Redemption in the Himalayas
Adapted from Chapter 4 of The Pleistocene Redemption
by Dan Gallagher
British explorer, Dr. Bart Lloyd, awoke to his Sherpa guidemaster, Lonzing, telling him they had to go back. Lloyd, an unsponsored paleozoologist, had intended to get results this time and to be taken seriously. Temptation to bitterness clawed at the tall thirty-five year-old African-Englishman.
Nobody believed in gorillas, snow leopards or warm-blooded fishes until some laughed-at researcher found them, he had often thought, smoldering. So finally the adventurer had spent his last pound sterling to ascend the Himalayas in June of 2018.
Lloyd walked back to the edge of the ridge. He peered over the icy side, west toward still-dark Tibet. Nausea took him but he forced himself to view the eastern side as well. The menacing gray slopes dived down steeply. Lloyd knew that the gusting wind could easily send even his six-foot frame over the ledge, scraping down the cliff like a carrot against a grater. He backed away and returned to camp, which was already packed up.
Lloyd yelled to be heard over the rising moan of the wind, “Yes, you were right. Storm coming. Let’s leave. Now.”
With one hand signal from Lonzing, the line of five men linked by a nylon life-line moved out. The expedition slowly descended the ridge to a broader point they felt they could trust. As a safer route presented itself to the southeast, a sense of confidence returned to the men.
Lloyd was jolted by a loud beep from the small computer strapped in its case on his left hip. The ray-gun-looking sensor to which it was attached hung exposed from his other hip. Signaling for a stop, Lloyd pulled the sensor from his belt and held it level to the ground.
“BEEEEEEP!” the computer blasted at him.
He unclipped the rope that kept him from ranging from the Sherpas and trudged away toward the bare side of the chasm. The noise stopped. Curiosity pestered him. The Sherpas tossed their hands, plainly irritated. He stepped back toward the snow’s edge and up onto a small boulder.
A quick horizontal air-chop from Lonzing made it clear that no crevasse or cave would be excavated on this climb.
Hanging the sensor back on his hip, Lloyd gave in to his guide and jumped off the rock.
The snow-dusted ice under his boots collapsed. Lonzing’s red face-mask disappeared upward out of sight in a cloud of shimmering snow. As Lloyd’s knees buckled at the impact, a spiked crampon broke from his boot and he fell backward onto his huge backpack. The rain of glittering snow cleared a bit and he could see that the Sherpas now lay on their stomachs above him, tossing down a line.
Lloyd rose to reach for the rope, but felt himself slipping backward and downward. He slid twenty feet down into near-pitch blackness, a tunnel of rock and ice surrounding him.
Suddenly, an almost birdlike resonance with a distinctive growling undertone paralyzed him. Lloyd swallowed hard, reached for the flashlight attached to his right shoulder, and sat upright to face the sound. It stopped. A pale glow lit the craggy tunnel ahead of him. He turned on the flashlight as much to satisfy his frayed nerves as to see his way out. From behind him in the tunnel, snow and ice particles slid toward him as Lonzing crawled in and crouched beside him.
“You are all-okay, Sahib?”
Lonzing clamped a five yard safety line onto the back of his novice client’s belt so that it could not easily be removed.
“Yes. Just bruised. I heard a sound farther in.”
“It is the wind. We are under a very thin ridge and this cave must open eastward to the big valley.”
“What if it’s the yeti?” Lloyd protested. “That’s what we’re here for. We must get some video before we leave; at least record the sound for analysis.”
Lloyd detached the small camera from his computer and mounted it on a bracket that he extended from a harness on his hood. He attached a seven-inch dish microphone to another harness on his left shoulder and switched the apparatus on.
At that, the shriek came again.
“No, Sahib. We must go now! That is yeti.”
