Amazing how an elevation gain of only a dozen feet or so can make such a difference in what is visible at times, but often this is the case, as it was for Liz and then for Einar, too, when he joined her atop the limestone boulder. Rough and grippy, the kind of stuff climbers—those who aren’t too busy complaining about its tendency to abrade and tear up one’s hands, at least—will often seek out, the massif presented ample opportunities for safe traction, even drifted as it was in places with remaining snow, and though Einar struggled some with his injured leg on the climb, he managed the feat fairly quickly and stood panting beside Liz, hands on his knees, breath coming rough and hard after the effort as he squinted off across the great gulf of air which opened empty and yawning before them.
“Found the…rim, Lizzie! This is good news. Real good news. Had no idea we were…this close.”
“I know! I was just climbing this rock in the hopes of seeing something, anything other than this endless sea of aspens, and boy, was I surprised to find myself looking right down over the edge like this! But that’s not the best of it. Look!”
Standing upright he scanned the distance, trying to spot the thing that had her so excited, but the world swam and blurred before him until, dizzy, he had to sit down in a hurry to keep from pitching forward and taking one incredible tumble right down the canyon wall. Rubbed his eyes, shook his head and accepted the water Liz was trying to press into his hands, vision a bit clearer after that, world steadying down some. He almost had another encounter with the great gulf of the canyon when, seeing at last the sight to which she had been trying to direct him, he leapt to his feet and did a spontaneous little half-circle dance around her, grinning all the while.
Liz caught his hand, pulling him hastily away from the edge. “Whoa, hey, settle down there! I know we have parachutes, but without one actually strapped to your back, I don’t think straight ahead is the best way to get over there! Do you?”
Laughing, he sat back down, this time at a respectful distance. “No. Fastest for sure, but not the best. But Lizzie, you’ve found them. Those are the caves, for sure. No doubt about it. See where the rock changes color there beneath that cluster of dark spots? Like a big streak or iron running own over the grey? Well, those’re minerals from the caves. Some of those are pretty exposed, probably too exposed to be a good idea for us, but where there’s one there’s almost bound to be more, and you see that timber over there, where it stretches down into the deep gully-like cut just to the left of that group of caves? Well, those trees are probably concealing another one or two, and maybe in one of those we can find the sort of shelter we’ve been looking for. Good find!”
“The only problem now is how best to get from here to there. You may be able to walk on air or soar to the bottom without a chute and come away with nothing more than a twisted leg…but I’m pretty sure I can’t do that!”
“I can’t do it either,” he growled, wondering at her motive for continuing to bring up his failed landing and half wanting to remind her that its consequences had by no means been limited to his bum leg, but thinking better of that entire line of conversation. “Best way, I’m thinking, is going to involve traversing the thing. Heading up around the canyon itself, to the spot where things level out and we can walk right on around to the place where the caves are. May take us a day or two, but it’s a whole lot better than flying!”
“Yes. I wonder though…what about working our way down the cliff face?”
He laughed softly. “Paracord rappel?”
“No! Technically possible, I know, but not if we can help it. I meant if we could find a gully like that timbered one you were pointing out to me, and work our way down that. It might save us a lot of travel, and keep us from leaving tracks all along the canyon rim for somebody to maybe see from a plane…”
“Good thinking. Sure, we might find something like that. And it might run out halfway down, like the one opposite us here appears to do. I’ve seen that plenty of times. But maybe worth a try anyway, because you sure are right about it being more secure, and as far as saving the travel…well, I hate to say it, but that might not be a bad idea.”
“You don’t have to say it. I know. I can see how things are, right now. We need to find a place to hole up.”
He shrugged, looked away. So. It was that obvious. She was right, though. He was about done in, had barely been able to get himself to his feet that morning—feet? You could barely open your eyes there for a long while; not a good sign—knew it had little to do with the leg and sure didn’t want the trouble to be going any further before they’d reached a safe shelter where they could hope to stay for a while and from which it would be easier to provide for their ongoing needs. If they could indeed find a way down through the cliffs to the canyon floor and climb out the other side to the area of the caves—then he was all for it. Already he could begin to pick out potential routes on the far side up which they might hope to climb, cliffs present but not, it appeared, insurmountable obstacles. The entire plan appeared worth a try.
“Let’s do it. May get rough hauling everything with us when we come to the real steep parts, both descent and later on the climb back out, but we’ll find ways. Can hook it up to some of the lines, lower it, raise it on the ascent…what do you say?”
Liz nodded slowly, liking the sparkle in his eye, the eagerness to be about a plan, knowing the risks posed by such a descent but considering them less than those inherent in continuing on their present course. She hoped. “Yes. Let’s go. I guess we’d better start by getting down off this rock, and exploring the rim for a cut that will take us down…”
Not necessarily a quick search, and anxious to begin before the day could grow any later, they scrambled down from the boulder and set off through the aspens, paralleling the rim as they began their quest.