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Awakening to the sound of the wind, I opened my eyes and watched nylon rippling above me. The pale light of the coming dawn was just starting to brighten the tent panels.
My full bladder was screaming for attention.
Reaching around inside the sleeping bag, I compressed the little plastic ball and slid it down the drawstring, opening the hood. Catching the zipper outside, I pulled it down, and a flood of cold air rushed into the bag, making me shiver. Sitting up, my head touched the tent, sending piled snow falling down the side. I suppressed a second shiver as best I could. It was dozens of degrees colder in the tent compared to what the inside of my sleeping bag had been.
Hearing a mumbled grumble, I looked down at Jan’s face, the only part of her visible, zipped up like a mummy in her bag. Just like I had been seconds before.
My bladder making me quick, I pulled on my boots and stepped through the unzipped tent out into the powdery show. Walking away a few feet from the tents I worked my way through the multiple layers of cloth, then yelped when finally my bare cock was exposed to the air.
“Fuck,” I muttered, my teeth chattering.
The yellow stream smoked and cut its way into the white snow like a blowtorch. As terrible thoughts of frostbite were running through my head, I heard the tent open behind me. As my cousin came out in a near sprint, she hurried over to a spot and, with her legs wide for balance, squatted her bare ass just inches from the snow. We had both long ago given up on things like privacy and modesty. Looking up at me, she shook her head.
“Oh, God damn you lucky bastards!” She cussed me and all men in general.
Smiling, I tucked my cock away and headed back into the tent. Opening the flap I turned around and kind of fell into the tent butt first. Taking off my boots outside, I knocked them together to shed the snow then sat them on the old towel we were keeping by the side of the door.
Jan came plowing in ass first, shivering.
“Fuck!” She pulled the zipper back around, closing the tent. “Why the fucking hell couldn’t we be climbing a mesa in the Arizona desert? Hell, anywhere warm!” She sat back down on her sleeping bag and wrapped the sides of the bag around herself as she shivered like mad.
“Because you, my beautiful-in-the-morning cousin, wanted to get to the top of this bit of rock.” I shifted the water cup on the portable burner away from her bag and cracked the lid on the heating element. Soon the chemical reaction started and we had water heating. As I waited for it to boil, I worked on getting the rest of our breakfast out.
“I’ll have kippers on the south portico this morning James,” she told me as she worked on dragging her rucksack around from beside her.
“I’ll get right to building a portico if you can get the fish.” I told her as I dumped oatmeal into the two collapsible bowls. A little instant coffee into our cups and we were ready for the hot water. If it would ever boil at this altitude.
I looked over at her as she pulled her top off and struggled into the other heavier thermal liner. Cousin or not of course I watched her breasts, encased in their bra,with the typical interest of any male seeing that much female skin.
“Want some help?” I asked when I saw her having trouble.
“I think I got it,” she said, with the same determination that got us stuck once in the snow for fifteen days.
Reaching over, I pulled the back of the thermal shirt down past her bra strap where it had been caught.
“Why are we climbing this bit of rock again?” she asked when I finally handed her the steaming cup of coffee.
“Because K2 and Everest cost too much to get to.” I sipped my coffee and stirred the oatmeal. Damn, I wished I had thought to pack along some butter. It’s not like it would have melted or gone bad. I might have had to chip it out the tub with an ice ax.
“Yea, but they might be warmer.” She shivered, huddling around her cup of coffee.
Glancing over at the thermometer hung by the door I noticed that the gauge was reading the same thing it had been the last time I looked at it. Reaching over I gave it a tap, and damned if it didn’t drop another five degrees.
“I don’t know what you’re complaining about. It’s only minus fifteen outside.” Looking at my coffee I grimaced and tossed it back in one long sip. It was already nearly cold. Instant and cold, not a good combination.
“I’m complain cause it’s frigging July, James! You remember July? Soaking up the sun on the beaches in south Florida. Not freezing ourselves to death on the side of a mountain in Alaska.”
“My god woman, you’re bitchy in the morning.” I unzipped one corner of the door and stuck my cup outside long enough to wash it in snow. Wiping it dry, I looked back at her. “You’re the one that said that nuthin’ under twenty thousand feet would be a challenge.”
“I don’t want to be challenged at five in the morning,” she said in a low child like voice.
