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Backpacker Magazine – October 2012

Worst Nightmare: Breathless

A hair-raising tale of wilderness terror that will haunt your backcountry dreams

by: Rachel Zurer


Snow fell in large flakes, each landing without a sound on the sheet of crystals that blanketed the Wyoming forest. Rob watched a cottony wisp the size of a postage stamp settle on the dark blue of his jacket sleeve. His thermometer read 16°F, and that was sure to drop soon. He wished he could snap a picture of his finished snow cave, a modest hump rising above the drifts, but his iPhone had weakened in the cold and he’d used its last juice navigating with his GPS app, and—a silly indulgence, he knew—flipping through pictures of Micronesia he’d downloaded the day before. He hoped to find some clarity in those dreamy shots of palm trees fringing white sand beaches. Instead, he’d gotten cold.

Still, so far this trip was exactly what he’d been hoping for: solitude in the crystalline forest, hard work building a snow cave. A vision quest, he supposed you could call it. He needed insight. He felt paralyzed by the hardest choice he’d ever faced. It had even been disrupting his formerly rock-solid sleep.

Of course he’d been thrilled when he’d opened that Peace Corps envelope and unfolded the letter offering him the chance to spend the next two years teaching English in the South Pacific. Coconut palms, tropical beaches, snorkeling, and actually making a difference—he couldn’t think of anything he’d rather do. Except, perhaps, accept the other offer on his plate: a full scholarship to medical school.

His decision was due in two days. Hence his escape to this clearing, an easy five-mile snowshoe, recommended by the guy in the gear shop near his aunt’s house in Pinedale. He’d never been winter camping alone before, but he’d brushed up with a book on snow shelters.

Building the cave had been harder than he’d expected, especially since the instructions were locked in his dead phone. Luckily he remembered most of it. It took him five long hours. He’d considered giving up as the sweat in his hair froze into salty icicles. But he’d been counting on succeeding; he’d brought no tent or tarp.

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
Jul 11, 2014

You all are dimwits. Read through the story real closely again and see if maybe you just don't get it. I would suggest none of you should ever go camping.

Great piece by the way!

Star Star Star Star Star
Jul 11, 2014

You all are dimwits. Read through the story real closely again and see if maybe you just don't get it. I would suggest none of you should ever go camping.

Great piece by the way!

Star Star
PW Mahlow
Jul 11, 2014

As he pulled his backpack away from the cave opening, his carbon monoxide filled brain registered the sad fact that the rushing wave in his dream was actually an avalanche seeling forever in his snowcave. As he drifted off to eternal sleep, he realized he wouldn't need to choose between medical school and the peace corps...

Star Star Star
Apr 30, 2013

I hate stories where you have to guess the ending.
As the snow cave collapsed he lay there thinking this is quite a dream, as he faded in and out. (Next)

Oct 31, 2012

Maybe this is a way to get more subscriptions

Oct 29, 2012

(Well if he won't finish it we can I'll try for a bit anyone else is free to add on)

Maybe it would have been better if the CO had finished him. Astor he lay there dazed the combined heat from thety stove candle and his body was quickly rising and melting the ceiling of his cave. All at once it collapsed. (Next)

Jerry G
Oct 26, 2012

Another BROKEN LINK!!!!!! No page 3. VERY FRUSTRATING!

Oct 26, 2012

I think the writer was experiencing CO poisoning as he wrote this.

Oct 26, 2012

He's done


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