Reaching into the pack again, he pulls out a hunk of yellow construction paper. It’s folded into a homemade card–the first one he received after his wounding. It came from a girl named Elizabeth. He carries it everywhere, and it’s creased some, but the bright red “thank you” splashed across the front remains bold. A Valentine-style heart is centered beneath the salutation and flanked by two smiling faces. Inside is drawn what appears to be a smoking pistol and the following inscription: To soldier’s for fiting are cuntrey. Then another heart. And beneath that, another note: Hope you fell beteter!
“Fell better,” he says. He loves that.
After lunch, Art Rausch Turns into a drill sergeant, marching everyone up and down the slopes to practice rope work and rehearse self-arrest. Over and over, he gives the command to fall, and every time, the climbers call out “FALLING!” so that the other members of the rope team have time to brace. Any falling climber relies on his partners, but for Smiley this will be especially critical. He holds himself humped over his axe while Rausch makes the rounds, yanking hips up and pushing shoulders down, making the same rough adjustments as a football coach teaching the proper blocking stance. Salau is flopping to the snow right along with everyone else. He knows by now that he is going no higher and is in no mood, but he hopes the film Fawley is shooting will advance the program. At one point while he is prone, another climber kicks him in the head. It is understandable, then, that once the training concludes, he takes himself off to be alone.
Some who have lived it say the physical damage of combat is shaken more readily than the psychological. This raises the parallel question of whether such things can be repaired by a walk in the wilderness. Right now, Ed Salau could argue either way.
See him standing there? The Paradise parking lot sits somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,420 feet. Camp Muir is at 10,080. Salau has hiked four miles and 4,660 vertical feet. Divide that by your standard 7-inch stair riser, and he has climbed 7,989 stairs. Should you wish to recreate his experience, it will be instructive to prop a piece of plywood against the garage at a declivitous angle, clamber atop it, tie up one leg, and with the other, execute 7,989 lunges. After the first 5,000 or so, go ahead and drop your 40-pound backpack.
Then see who you pity.