I shook my head completely devoid of pity.
“Jan, I love you. Eat beyoğlu escort your food and get your ass in gear.” I grabbed up my climbing clothes and started the long process of crawling into them.
She eyed me with a disgusted look and dug into her oatmeal. I tuned out her running complains about the oatmeal already being cold till I was dressed. Leaving the zombie to finish her food and start getting ready, I unzipped the tent and climbed back outside.
Looking up the snow-covered hill, I saw the sunrise just begin to light up the side of Mt. Denali like it was on fire.
“Jan! Hurry up you’ve got to see this.”
There was low grumbling from behind me then the tent door unzipped.
“Wow,” she said softly. The snow crunched behind me. Then she leaned into my shoulder. “James?”
“Yeah?” I asked, not looking away from the awesome sight before me.
“Never mind a word I said,” she told me in a breathy whisper.
“We’re going to stand on the top of that,” I told her softly.
Rising to its full double peak height of twenty thousand plus feet the mighty Mt. Denali, or Mt. McKinley…depends who you ask, glowed before us like a pyramid of living, liquid fire. The snow was turned to gold and the rock to a dazzling river of silver. Flames ignited the clouds around its peak in patterns of lacy fire. Ever-so-slowly, the sun rose higher and the effect changed and faded till at last we were looking up at the massive mountain. The snow, the rocks, the fluffy-as-cotton-candy clouds.
I heard other zippers opening. I felt sorry for my fellow climbers that they missed the show, but it would be the same, or nearly the same tomorrow. As I pulled Jan’s hand into mine I saw her look at my face and smile. Suddenly, I was no longer sorry for the others. This had been a moment for just us.
Very slowly the growing bustle of activity tried to break the spell over us. She slid in under my arm and hugged me tight. I held her and looked around at the others.
Our guide told us it would take about two weeks to hit the summit from the drop off point on the glacier. The plane ride down had been a thrill that my stomach still wasn’t fully recovered from.
“Thank you for this, James,” Jan whispered by my side.
“It’s as much your doing as mine. Thank you,” I told her, reluctant to turn her loose. When she looked up at me, I saw the tears in her eyes. I smiled and gave her a tighter quick hug. That had been our agreement. Hug away the tears whenever they showed up.
Not all of them were hers.
“Let’s break camp,” she said after a few minutes comport. I watched with admiration as she walked back to the tent. I wished I had her willpower. Her strength. Jan had watched, for three agonizingly slow months, her husband of a decade plus succumb to cancer just a year ago.
A deep feeling of guilt that I had not been there for her through that hit me as it always did. I wished I could have been there to help… but there had been too many broken bones at the time. I looked down at the glove covering my left hand. I could feel my wedding ring like a cold band of fire around my finger. The climbing guide had told me I should take it off. That the metal would draw the cold to my finger. I can’t tell you how close I had come to telling him where he could stick that suggestion.
I shivered as a goose walked over my grave and went to help pack up.
We split the camp between the two of us so that if one pack was, lost the other pack would have enough stuff to help at least. I didn’t like to think about just how a pack could be lost. I looked up at Denali,”the High One” the natives call it. I knew from my reading he has claimed more than a few climbers since those first “crazy white men” went up it looking for gold.
Jan and I packed quickly. We have had a lot of experience at it in the last seven months. After the…well, after the… Let’s just say after the several “it” happened she and I had made a pact together. We would not let the past drive us into empty lives of memories and depression. We would go see the world. We would swim it, climb it, hike it, or plain just jump off it, till old age caught us or death took us. Thinking about some of the things we had done in the last few months, I can’t say I’m seeing a rocking chair in my future. A wheel chair maybe, but not a rocking chair.
Shouldering my pack I felt “the rush.” That surge of energy that was not adrenaline but wasn’t the coffee either. I helped Jan settle her pack, and taking up my walking sticks slash climbing ax, we headed out and up. I hooked my lifeline to her belt before we were too far out of camp.
Some of the other climbers called out to us and waved as we headed past them. They would be following us up. We blazed the trail, they hauled the load. Well most of it. My pack probably weighted about fifty pounds. Jan’s, maybe thirty to forty.
