In this passage I am introducing a new character by briefly relating her back story. Using 'had' all the time feels clunky, and I've dropped it in the second paragraph, but can I drop it earlier and just use the simple past tense? (Sorry - I don't know what the other tense is called!)
Isola was the sole survivor of a massive rock-fall that had completely destroyed her small community, including her mate and daughter. She had roamed the country in a daze of grief for months, staying alive by instinct rather than by intention, and in late autumn settled into a cave at the foot of the Pass. With nothing to eat but stewed roots and meat scavenged from cougar kills, she had expected to die in her first winter, but Velik had seen the smoke of her fire and bought his way into the cave with a fat doe. Between them they’d kept a fire burning through the Sleep and, when Velik left in the spring, Isola had been surprised to find she was not only alive, but determined to remain so.
Throughout that year she learned to hunt small animals and birds with a sling-shot, supplementing her diet with roots, fruit and nuts, and slowly she adapted to her solitary life.