The Eighth Story Mountain of Blood and Tears

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As tourists come to visit the mountains in the fall, surely many have taken time to read the historical and official sign that marks Blood Mountain and to wonder about the myths that surround it and the history that gave it its name.

I quote directly from the sign:. One of these mythical townhouses stood near Lake Trahlyta. Before the coming of white settlers, the Creeks and Cherokees fought a disastrous and bloody battle in Slaughter Gap between Slaughter and Blood Mountain. First, the myth of the Nunnehi was common to other places, not just to Blood Mountain. From Mooney's "Myths of the Cherokee," we learn that the spirit people often assisted those in trouble on their hunts and travels. They were caregivers for those in distress and provided places of rest and recuperation.

Who are we to find fault with the myths of the Nunnehi? Most of us believe in guardian angels who protect and minister. Maybe we express our stories in a different way from the Cherokee-held beliefs of the "People Who Live Anywhere. Not even the Nunnehi could prevent the confrontation between the Creeks and the Cherokees that occurred many years ago. When the Cherokee came south, they discovered the Creek Nation already entrenched in the mountains.

Desiring the land for their habitation, the Cherokee waged a great battle against the Creeks at Slaughter Gap.

John Ross (Cherokee chief) - Wikipedia

It is said that the streams ran red with blood from those killed as these two Native American tribes fought for dominance of the land. Thence came the name for the highest peak where this battle occurred, and Blood Mountain stands as a sentinel to this historic fray. The Cherokee built villages throughout Union County. One was in the shadow of Blood Mountain. Then the white men began to come to the mountains to settle. At first the whites and Cherokees lived in peace.

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Known as one of the five "civilized" tribes the others were Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Seminoles , the Cherokee taught the white man how to till the rugged mountain land and what herbs and plants were beneficial for eating and for medicinal purposes. History teaches us of the treaties signed and the efforts made to separate the Cherokee from their lands.

Some of them are cited here. The Treaty of ceded Cherokee lands to the whites in other southeastern states except in north Georgia and eastern Tennessee. With the discovery of gold in , prospectors became land-hungry and excessively greedy. He staggered and toppled over, wanting only to go to sleep. At this point, the group had descended several hundred feet and were clustered just below the Hogsback.


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But visibility was now between 20 and 30 feet. Conditions like this can induce vertigo. Given all that, what happened next was nothing less than heroic, illustrating the best of the Basecamp ideals. Susan McClave, a senior and an experienced climber, took off her jacket and boots and crawled inside to warm him up.

While this was going on, Summers fumbled with the controls of his field stove, igniting the burner and boiling water, into which he dissolved two lemon drops. He gave the container to an athletic year-old named Giles Thompson. The rewarming process helped, but it ate up time. Roughly an hour passed before the group got going again, led now by Summers and McClave, who stepped into a leadership role when leadership was most urgently needed. Whatever the reason, the climbers were moving almost directly sideways, across the face of the mountain, instead of down.

As they proceeded, Summers noticed a crack in the snow and grew worried: he thought they might be crossing an area called White River Glacier. Under any circumstances, crossing a glacier is dangerous, because its crevasses are not always visible. In a blizzard, blowing snow undergoes a process called mechanical hardening, meaning it can accumulate in caps—or bridges—over empty space. These bridges can collapse when you step on them. The emphasis is his. By this point, visibility was less than ten feet, and winds were getting stronger. After leading the group past the crack, Summers moved ahead.

Before long, he felt his foot go over an edge abruptly. Then he saw another crevasse, which looked to be 30 feet deep.

It was around 7 p. I started digging a snow cave. They showed up at the base of Mount Hood, in the middle of the storm, carrying their gear in a blue and white Suburban that practically dragged its muffler on the pavement as it moved along. Kelsey spent 17 years as a PMR volunteer. Winds of qualify as a Category 2 hurricane. It was immediately clear that the rescuers, just by stepping outside in the maelstrom, would be risking their lives. With blowing snow, you have zero visibility.

Those are really, really dangerous conditions. First was PMR, at At came the ground crew from the th recovery squadron, a unit of Air Force pararescuers. Throughout the morning other teams arrived, with some people bringing Tucker Sno-Cats—big, bulky all-terrain vehicles that weighed more than two tons each. They found nothing.

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Searching through the worst of the storm—covering a vast, snow-blown area—the volunteers struggled to see or hear anything. The wind howled. Snow piled up. During the initial day of searching, the winds were strong enough that they flipped over a Sno-Cat; after it was put back upright, a window popped out. And still the volunteers went out. During a storm emergency, a snow cave can be a lifesaving shelter.

When it was finished, the cave had floor space measuring roughly six feet by eight feet and was four feet high inside. The students and adults got on their hands and knees and crawled into the compact space two at a time, passing through a three-foot entrance that would have run slightly uphill. They wedged their bodies through. Legs crossed over legs, arms jammed into the snow.

It quickly became clear that the cave was too small. It was big enough for six, but they were trying to fit in It was claustrophobic inside, and the walls soon began to thaw from body heat. Snowmelt accumulated in a slushy trough on the cave floor; anybody in the middle ended up in a shallow pool of ice water. Terrified, the students struggled to breathe. The students set up a rotation—they would take turns sitting outside in the gale-force winds. Goman, already shaking with cold, spent part of that first night outside the cave, fully exposed.

Together with other students, he struggled to keep the cave mouth open.

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At some point during the night, the wind outside the cave entrance sucked away both the shovel and the sleeping bag. Without the shovel, the students had to try to keep the entrance clear with an ice ax and by moving in and out of the cave. By first light on Tuesday morning, the situation had become untenable. As Hallman recounted in , Summers asked Goman to count to ten and he was unable to. So Summers decided he had to leave, to try and get down and find rescuers. Summers asked if anyone wanted to go with him.

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Molly Schula, one of the advanced climbers, volunteered. They got started and vanished into the whiteout. As they descended, glissading down a steep slope, Schula saw the shovel—a critical piece of equipment for keeping the entrance open—lying on the snow. Instead they trudged forward, step by step, still going in the wrong direction.


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A few hours later, by A. Inside, they waited, vacillating between hope and despair. The air was cold and damp. It must have been painful to breathe. And the cave opening was getting smaller as new snow kept coming in. In a real sense, this was a sanctified space, and it should be respected as the place where four children and two adults died. The blizzard was still raging. But she was small; someone her size could still fit through it, clearing an air passage if the group was lucky.