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    Percy
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Dead Dog Couloir - 1. The Approach

Aaron cracked open his eyes, saw that he could discern the cranberry edges of the tent inches from his nose, and snapped them shut. It was morning. Barely. He expelled a breath. It condensed in the cold air, dampening his upper lip.

He drew his sleeping bag more tightly about himself. A moment later he felt Seth inching closer, spooning against him in his own sleeping bag, and dropping an arm over him. Brave man, Aaron thought. There was no way he was unzipping his bag yet, much less extracting a limb, not even to cuddle up with his boyfriend.

“You’re awake, aren’t you?” Seth punctuated the question with a bite to Aaron’s earlobe. Aaron grunted.

“C’mon, big guy, you’re the one who insisted we camp at the trailhead last night instead of driving up this morning.”

“I like to sleep in.” Aaron tucked his chin in and scooted backward, trying to absorb some of Seth’s body heat. Seth’s fingers ran along Aaron’s jawline and tapped, intent on nudging him further awake. He suppressed a smile and kept his eyes closed. They really should get up soon and get their hike underway. They needed to be at the base of Dead Dog before the sun made it over the eastern ridge.

Still, he couldn’t resist just two more minutes of luxuriating in the soft down of his sleeping bag with his boyfriend tucked up against him. He ignored Seth’s attempt to be annoying and tried to will himself back to a half slumber.

“What are you doing?”

“Prepping breakfast.”

“And you need the camp stove for that?”

“I want a hot breakfast.”

“A hot breakfast is a waste of time. We need to get on the trail.”

“I need more than just an energy bar to start the day.” The woman’s voice was patient but insistent and if the man who’d been haranguing her for lighting up the stove responded, Aaron didn’t hear it.

“Sounds like we’ll have company on the trail today.” Seth made the observation behind him, also having heard the conversation outside their tent.

“Hope they’re here to ski. I’d rather not listen to them bicker all the way up to the summit.” Aaron relented and opened his eyes. It was marginally lighter than it had been when he’d first cracked them apart.

“Maybe they’re just not morning people. Something you know a thing or two about.”

Seth was levering himself up, unzipping his bag and reaching for the layers of clothing he’d need for this late winter ascent up a fourteener, the term by which mountains over 14,000’ in elevation were known. With a summit 14,267 feet above sea level, Mt. Torreys made the cut.

Aaron flipped on his back and watched his boyfriend dress. His black hair was short and silky and soon covered by a knit cap with a tassel on top. His profile was all angles, chin at a point, defined cheekbones and a nose just large enough to add character. Face on, his features were slightly irregular but in profile he was any photographer’s idea of perfection.

They’d met nearly two years ago when Seth had moved to Colorado. He’d just finished grad school and was starting a new job in the state. He’d been determined to meet other gay men and do so without crawling through the bars at night. He’d shown up at one of Denver’s gay and lesbian hiking clubs. Aaron, there to find a reliable hiking partner, had instead wound up meeting his first steady boyfriend. “How’d you sleep last night?”

“Not as well as you.” Seth shot him a grin in the morning gloom. “Kept waking up. I don’t know how you manage to sleep so deeply when you’re camping, especially in the middle of winter.”

“I’m just used to it, I guess.” Aaron sat up, still cocooned in his bag. “I’ve been camping in the Rockies since I was a teen.”

“Right. That would have been back in high school where you were rejected, bullied and forced to escape to the mountains for solace and solitude. You spent weekend winters zipped in a sleeping bag, huddled in your tent while bitter storms raged around you. I think you’ve told me those stories.”

Aaron threw one of the miniscule camp pillows at Seth. “Smart aleck.”

Seth grinned and grabbed his hiking boots, the last thing he’d put on before stepping outside the tent. “You do want a hot breakfast, I assume?”

“Yep.”

“I’ll start it.”

“I’ll double check our gear and be out shortly.”

