Thursday, September 1, 2011

Where are you, Jake?

We've been looking for you for four days now. I stare out the window of the helicopter at rock and snow and lakes, looking for your blue shirt, your curly brown hair. I look for your tracks on the lingering snowfields, for your backpack abandoned on a lonely ridge. Where are you? I need to know.

We are taking a break from our normal firefighting operations to help look for you deep in Glacier National Park. The water bucket and saw are set aside to make room for searchers' packs and bear spray. Instead of talking to Anthony in our dispatch center, we relay through Scalplock Lookout and call Search Team 7, or Upper Park Patrol Cabin. Brave Dog Mountain and Lost Basin have become as familiar to me as the landmarks I normally see on the way to Spotted Bear airstrip to pick up fire managers.

Here is what I know about you: you work in the park on the weeds crew. You're 27, and you love to hike off trail. You scouted this route and wanted to be the first to complete it. Your girlfriend, Katie, silent and lovely, attends the morning briefings. Searchers found your nickname in one of the peak registers, a few tracks, then nothing. Where are you?

Did you slip and fall on the treacherous traverse towards Peak 8888? Did you backtrack, reconsidering, and meet a bear in one of these wild, lonely cirques? Slide on snow into a cold stream? Are you waiting for us under a subalpine fir? It snowed last night up on the ridge. Did you feel the snowflakes on your face?

Do the mountains have you now?

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