulling her from the ledge, but for the cams she is anchored too. Megan looks up once again, but can hear nothing up above her.
“Jack you shit, what did you go and do that for?” Megan yells the question.
Only silence returns to Megan. Megan yells again, “Jack, when I get up there you better have a dam good reason.” Megan starts pulling up the rope and rig that are hanging below her, in the hope she will be able to use it to get back up to the top, as there is not enough to get down to the bottom.
“Aunty, what happened to Jack?” asks Naomi.
“Getting to it sweetie, I did not find out till years later what Jack got up too,” Megan responds to her niece’s question.
“Back to the tale,” Megan says.
Standing on the ledge, light is fading fast for Megan, soon she won’t be able find a route up out of the black glass like rock. Megan checks her gear and harness, and looks for cracks she can jam her way up past the black rock. Starting up one placing cams as she goes, Megan gets to the top of it to find other cracks 2 to 3 metres away.
“What now, it’s getting too dark, and I don’t really feel like trying to swing across to another when I can’t see where it is exactly. I’m better off waiting out the night back on the ledge,” Megan thinks to herself.
Working her way back down to the ledge, Megan sets up additional protection to wait the night out, before making an ascent tomorrow to the top in daylight. “I could really do with some tequila right now, my holiday, or even some Burning Man creative freedom and fun,” Megan says aloud. But instead all I have is this black rock and my friends to help keep me on this ledge,” Megan ponders as she begins sing some old tunes she remembers growing up with, before drifting off to sleep.
While high above Megan, a number of armed Mexicans who seem to be talking in some form of Mayan, escort Jack through the forest. Jack tries to convince them he wasn’t doing anything wrong.
“Hey, where are we going, have I done something wrong?” Jack tries to query them in Spanish. No response, they just keep prodding him along until Jack starts to hear what sounds like a fiesta, and sees a village up ahead. The armed men step up the pace, Jack is almost running by now as they enter the village. Everything stops, as they turn to look at Jack.
Slowly a number of elderly men emerge from the crowd, one says, “Want some tequila?”
Jack responds, “Sure, why not, but why have your men brought me here?”
“It’s not safe to be out there, bandits are all over the place along that cliff, raiding devastated villages, and towns. We have been lucky, our village has survived, so we are having a fiesta to celebrate it, you must stay celebrate with us,” says the village elder.
“I have a friend out there still.” Jack says.
“To dangerous to go out there now, will have to wait till morning, so join us in our fiesta,” responds the elder.
Jack pleads, and tries to leave, but is prevented from departing the safety of the village, so in the end joins in the celebrations reluctantly. As the hours pass, a full moon begins to rise in the distance, while Jack tries to enjoy himself thinking of how dumb he was to of dropped the rig and rope, leaving Megan stranded on the ledge. “Maybe it was just a protective reaction, to keep Megan out of harms way, and that she will then have the additional equipment to be able to get away should things have gone opposite to how they are now,” thinks Jack as he has some more tequila.
Back on the ledge, Megan’s mind is restless, as she falls into a dream about her past, a time of colour, fire, and freedoms of expression. A tall ship sailing across red dunes, the sand spraying into the air as if on the high seas, while on the distant horizon a giant eye rises like the moon, and as it blinks, a teardrop falls to fill the red dune sea. Rushing towards Megan standing on the red dunes, the tall ship, and a sea of tears caught in a race to reach her first. As the tall ship’s bow passes Megan, a glowing blue figure reaches down and pulls her aboard the ship just as the sea of tears sweep past.
Megan wakes suddenly to find she has slipped from ledge, and struggles to get back on in her waking state, but then realises she is bathed in a soft blue glow. “The rock refracts and reflects blue light,” Megan exclaims, as she notices the full moon above her. Every crack and fracture can now be seen on the rock face; Megan gears up with additional equipment from Jack’s rig and starts up the 70m or so to return to the top. Placing cams as she goes jamming up the cracks, Megan pendulums’ from one crack to the next looping over the cam, while running a slack belay anchored at the ledge.
“Come on Megan, maximum effort now,” Megan stresses as she rocks up the face to top-out on the plateau. Megan turns around to sea the blue glow stretch out across the forest below as the moon falls toward the horizon.
Looking in the direction of where her rock sample bags are, Megan thinks aloud, “I don’t think anyone needs to know about this, the report is going to read just common basalt rock outcrop.” Megan walks over, picks up the bags and empties her rock samples out over the cliff edge, as the blue hue fades to the light of a rising Sun.
Jack has managed to slip away from the village, running though the forest back to the edge of the plateau to find Megan. Ducking, weaving, and landing on his face occasionally. “Dam, that hurt,” mutters Jack as he gets to his feet to continue.
Arriving at the last sample rig position, Jack sees Megan standing a top looking to the west, just as she watches the last of the blue hue from the rock fade in the sun.
“Are you alright, Megan?” Jack shouts as he almost rushes past her.
“Yes I am, Megan says with a smile, “but where have you been, and what was with dumping the rope and rig?”
“Some armed men came by and I thought best they not know you were here, in case they weren’t the good kind. I ended up at their village, it took a while to convince I was not who they were after,” explains Jack, almost running out of breath.
“All good, Jack, lets get out of here, I have a holiday to finish,” Megan says, giving Jack a quirky look.
“What about the samples?” Jack asks.
“Just common volcanic rock, nothing special there, I don’t think the university needs any more of that sort,” replies Megan.
After lowering Megan, back down to clean all the protection gear from the rock face, her and Jack pick up their packs to head back to camp and radio an airlift out. Megan looks back one last time towards the location of the unusual rock, and whispers, “Your secret’s safe with me, thank you.”
“Now lovely nieces and nephews, I need to have some sleep, good night all,” says Megan as she gets up from her chair and disappears inside….