Once Seth was gone, Aaron flopped back down. The story Seth had spun about Aaron’s high school years couldn’t be farther from the truth. He’d been popular in school. Though on the shorter side at 5’7”, he’d been athletic and had excelled on the wrestling and soccer teams. With weekends spent with his family at their mountain cabin, he’d had plenty of exposure to mountain sports. Seth knew all that from stories Aaron shared of his childhood. Seth hadn’t shared so much detail of his own history, but Aaron suspected the scenario with which Seth had teased him had some elements of truth in it for Seth. His boyfriend was slight, fey and femme. That couldn’t have played well in an American high school.

Outside the tent, Aaron heard the tailgate of his truck being lowered and the sounds of Seth setting up the camp stove. He was talking with someone. A woman. Probably the one they’d heard earlier. Aaron coordinated most of the logistics for their climbs, but Seth had taken to preparing their meals. He took a certain amount of pride in whipping up a hearty breakfast no matter how early they started their hikes.

Aaron unzipped his sleeping bag to his waist and pulled on a fleece. From his seated position, he began one final check of their packs. He and Seth were definitely prepared for today’s climb. In the past two years, Seth had developed into a more than competent mountaineer, but this winter ascent would pose some new technical challenges.

When Aaron emerged from the tent, his stocky body made stockier by the layers of winter clothing, he found Seth leaning against the back of the truck and sipping from a coffee mug. He was conversing with a figure clad in a parka with bright pink, yellow and orange swirls. Seth was probably jealous. His winter gear was a sedate shade of forest green. He’d been vocal in his lamentations about the lack of “interesting” colors available for men.

“About time you got out here. Coffee’s ready.” Seth held a tin pitcher out to him.

“That was fast.” Aaron poured boiling water into his mug. He watched it seep through the strainer, steam rising and releasing the scent of the fresh grounds.

“Mandy here had water on boil already. She gave us some of hers.”

“I over estimated how much Gene and I would need. My boyfriend. He’s around here somewhere.” The woman gestured vaguely towards the outhouse at one end of the makeshift parking lot. She appeared about the same age as he and Seth. After introducing himself, Aaron took in her animated features as the three of them exchanged information on anticipated route conditions. Like he and Seth, Mandy and her boyfriend were aiming to reach the summit of Mt. Torreys via Dead Dog Couloir, a class 3 snow route up the mountain’s east facing slope.

“Plenty of stars still out. Looks like we’ll have clear skies to start. Let’s hope it holds.” A tall fellow with dark hair and a full beard made the observation as he strode up, his thick boots crunching the hard packed snow. Like the rest of them, he was wearing snow pants and had gators pulled over his boots. He introduced himself as Gene.

“I wouldn’t mind a little cloud cover myself. The longer the sun stays off Dead Dog the better.” Aaron made the observation as Seth cracked some eggs over a pan and started scrambling them next to the bacon strips he’d placed there earlier.

“Sun won’t be a problem for anyone making an early start.” Gene cast a derisive eye over the breakfast fixings laid out on the bed of the truck. Seth did tend to over pack when they were car camping and didn’t have to carry cooking supplies on their backs. He had a large tub filled with cooking utensils and instead of freeze dried meals, he brought fresh food in a cooler and prepared it over the camp stove. “I keep reminding my girl here of that small fact, but she’s another one who needs to be pampered with a warm breakfast before hitting the trail.”

He threw an arm around Mandy as he spoke but the words came off more contemptuous than playful. Beside him, Aaron felt Seth stiffen at the implication that wanting a hot breakfast when camping was an indication of weakness, of lesser fortitude.

“Each climber has to figure out what works best for themselves.” Aaron returned a mild response. Climbing was not usually a competitive sport but every once in a while you met someone like Gene who turned the experience into a series of one upmanships. He gave a small smile and nodded at Mandy and Gene, then hitched his hip onto the tailgate close to where Seth was cooking and sipped his coffee.

“Smells great, sweetheart.” He spoke softly, not necessarily with the intent of masking the endearment from the other two, but more to encourage them to get on with their own preparations for the hike. Gene seemed eager to do just that.