Lloyd’s elbows and knees quivered as he forced himself to crawl several yards toward the sound; around a jagged corner and …
The icy floor gave way, dropping Lloyd face-first into a gray abyss. With a gut-crushing yank, the safety line snapped tight. Lloyd dangled twenty feet above the floor of a house-sized cavern. Faint light penetrated a huge wall of ice shards, apparently intentionally packed snow, dimly illuminating the cave. Most of the chamber’s rock was covered with dense moss. But what literally kept Lloyd’s breath from returning was his utter shock at the scene below.
A massive red-and-black-furred figure gaped up at him and let out a growling scream. It stood over seven feet tall with arms longer than half that. Lloyd saw a bloody gash in the long fur atop its wide, cone-shaped head.
Too winded to even call for Lonzing, Lloyd uncurled his body to attempt to scramble up the rope. Lloyd could neither right himself nor ascend. He slipped back to face the screeching, man-like creature.
It arched back, growling and brandishing prominent fangs and brownish molars almost directly below. Its eyes flashed white in the swaying lamp-light. It clutched something shiny, jet-black, and squirming in one of its claw-like hands. It held a lump of ice in the other. Another yeti, smaller than the first, lay cowering against the near rock wall. Like the one screaming and jumping at Lloyd, it had a thick neck and a large, cone-shaped head.
“Oh my God, Lonzing! Lonzing,” Lloyd’s mind finally processed what he was witnessing: Do primates kill their young, or is that ice for me? Then he shouted behind him, “Get me up right now!”
Lloyd was already rising in short jerks. “Lonzing, pull!”
The yeti, apparently enraged by the head wound that Lloyd had unwittingly inflicted. It hurled the frozen missile at Lloyd and missed. Lloyd heard a ‘crack’ on the cavern wall behind him, followed by another as the ice struck the cavern floor.
The female got up and threw a fist-sized rock, which struck Lloyd’s boot, dislodging his other crampon. Then, as Lloyd rose within a yard of the opening and escape, the massive male threw the baby at him. It slapped back-first into Lloyd’s chest and blurted out a single high-pitched sigh. Lloyd’s arms instinctively closed around the shocked but squirming newborn.
If I could just get it to civilization alive! The smallness and weakness of it tore at his emotions; he knew it needed close contact. He held it under its shoulder with his right hand and opened his parka, then his jacket with the other. He stuffed the baby head-first beneath his thermal-regulator undershirt and sealed the slimy primate up within.
Lloyd felt confident that the huge ape would not scale the cavern walls or even want to pursue him. He turned to look as he scrambled back up into the tunnel. The furious yeti was only two yards behind him. It let out an alarming howl, sending Lloyd’s feet scurrying frantically.
“It’s … Lonzing: Go, Go, Go! … It’s attacking! Pull! Get out!”
The walls of the narrow passage now seemed maliciously constricting.
Lonzing did not speak but scurried and tugged with everything he had to get himself and Lloyd away. Approaching the opening where he first found Lloyd, Lonzing screamed in Nepali at the three men above. “Yeti attacking! Pull, quick!”
Lloyd’s own fear heightened to panic as he realized that even Lonzing was now frantic. The other Sherpas yanked the pair through the fissure. The force of the tug was so great that they almost lost their grip on the rope. The surface appeared just ahead.
Panic rising in their throats, the two heard clawing and screeching as the yeti followed them up through the ice-floored crevasse.
Once atop, Lloyd and Lonzing thrust their fellows forward along the only ground they could run on without being mired by snow. Limping in their running strides along the angled rock, they paralleled the snow line. They were running, it seemed, right into the blinding sun.
One of the Sherpas turned to see whether his leader’s reckless fear was justified. He glimpsed the monster running almost silently but in great leaps. It was almost upon Lloyd and reached out its huge hand at his pack. The Sherpa sensed that he had missed a step and was tripping. But as he turned forward to guide a recovering step, his mind boggled. He shuddered with the sight that met his and his companions’ eyes. There, below his feet, lay two miles of air. Terror kept him from gasping.
