Evening was well underway by the time the rain, as rain tends to do, that time of year, turned to snow, and at first Einar rejoiced in the change--come on, snow, cover our tracks and baffle the enemy, if he’s out there--but after a time he noticed that Liz was falling further and further behind, leaving him with increasing frequency to have to stop and wait for her. Quite a shift from earlier in the day when his ribs had been making it difficult for him to keep up with her, and he stopped under a tree, crouching there until she joined him.
“Need a little rest?”
“No, I’m Ok. It’s just getting…so slippery out here. Hard for me to navigate some of these rocks, with my balance not quite what it ought to be, but it’s working. How far do you figure we’ll go?”
Liz was exhausted. He could hear it in her voice, wasn’t any better off, himself, though he’d managed to rather forcefully put the fact out of his mind for the last hour or so, knowing that if he allowed himself to take it into consideration, he’d be through. She wanted to stop. Needed to, probably, and really, he saw little point in traveling too much further that evening. They’d put a good bit of distance behind them already, between them and that camera, and he didn’t want to get so far out of the area that they would miss signs of activity down there, of such ended up occurring. That would be the signal that they really did need to abandon the basin once and for all, that the place had been compromised, their presence discovered. Might as well find a place to settle in for the night. One thing was for sure: they couldn’t stay as they were for too long, huddled there in the half-protection of that tree in their rain-sodden and now half frozen clothes as the wind howled thin and piercing up the slope at them. Already Einar was trembling with the lack of motion, and he could see that Liz wouldn’t be far behind him. If they were going to stop, they must do it right, find some real shelter, get into the dry clothes that Liz had thankfully thought to pack, and rig the elk hide so they would have a good chance of remaining dry though the night. Wouldn’t be able to have a fire--that was a chance he absolutely wasn’t willing to take, considering the uncertain situation with the camera and the hunters…if they were really hunters--but at least they could be dry and out of the wind. Liz was waiting for his answer.
“Not much further. Don’t figure we’ll go much further at all. Time to hole up for the night, just as soon as we find a good spot.”
The relief in her face was obvious, even to Einar, who was no good at all at reading faces, and he knew he’d made the right decision. For a number of reasons. Shelter, then. They had to find shelter, and the tree beneath which they had paused was definitely not it. Wasn’t thick enough to have prevented snow from accumulating already beneath it, blown in on the wind to cover the ground in a thin, damp layer; a most inhospitable place, and Einar got himself to his feet, helped Liz up and once again began climbing. Movement felt good, once he managed to push himself through those agonizing first few steps, ribs protesting all the way and legs threatening to give out. Felt awfully good. He was freezing, needed to get his heart rate up again, warm himself.
Shelter. Wasn’t much of it up there in those rocks he’d led them to, desolate landscape of steep outcroppings grown thick with low, stunted clumps of timber an excellent one for throwing off pursuers, but not so good when it came to spending a stormy night. Well. One can’t have everything, but can, if he looks hard enough, almost always find what he needs to keep alive, keep going, and with this in mind Einar looked, scouring the little sheltered spots on the leeward side of some of the outcroppings until, not far from dark, he finally found one that seemed as though it might offer them some of what they needed, including immediate relief from the wind. Together they fell into the little space, protected on one side by a five foot high granite wall and closely surrounded by the dense, hardy little firs that were ubiquitous up on that slope, trunks growing so closely that Liz had to take off her pack before she could push her way through them. Good. It felt safe, protected, relatively still, if not very much warmer than the open slope had been. Einar knew dry clothes would go a long way towards making them feel warmer, slowing further loss of heat, and he shrugged out of the heavy elk hide, let it fall to the ground beside the wall of granite where its hair wouldn’t become any further soaked, knelt there for a minute just breathing, relieved to be rid of its rather significant weight. Liz was working to get out of the pack and he helped her, began pulling items out and lining them up along the wall, glad to see that she’d packed the clothes at the bottom where they had remained mostly dry, rolled up tightly and tied with bits of nettle cordage.
Once they were out of their sodden clothes and into dry ones the world was beginning to look like a much better place to both Einar and Liz, snow falling softly around them and only the occasional flake finding its way through their thick cover of intertwined fir boughs. Liz, only just beginning to catch her breath after the climb and their hurried changing of clothes, crouched with her back to the granite, sorting through the few possessions they’d brought with them.
“It came quickly, didn’t it? The snow…”
“Yep. Happens this time of year. Won’t stay. It’s too early. Probably be gone within a day or two, all but a few little drifts in the shadows, but for tonight, looks like we’re in for kind of a rough one. Need to…” he stood, legs stiff, unsteady, not responding too well, “to shake out this hide, get the snow off of it so it’ll be as dry as possible for tonight, because it’s not gonna be real comfortable to huddle under a soaking wet elk hide on a near-freezing night…” he paused, gave Liz a mischievous, lopsided grin that she did not entirely understand, “though if it comes to that, I can tell you I have done it, and lived… Here. Thing’s pretty heavy. You take one end, and help me unroll it.”
To their relief--Liz’s especially, as Einar’s almost-cheerful description of his night spent huddled wet and freezing beneath a sodden elk hide had struck her as a bit unnerving, especially as he had come across as almost eager to repeat the experience--the hide had remained largely dry due to the way Einar had rolled it, edges quite damp but a good sized area in the center not bad at all. They would have cover for the night. Needed something for the floor, though, some fir boughs to sit on, as the ground cover was quite sparse there in the shelter, a function, Einar supposed, of the slope’s steepness. Most of the ground cover having apparently ended up somewhere further downslope, they found themselves sitting on rock with a thin cover of fir needles, not particularly insulating or comfortable, and Einar wriggled his way through the trees that formed the outer wall of their little refuge, wanting to cut boughs for a ground cover, but not wishing in doing so to diminish the natural protection afforded them by those nearby trees.
Returning with an armload of freshly cut boughs, pulling the bundle with difficulty in between the mess of trees that shielded them, he shook off the bits of moisture that had accumulated on the return crawl, began arranging the soft, fragrant boughs on the floor of their shelter, piling them two layers thick until he had created a very adequate barrier against the insidious, seeping cold of the rock below. Liz tested the mattress--too short for her, let alone Einar, but that hardly mattered, as she was sure they’d be spending the night curled up against the cold--and found it to be so comfortable that she wanted to go to sleep right then and there, but knew there was more work to do. They had to eat. She was feeling all hungry and hollow inside, herself, and knew it must be worse for Einar, though he wasn’t letting on. From their gear she gathered the bag of jerky, the bear fat and dried serviceberries they had brought as travel rations, intending to do her best at making them a cold supper from the items--not a bad supper at all, compared to some of the things they had eaten, at times--but Einar, having spread part of the elk hide out flesh side up, had other ideas.