“You’ve checked your gear, right?” Gene’s question to Mandy was curt.

“I’ll take one last look after I clean up here.”

“Well, let’s get a move on.” He stomped away.

Mandy glanced over and caught Aaron watching as she broke down their stove. “My boyfriend can be grouchy in the morning. And he gets amped up before a climb.”

Mandy stood in a halo formed by a battery powered lamp perched on the edge of the truckbed. Aaron noticed her cheeks were rosy from the cool air. Her skin was smooth, eyes sparkled, and she looked eager for the coming adventure, if a little nervous.

“Is this your first winter climb?” Aaron asked.

“No, but it’s the first time I’ll be using crampons and my ice axe.”

“Same here.” Seth chimed in and handed over a plate of food to Aaron. He held a crispy piece of bacon out to Mandy. “One for the road?”

Mandy accepted with a smile. “Do your girlfriends ever come with you on these hikes?”

Aaron and Seth exchanged a look before Aaron spoke. “It’s always the two of us. No girlfriends in the picture.”

Mandy’s eyes widened. “Oh, I get it. Sorry, I…”

They waved her off. “No need to apologize.”

“Mandy!” Gene’s voice carried across the parking area, eliciting some rumbling from the handful of other tents in the vicinity. They probably held people here for backcountry skiing or snowboarding.

With a little salute to Aaron and Seth, Mandy slammed the tailgate up and headed in the direction of her boyfriend.

Aaron shook his head as he scraped the last of his breakfast from the plate. Seth noticed.

“What’s that for?”

“Just that that Gene fellow doesn’t appreciate what he has in her. She’s cute, friendly and willing to attempt a winter ascent of a fourteener.”

Seth began tossing the cooking supplies into his tub. “I guess. He did seem like sort of a jerk but maybe it’s like she said, just morning grouchiness.”

Aaron watched the two figures cross the wood bridge that spanned the river. Gene and Mandy were on their way into Steven’s Gulch. Fifteen minutes later, he and Seth were on the trail as well.

*******************

“I didn’t think it would be so steep.” Seth had dropped his pack and was staring at the next leg of their route. Dead Dog Couloir. They’d spent the last hour hiking in to the basin on a relatively flat, snow packed trail. Now they stood facing the steep slope that would take them out of Steven’s Gulch and connect them to the ridge leading to the summit of Mt. Torreys.

Aaron released his pack next to Seth’s and started unlatching his ice axe and crampons.

“The pitch isn’t too bad until the very top. It only looks steep because we’re looking at it from the bottom.”

The snowcapped summits of Grays and Torreys rose grandly to the west. Their sides were snow covered as well, except for a few barren parts of the slopes where wind had whipped the snow away. A ridgeline well above tree level connected lesser mountains to the south and north, forming a ring or bowl around the basin where Seth and Aaron stood.

The sky was purple with morning rays that turned the snow a peaceful lavender. Ski tracks crisscrossed the northern part of the bowl, below Grays’ summit. People told him he was crazy for doing these winter climbs but Aaron always thought the skiers were the really crazy ones. By the time he and Seth made it to the top of Dead Dog, they’d see people making their first runs down into the basin and then hiking their way back up to repeat the business.

To the right of Grays’ rounded peak was the more imposing summit of Mt. Torreys. Craggy couloirs ran up the face of the mountain. The curled snow cornices at their tops were often present even in July. The rock buried under the snow was old and loose. As the day wore on, chunks of rock and ice would go skittering off the mountain. It was then that the danger of avalanche was greatest. Torreys’ Dead Dog couloir was a relatively stable snow route up to the Kelso ridge which led to the mountain’s summit. As long as they ascended when the snow was firm, the avalanche danger was minimal.