Lloyd saw the Sherpa struggling to breathe a dozen feet below him. As he plummeted down along the fluttering safety line, Lloyd now turned pack-down, face up, in the freezing wind. The yeti came briefly into Lloyd’s view, standing atop the cliff and shaking its fists wildly. Lloyd’s tearing, quivering eyes beheld the beast recede rapidly above him.
Lloyd fought the panic and screamed at his plummeting comrades: “Unbuckle the safety line first. Undo the line first.”
Only Lonzing comprehended the English shout. He fought his panic just well enough to relay the critical message in Nepali to his frenzied companions as they accelerated and twirled down through the frigid air.
Lloyd pulled his belt around, hard, and managed to unclip the safety line. Lonzing followed. The other three also forced themselves to do the same.
“Now — lose — the — pack!” Lloyd shouted as clearly as he could.
Lloyd pulled a metal clip on his side and wriggled. The backpack sailed off and began to spin as Lonzing translated the commands.
“Wait! Fall away from each other. Away!”
Lonzing repeated the shouts in Nepali as four more packs fled their owners.
“Now!” Lloyd shut his eyes and pulled his rip cord. The tiny nylon box behind his shoulders exploded with color. He felt the painful tug as the multicolored, squarish canopy slowed his headlong descent from a hundred-twenty miles per hour to about fifty.
He tried to control the risers with his mitten-clad hands but it was ineffectual. Lack of precise manipulation of the risers resulted in an uncontrolled landing; often in death. The same would occur if his bare hands became frostbitten, which would happen in seconds in this wind.
The team members scattered widely enough to avoid entangling, which would have collapsed their canopies. The gray and white terrain — now two hundred yards below — rose swiftly into clearer view.
Looking down, Lloyd gasped and squirmed. The ground lay carpeted with closely spaced, man-sized, razor-sharp ice formations. These rose ominously each night as the ground froze and compressed water upward and out of cracks. They usually melted by noon. It was not even close to noon.
The razors loomed up at them faster and faster. It would take expert skill and dexterity — impossible now — to land on the tiny patches of flat rock between the scissor-edged ice spires. Mittens were shed, tangling as feared in each man’s risers and all but preventing control of the direction of the parachutes. Lloyd gauged the ice razors to be but twenty-five feet away.
The first two Sherpas intentionally hit a vertical rock outcropping, rather than be sliced by the waiting crystal blades. Their bodies withstood the impact but their faces were smashed and bloodied. Lonzing drifted helplessly toward Lloyd.
Lloyd looked down, completely unable to manipulate the chute. He was skimming — backward and much too fast — about five feet above alternating flat surfaces and areas studded with ice daggers. He felt sure that he would be decapitated or sliced open and die watching his exposed entrails freeze. Lloyd closed his eyes — and his legs — tightly.
“Uuuh!” Two sets of lungs lost their air as the Lloyd and Lonzing collided four feet up; abruptly ceasing lateral motion. They crashed through the surrounding ice formations, toppling, dazed and sprawling upon a boulder.
The Sherpa managed to rise and helped Lloyd to stand. Nursing their bruises and cuts, the team gathered, limping, moaning, and bleeding. But they were alive.
Lonzing saw Lloyd start to keel over fainting, and grabbed him. He held him upright as the other Sherpas stripped off his wire-laced equipment harness. They set it on a boulder, not realizing that the camera was still transmitting and that it was facing the group.
Lloyd suddenly regained his senses with a pained and surprised expression. Ripping his clothes open he grabbed the ravenous primate, now right-side-up beneath his shirt, but it was to no avail. The baby yeti was enjoying a fruitless but vacuum-tight suck on Lloyd’s left nipple and a tight grip on the other. Hopping and hooting, Lloyd quickly fumbled through an interior jacket pocket and extracted a fortified milk pouch to protect both the newborn yeti’s life and his own smarting chest.
The video, which included footage of the baby yeti latched onto Lloyd’s chest, was broadcast worldwide the next morning. A week later, while meeting dignitaries and recovering his strength in London, Lloyd found that even the King of England could not avoid smirking.