When Einar left the little basin he did not waste any time, not wanting to be too near the shelter should one of those planes make another pass. Ahead of him, he knew, lay an arduous scramble through all the downed timber they had navigated to reach the place, no way around it so far as he had been able to determine, and he was anxious to put that terrain behind him. Intending to summit the ridge that rose high, rocky and timbered beyond the slopes of downed trees he angled upwards as he went, quickly pushing through the more navigable sections of tiny, gnarled aspen and larger spruce and fir which lay just beyond the low basin-ridge and slowing significantly as he began hauling himself up and over one wind-felled evergreen after another.
Slow work, frustrating as his legs fell time after time into crevices at whose existence he could only guess due to the depth of the snow and the way that, in many places, it completely concealed the existence of the logs which created the weaknesses in the snow’s surface. Rotten snow, spring snow, and as he traveled the winds came, pushing the frigid cold of the night out ahead of them and leaving the snow soggy on its surface wherever the sun happened to hit, rotten, in places, beneath, spring snow, and spring, Einar realized, was indeed coming.
Coming, but not yet here, and before long he was soaked to the skin from the waist down with struggling through that wet snow, clothing that had worked well during the colder months failing him now that the many feet of Styrofoam-like powder over and through which he had made his way all winter were beginning to go wet and rotten around him. Some two hours—and not even a mile in distance—from the shelter he stopped, arms crossed on the partially exposed carcass of a large fallen aspen and breath rasping in his throat as he strove to drive back the increasingly pervasive black bulk that billowed up at him from all sides, threatening to obscure his vision entirely. He had known the journey would not be easy, remembered, in some shadowy sense, the amount of work it had required of them the first time around, but now with the changing snow conditions the task had taken on an air of near-impossibility which might ordinarily have challenged Einar in a way he both enjoyed and needed, but that day it only stood in the way of his reaching his goal.
Resting, forehead on the snowy aspen trunk and breaths beginning to return to normal, Einar counted in his mind the number of times he’d heard the planes between the shelter and that spot. Four, it seemed. Two by each plane. The first time he’d dived beneath a tight-growing cluster of firs, pressing himself into the ground as the aircraft buzzed overhead and waiting for a full minute after its sound died away into the distance before rising again and continuing, repeating the action each time and praying he was as well-concealed as he believed. The planes continued to puzzle him, their purpose remaining a mystery. Had they been directly related to some renewed search effort, he would have expected to see helicopters by that point, which to his great relief he had not done. Yet they certainly had some major project underway over on the canyon rim, and it was there he knew he must journey, and without further delay. Yeah. Get moving, you and your lazy bones. Can rest when you get there. Lots of chance to rest while you’re lying low and watching them, but this is really getting out of control, here. Too many trips in and out. Something major going on, and you need to know what it is.
With which he did indeed begin moving once more, leg giving out with the first step, but he very soon had it back under him again and was making good progress through the tangled mess that served as barrier between himself and faster travel towards his objective. Leg had, as Liz had noted, been bothering him some ever since the jump, and as he continued through the windfall area it ached and twisted and generally made a nuisance of itself, but he did not allow the fact to slow his progress. Too much. Doggone thing sure did hurt, though.
Several hours and three additional plane-passes later—that last one had never returned, odd, not fitting with the previous pattern—Einar finally reached a place where the deadfall timber really began tapering off, movement not nearly as cumbersome and slow, and though he had by then been at it most of the day, and a long day, at that, he found himself overjoyed and not a little surprised at what he considered to be his quick progress. He remembered slogging through that deadfall the first time, when he and Liz had just completed their arduous climb up out of the canyon, and had known he would be doing very well indeed if he managed to repeat it before darkness set in. And here he was with at least two hours of daylight remaining! A silent prayer—too weary for words, and besides, he seemed to have lost his voice; probably something to do with his throat being so parched—breathed from his lips at the realization, Einar going to his knees on the hard-crusted snow beneath a good-sized spruce. The first time, he realized, that he’d let himself get off his feet since leaving the shelter. And probably not a good way to remain for more than moments, if he meant to make good use of his remaining daylight.
Up again, pausing only for a swallow of water from the supply he’d packed—must remember to keep adding snow to that bottle so it could melt as he walked, ensuring a continuing supply of water—Einar set his course more steeply up the slope that swept long and timber-studded to the sky above him, its crest invisible for the closeness of the trees and the nature of such terrain, but definitely there, looming above him, calling. Meant to make that crest before dark, if he could, hoping to be able to see something of the large meadows above the canyon rim from that vantage, come morning. Einar’s speed, as he made his way up the ridge in a series of tight little switchbacks, surprised him somewhat, weary and—though he hated admitting it—physically weak as he had been feeling, of late. Must be all that good food Liz kept doing her best to keep him eating, he reasoned. That, or the sheer pressing urgency of the thing that drove him on, reinforced at semi-regular intervals by the passing of the planes. Or some combination of the two.
Whatever the cause, he was thankful for his speed, for the somewhat unaccustomed strength that he felt in limb and lung as he climbed, and it was with a gladness approaching elation that he reached the ridge’s crest slightly ahead of full dark, knowing the place both by the abrupt ending of the steep ascent which had until then been his constant companion, and by the stars he now could see gleaming off in the distance—below his feet. The top, for sure, and despite a wild urge to keep moving, to go until his objective was reached and some plan of action solidified in his mind, he knew wisdom dictated that he go no further that night. Likely as not he would, without better lighting, end up dreadfully off course, finding himself upon the coming of dawn with a good deal of backtracking to do, simply to return to a spot from which he might see the land and get some idea of which direction he needed to go.
The end, then, at least for that day, and taking one backwards glance over his shoulder at the slopes below him, blackness-swallowed, indiscernable, he raised his hand in temporary farewell to Liz and Will, protect them, bring them safely though the night, and dropped down over the ridge crest to find a place where he might pass the dark hours.