Aaron sucked in a mouthful of water from the bladder buried in his backpack and fished out a couple of cellophane wrapped candies. He unwrapped a lime flavored one for Seth who was seated on the snow and strapping his crampons to his boots. Seth had removed his gloves to better facilitate the process, his fine, pale fingers nimbly making adjustments. The pinky finger on his right hand sported sparkly, purple nail polish.

Aaron watched the process. He was dating a man who wore nail polish. Openly dating him. Aaron felt a goofy smile cross his face as he shook his head. Seth caught the movement. “Am I putting these on wrong?”

“No, you’re doing fine. That was for me.” Aaron crouched down, popped the candy into Seth’s mouth and began putting on his own ice gear. “I was just thinking about how long we’ve been dating. It’s been good spending the last two years with you.”

“You haven’t been so bad yourself.” Seth straightened a leg and rotated his boot, examining the fit of the clawed metal he’d placed over the tread in the same way he’d examine a pair of Italian loafers. “Must admit, I had my doubts about you at first, Aaron…Mr. ‘I’m bisexual and only like guys on the side.’”

“I was never that bad.”

“Just saying that I wasn’t sure you were ready to really be out. Especially with a guy like me. I might pass for normal out here in the woods but that’s only because it’s hard to get a good sashay going in hiking boots.”

As he was meant to, Aaron laughed. “Sweetheart, I’d find that ass of yours sexy no matter what shoes you were wearing. You sashay just fine in hiking boots. Why do you think I always walk behind you on the trail? And no more talk about not being normal. You’re perfectly normal to me.”

“I’m never going to pass for straight. I don’t even have to open my mouth. People figure me for gay as soon as they see me. Well, at least in street clothes they do.”

“Yep. And that’s perfectly normal.” Aaron stood and pulled Seth to his feet. “You ready for Dead Dog?”

Seth eyed the steep route. “Exactly how did it get that name? Dead Dog?”

“One guess.” Aaron pulled his pack back on.

“What about people? Has anyone died climbing it?”

“Not recently.” Aaron cinched the waist strap tighter and saw that his boyfriend wasn’t looking reassured. “Hey, we’re in good shape. The snowpack looks firm. It’s not warm enough yet to melt and loosen. We’ve got the right gear to ascend safely. Are you ready?”

Seth took a deep breath. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

As they approached the couloir, Seth continued to look worried. He repeatedly cast glances up the steep ascent to Kelso ridge. Aaron searched for a way to distract him.

“Hey Seth, you remember when we were first dating? You used to ask me to prove I was bi, not gay, by telling you which women I found attractive.”

“Yeah, and you never could. I’m still not sure you really are bisexual, you fraud.”

“Mandy.”

“Huh?”

“Mandy, from the trailhead this morning. She’s got it going on. Sporty, friendly, into climbing, attractive but not too worried about her looks. I could go for her.”

Seth looked at him, mouth pulled into a dumbfounded “oh.” He really was a sexy, little package. Like Aaron, he was on the short side, but where Aaron had a thickset, muscular frame, Seth was thin and light. Aaron always imagined he could sweep Seth into his arms and spin him around. Satisfied that he’d done his job by distracting Seth, he decided to give him the task of picking out their route.

“Alright, boyfriend. Let’s see how much you’ve learned since you’ve been with me. Tell me what route we should take up Dead Dog.”

Gene and Mandy could be seen about a quarter of the way up, hugging the left side of the trough. They each had their ice axe out, planting the staff into the thick snow and using it as a supporting handrail while they climbed. Seth spent a few moments examining the terrain.

“Up top, we need to gain the ridge on the right side of the couloir, that’s for sure. That cornice over the left part isn’t very big but we certainly shouldn’t climb over it.”

“Agreed.”

“Down here, though, I think we should follow in Gene and Mandy’s steps. The snow looks better on the left side of the couloir. The right looks rockier and the snow doesn’t appear to be as hard packed.”

“Just what I would have said.” Aaron warmed with pride and a sense of camaraderie. While it was fun teaching Seth the ropes, what he really wanted was a companion, someone who shared equally in his love for the sport. “As we get towards the top, we’ll need to look for the best place to traverse the couloir and gain access to the ridge. That will be the trickiest part of the climb.”

