Here is one of mine, cross-posted from the Taco. Cheers Summitpost! I figger the mountaineers of this board will have some similar tales of woe to relate.
Brutus, Em and I were descending the north face of Norman Clyde peak in the dwindling light of a dying day. We did some raps, scrambled this way and that but it was all for naught... we were not going to find our exit from the somber face before complete darkness.
Brutus cheerfully announced 'unplanned bivi number 54' was about to commence. He picked a nearby ledge system and started working on bed.
I was not so ready to admit immobility. I looked around and announced with way more assurance than I felt, I could see the way down the next section of class 3.
"Dingus, even if we get down that, we still have a long way to go. We're tired and its too dangerous to keep going."
As much as I hated to admit it, I had to agree.
The ledge Brutus and Em had selected had room for three people sitting up, backs to the wall, feet over the edge, cheek to cheek. I couldn't stomach the thought of spending the night like that. Already a graduate of the Brutus School of First Ascent Bivi Ledge Construction (101, and 201 and an advanced application study in the field) I found something maybe 20 feet away, two sorta levels spots separated by a gap.
So I did some impromptu civil engineering and constructed a narrow bed upon which I could actually stretch out. It was really narrow but a blade of rock on the outside edge gave me a rail of sorts to keep me from rolling off.
An immovable chunk of rock in the small of my back assured me of a very uncomfortable night though.
Brutus and Em had the pocket sized mylar space blankets. I had toted a heavier space blanket, the sewed kind. I use them as ground cloths for mountaineering camping and then bring along occasionally for summit pushes.
Now my friends knew I had it. I think (they never voiced this outloud) they were expecting me to sit with them and combine my blanket and body heat with theirs. But I couldn't stomach sitting up all night like that.
Frankly I hate unplanned bivis, they bring out my lingering sense of claustrophobia. The very thought of being trapped like that bothers me. I was being only slightly irrational at the time however.
Anyway I declined to sit up with them - 'You will have more room over there without me.' Which was true. But they wouldn't have my heat. I didn't care.
So I wrapped myself up in my plastic cocoon and tried to sleep. They did the best they could with their mylar and thus began a long cold cloudless night.
The stars were spectacular. I actually slept. I was told the next morning I snored a lot. It was said with a smile that smile did not touch the eyes however.
During the night I awoke to hear ghostly singing from seemingly down canyon, down in the S. Fork of Big Pine creek drainage. Norman Clyde's long lost bride? Or maybe it was just Em singing softly to ward off time and cold... they never told me.
Slowly the alpine dawn crept around... yall know how long it takes to get light on a north face, right? That time from the first hint of the returning light at the edge of the night sky, till we could actually see well enough to get moving again, crawled, well, timeless. That aching yearning for light in the coldest part of the night.
I wasn't cold though. Oh I was on the edge of it, all night. But with my feet in my pack and care taken to close the air gaps, I was 'warm' enough to sleep.
But you know what? I barely gave my companions position a thought through that long night. I was exhausted and tired and out of shape and I took care of myself as best I could. I was selfish with my blankie... and I even knew it at the time.
So finally morning rolls around and my stoic companions start moving. I had been out of water since the summit and now by morning I was so miserably thirsty I would have cried if I could. I was stiff and hurting all over, headache pounding and now with ample light I could see Brutus was right... we would not have escaped the face that previous night, no matter what. We would have just ground to a halt in terrain even less hospitable than where we were (which was bad enough).
I looked over at Brutus and Em as I stirred, a remarkable sight...
At some point in the early dark, say within 15 minutes of wrapping themselves up in mylar, the wind and rocks and normal body movements shredded their blankets. They were useless for the purpose of providing heat. That's when they could have used my heat and my blanket, draped over us all in sitting position (there wasn't even spooning room on their perch, nor mine, for that matter).
So they instead stuffed what was left of the mylar shred into their clothes, to provide at least some insulation. And there they sat on ropes and packs, shivering and uncomfortably shifting this way and that to try and warm each other... as I snored a short distance away.
So when I looked at them, in that gray morning light, they had pieces of mylar sticking out of their sleeves and coat collars, like, well, straw coming out of scarecrows. And after a long climb and even longer unplanned north face bivi, well, we all looked like scarecrows too.
Man I was SO thirsty! It was like gravel glued to the back of my throat.
Brutus and Em were out of water too, so I was surprised, no, shocked, when he produced a half full nalgene of water that morning and offered some H20 to the love of his life. As I watched Em gratefully accept a drink I asked him where it came from...
"I melted some snow against my body last night." He said it with that Brutus cheer, happy with is ingenuity.
He melted.... some snow... against his body. During that endless and freezing bivi.
Think about that for a second.
He offered me a drink.
I never properly apologized for that night out. And I got yet another lesson about strength and character. Waters my eyes right now, as I type, to think about it.
I was ashamed and knew I shouldn't, but I accepted that drink. The shame has left me, but not the respect nor the awe I felt, when I realized what he'd done.
We hit glorious sunlight about an hour later as we crossed to the base of the Firebird Ridge. You know what Brutus did then?
He hiked up 3rd class terrain (real, Sierra 3rd class) to reach the snowfields below the climbs proper, got more liquid gold and brought it back down to us. I reckon he had to climb some 300 or more feet up to that water...
I have had a whole different perspective on the uses of mylar space blankets, since that long night out on the north face of Norman Clyde Peak.
We climb in the footsteps of giants, eh?