The Long Haul Sample

The Long Haul


I stared across the top of the wildly flapping tent and tried to make out George’s shape as he struggled with the eyelets on his side. The drift and wind was so strong that even though we were only five feet apart, communication was impossible save a few desperate hand gestures. We had erected the tent, our home, dozens of times previously and had honed it down to a fine art. We had skied far too long into the storm; I knew this and cursed myself for putting mileage ahead of safety.

The process was usually so simple. For ease, we had never fully collapsed the tent each day, only releasing the pole tension and folding the fifteen foot tunnel into a neat sausage to be strapped to a sledge. We had previously managed it with minimal fuss and in only five minutes or so, despite the usual evening fatigue. Today was different and we had been fighting the writhing mass of canvas and poles for over ten minutes. George and I were wearing our full inventory of gloves and mitts, making our hands about twice the size of normal with useless dexterity. Feeding the end of a pole into an eyelet is not a complicated task but on our twentieth attempt I started to turn my mind to our contingency plan. In the event of a lost, destroyed or unerectable tent, the only sensible option was to retreat to the only other shelter we had, our sledges. The expedition was less than a third complete and the sledges were still extremely full. Squeezing in a freezing, shivering and scared occupant would be both a feat of determination and flexibility! Once the reinforced zip cover was closed over us, we would be out of the worst of the wind and drift and able to ride out the storm.

My attention snapped back to reality as George yelled over from the other side that he had got a pole in. I could barely hear a word but his body language suggested a renewed focus to get into shelter. I started to coordinate the remainder of the poles and the main structure of the tunnel was complete. As normal, even in calm conditions, the tent was already shackled to a sledge using a carabiner as an anchor against the wind. The wind caused the tent to act as a giant kite and lifted straight up into the air, blowing hard into our faces. The problem was since the tent had only one anchor at the windward end, our own efforts to tame the beast were futile. The powerful gusts were pushing underneath the ground sheet of the tunnel tent and lifting it up, making it impossible to use our skis as corner anchors or get snow onto the valance flaps along the sides.

It had been a quarter of an hour since we had stopped hauling and we were starting to get cold as we weren’t able to get our down jackets from the sledges. My fingers were like wood and George shouted into my ear that his were also deteriorating. In a final concerted effort, I grabbed a ski as George forced the tent down with his bodyweight and I managed to get a second anchor. In what must have been only a few seconds, we got the third and fourth skis in places and threw our tent bags into the inner compartment in an attempt to stop the wind flowing under it. The shovel was on my sledge and so I wrenched it off the top of the canvas and started to madly move ice and snow onto the valances to stabilise the tent. George dragged the remaining sledge into a windbreak position and then ran over to my obscured figure in the blizzard.

‘Shall we get in?’, George screamed with a hint of humour and then dived straight through the side opening of the tent into the outer area. I followed immediately after and we landed in a mangled heap.

We lay on the snow for a minute or so and both started laughing in total relief. The roar of the wind was still deafening and the tent was being thrown around horribly but we were out of the wind and hadn’t lost any equipment. It was time to pick ourselves up and move on.