With the clawed tread of the crampons, they began kick-stepping their way up the couloir.

Thanks for reading! Only two more chapters. This one's a short one.

Copyright © 2014 Percy; All Rights Reserved.
If you enjoyed what you have read, please leave a reaction and/or comment for the author!

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Chapter Comments

Heya Percy!

 

I'm really enjoying your new story! I know nada about mountain climbing, so I find this story very interesting.

 

I also enjoy the easy banter back and forth between Aaron and Seth. I loved the 'sashaying in hiking boots' line. That was really funny. :)

 

I'm looking forward to the next chapter. :2thumbs:

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You write with such ease and control. You're a real expert at setting up a situation. The characters are beautifully, economically rendered and are entirely believable. It's a lovely beginning. I look forward to the rest. When will you take me climbing?

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On 03/19/2014 03:26 AM, Lisa said:
Heya Percy!

 

I'm really enjoying your new story! I know nada about mountain climbing, so I find this story very interesting.

 

I also enjoy the easy banter back and forth between Aaron and Seth. I loved the 'sashaying in hiking boots' line. That was really funny. :)

 

I'm looking forward to the next chapter. :2thumbs:

Thanks, Lisa! I hope you continue to enjoy it. I appreciate the review.
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On 03/19/2014 05:01 AM, carringtonrj said:
You write with such ease and control. You're a real expert at setting up a situation. The characters are beautifully, economically rendered and are entirely believable. It's a lovely beginning. I look forward to the rest. When will you take me climbing?
Thanks for the kind feedback. I'll take you climbing anytime. Can you get a good sashay going in hiking boots?
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You amaze me with how much you can put into one chapter, and not a long one either. The description of the mountains, skiers, your characters, and they just mesh like magic. Love this :)

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On 03/21/2014 05:05 AM, Cole Matthews said:
Great setup and good characters! I'm excited to see what's up next.
Thank you! Glad to have you reading.
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On 03/21/2014 06:46 AM, joann414 said:
You amaze me with how much you can put into one chapter, and not a long one either. The description of the mountains, skiers, your characters, and they just mesh like magic. Love this :)
Thank you, Joann. I appreciate you saying so. I was ruthless with myself on editing down words. I'm glad it's working.
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Great beginning! I hope this is a safe climbing trip and Aaron and Seth get back home safely.

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On 03/23/2014 02:26 AM, Suvitar said:
Great beginning! I hope this is a safe climbing trip and Aaron and Seth get back home safely.
Thanks for commenting. So glad you enjoyed it.
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Light and delicate word formation that paint a picture so eloquently Percy. Never done ice or snow climbing, although watched a few programs about Everest, but having said that, you feel in safe hands reading the passage of action during this chapter.

Love your character build up. I really like the sound of Seth. He seems fun and sexy. :)

Aaron seems to be a solid man's man if that's an alright way of putting it, and as for Gene, well that's not a name you come across very often. :P

He seems a bit of a plonker to be fair. I hope his one upmanship does not upset the barrel cart during the climb! :/

Great opening chapter Percy, looking forward to seeing where the climb takes us.

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On 10/12/2014 09:29 AM, Yettie One said:
Light and delicate word formation that paint a picture so eloquently Percy. Never done ice or snow climbing, although watched a few programs about Everest, but having said that, you feel in safe hands reading the passage of action during this chapter.

Love your character build up. I really like the sound of Seth. He seems fun and sexy. :)

Aaron seems to be a solid man's man if that's an alright way of putting it, and as for Gene, well that's not a name you come across very often. :P

He seems a bit of a plonker to be fair. I hope his one upmanship does not upset the barrel cart during the climb! :/

Great opening chapter Percy, looking forward to seeing where the climb takes us.

Plonker! I like that. You Brits have the best expressions. Glad you liked the start of this story. It's one of my favorites.
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