The air was bitter cold and cut razor-like pathways into my lungs as we climbed. We stopped after about bostancı escort an hour of steady walking and looked back. The camp looked absurdly close but I knew it wasn’t. I could make out some of the other climbers getting started following our trail.
Lifting my head I looked out at the Denali National Park, and at the other white capped mountains that were standing shoulder to shoulder with “the High One.”
Jan crunched up beside me.
“How’s your leg?” she asked after a second to catch her breath. The air was noticeably thinner here than what we were breathing two days ago when we landed in Anchorage. The one night on the mountain wasn’t enough to get us fully adjusted. But it would come, in the days that followed.
“Attached. My leg’s fine. I took my pills,” I told her before she could ask.
Jan nodded, but the worried look didn’t leave her face till I stared at her with bulging eyes. She laughed and moved up to take the lead again.
I followed her higher into the West Buttress Route, what the area where were walking was called. One of the easier climbing paths up the mountain. Jan had bitched about that. I told her if it was too easy we could always come back down after we got to the summit, and take a harder trail back up.
I was glad now we were taking this way. My leg was hurting just a bit. Well, it should be I guess, since it was broken in four places only a little more than a year ago. Some would call it a damn miracle I was walking on it, let alone doing all the things we had been doing.
In truth though only the bungee jumping had been too much for it. Well, that and the landing that time when we went skydiving.
We climbed in beautiful weather all the way till lunch, then the clouds began to roll in over the neighboring mountains. Like waves of white cresting over breakers at the beach.
Unfolding a pole with a orange flag at the top I wedged it into a crack in the black rocks, near the stone overhang where Jan was starting to set up the tent. Looking down the ledges, I could just make out the other climbers down below, then they were lost in clouds.
I followed my guide line back to the tent and began helping Jan get us set up. By the time we got inside and zipped up, the wind was howling around the tent making the thin walls dance.
“I hope the others saw the weather coming and got to a good sheltered place,” said Jan, as she stripped off her climbing clothes.
“They should be fine. The guide is with them after all. He knows these mountains far better than I know climbing. He’ll get them through the night.” I listened to the wind. The bright sunlight we were just climbing in was gone now. We were surrounded by the thickest wind-driven fog you would ever think to see. Spooky, almost silent other than the wind.
I watched, my mind turning over old memories as Jan got an MRE meal put together for us. I chuckled as a stray thought resurfaced. I would have never believed, never in a million years, that once I left the army, I would ever be eating those things again.
I turned my ring on my finger by habit. But then, I guess I never thought about a lot of things.
“You really should take it off James. Wendy wouldn’t have wanted you to lose a finger out of sentiment.” Jan looked at me with sad eyes as she handed me my food.
I rubbed the little bit of cold gold. It felt the very chill of it with my thumb.
“Where’s yours?” I asked looking at her hands.
“Between my breasts, next to my heart. Where I always keep him.” she told me after swallowing her first bite of food..
Setting down my chicken dumplings, I reach into my shirt and fished out my old dog tags. I had taken to wearing them again after…well after. The worn ring came off with a lot of reluctance, and I slipped it onto the beaded chain and slid the already cold metal tags back into my shirt.
Jan fixed us a hot cup of mint tea, and we sat on our rolled out sleeping bags. I caught her looking up at the tent walls. A hint of a smile was playing at her lips.
“What?” I asked.
“This kind of reminds me of that camping trip to Yellowstone when we were thirteen.”
I chuckled at the old memories that brings back.
“God, I hope this trip works out better than that,” I told her laughing.
“What do you mean? I had a great time!” she said with a false surprise on her smiling face.
“Stuck in a tent for four days with you doing everything in your power to annoy the hell out of me! I have never in my life been so happy to see a thunderstorm end.” I chuckled. “Though I think by the end, even you were getting bored.”
She shrugged. “A little. You had lost interest in most of the things I had been doing. You can only annoy someone when they are paying attention to you.”
I sipped my tea, remembering and listening to the wind. The thermometer by the door was in the minus teens still, but between the heat tab we used to cook with and our two bodies the tent was a comfortable büyükçekmece escort twenty, maybe twenty five. After the climb through the snow that was a sauna. The warm food plus the long climb soon had the predictable effect on us both. Our tea was just finished when our eyes both started to droop.
In the thick long underwear and wool socks we slid into our sleeping bags and zipped them up. The howl of the wind outside and the gray light hiding the sun made it very easy to drift off.
I awoke to silence and bright light through the wall panels. Getting out of my sleeping bag, I looked at my watch. It was near five in the afternoon. I unzipped the tent door then quickly pulled my head back in as the white snow was dazzlingly bright. Cussing my stupidity and blinking to get rid of the spots, I put my goggles on and looked out again.
I could easily make out the orange flag above us, on its pole, hanging in the near still air.
“Storm stopped?” I heard from behind me.
Looking back, I saw her struggling to get her bag open. I reached over and took a hold of the outer zipper. Together we got it to finally open.
“Wish we had some oil,” she says as she sat up. “I would grease that damn thing.”
“You might could try hand lotion.” I told her after a second to think about it.
She thought about it for a second. “That might gum it up. Make it worse, not better. When the others catch up I’ll see if they have some oil.”
She got up and put her feet into her boots. As she started to go through the door, I handed her her goggles.
A few minutes latter I heard her cussing out in the snow.
“Oh, god damn all of you bastards!”
I chuckled and started setting up everything to cook us dinner. If it wasn’t so late I might think about breaking camp and going a little higher.
Not much point in it though,. By the time we could get the tent torn down, and packed away, we probably wouldn’t make more than thirty minutes climbing time before we would have to start setting back up.
She came back in shivering.
“Problems?” I asked sweetly.
“No. Fuck off.”
I chuckled under my breath.
Shedding her boots she all but dived into the sleeping back. I looked up when I hear the near erotic moan from her.
“Oh god, warmth.” She wiggled even deeper into the bag as if seeking more heat at the bottom.
“You wouldn’t be wanting this cup of very hot coffee now, would you?” I asked her. I mimed like I was going to drink it.
“Oh yes! Mine, mine!” she hold out her hands like a little urchin child. Laughing, I handed her the cup. “Oh yes.” She moaned shuddering.
“Would you and the coffee like some privacy?” I asked, grinning.
“Hell no, I want you to watch!” she told me as she brought the cup between her breasts and held it to her chest like a lover’s head. “Oh god yes.”
I laughed and went back to fixing us dinner. Every once and a bit I would hear a little moan from her as she sipped the warm coffee.
“My god if this coffee had a penis I would marry it,” she said after an near orgasmic look passed over her face. I handed her the bowl with her dinner.
“They call those swizzle sticks and for some reason I don’t think you would find it all that satisfying in bed.” I told her, somewhat more grumpy than I had intended.
Her face shifted to me her eyebrows dropping. “What’s the matter?” she asked after a second.
I looked down at my food and shrugged. I didn’t want to answer.
She reached over and took my fork from my fingers.
“What… is… the… matter?” she asked, giving me a poke with the fork at each word.
I snatched the silverware back from her and tried to frown at her. I quickly had to look away from her face.
“I’m quite capable of asking this question for the whole time we are on this mountain. What’s the matter?” she said stubbornly.
“Your moaning.” I looked up at her shame-faced. I shrugged. “It’s just… been awhile since I heard a woman making those type of sounds.”
I saw her face fall. Two large tears fell slowly from her eyes.
“James, I am so sorry. I didn’t think about that. I was just trying to tease you.” She put down her bowl of food and reached over to take my hand.
“Well, you succeeded but not in the way you were trying.” I gave her fingers a squeeze then began to try and eat my dinner. It was tasteless ashes in my mouth, but at least it was hot.
She watched me for a bit then picked up her food. We ate our dinner in a silence that somehow felt colder than the mountain
“I am sorry, James.”
I looked over at her, and I saw her lips twitching.
I watched her face as she tried to keep from smiling.
“What?” I asked again, patience slipping a notch..
Finally she chuckled a little. “Were you getting hard?” she asked impishly.
I just stared a hole in her.
“You were! Oh, my god!” She started to laugh at the look on my face.
I looked away from her in disgust. Then I heard the moan. Looking back at her I saw her caressing one of her breasts slowly. The look on her face was pure “fake” lust.
“Oh, James. Oh, you have me so wet, cousin. Oh, yes, yes, YES YES!” Jan threw her head back with a deep-throated moan they must have heard halfway down the mountain. Then she looked down, peeking through one half-closed eye.
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