With the coming of full dark a silence settled over the ridge and the long, sweeping slopes of timber and rock below, and so complete did it seem that Einar found himself wondering after a time about the safety of having a very small fire. The idea was dismissed almost immediately. Too much risk should one of those planes choose to return, and he was, beside, now too close to the area where he believed them to have been landing to risk either the light of a fire or the scent of its smoke. Could have used a fire, lower half still damp from struggling through the snow and the cold really starting to get to him now that he had stopped moving. He’d found a decent place in which to pass the night, a sheltered little depression on the leeward side of a massive if gnarled old limber pine, its wide trunk and root system providing good protection from the winds that whispered icy and persistent up along the ridgeline and beneath its spreading boughs a fair-sized area where the snow had already melted out, leaving masses of somewhat dry needles which would serve to insulate him from the earth beneath.
None of this, however, solved the problem of his wet clothes or the way they were beginning to freeze on his body, and not wanting things to progress any further in that direction he stripped from the waist down, hanging everything in the tree for a little freeze-drying overnight and hurrying into a pair of dry socks—the only spare clothing he had brought along—before curling up inside his mostly-dry parka. Resting, warming a bit, now that he’d got out of contact with his wet clothes, Einar was grateful that he could make himself small enough to use the parka as a sort of sleeping bag, a very useful ability under present circumstances—though at the same time he knew that he would be a good deal warmer, regardless of the situation, had he possessed a bit more natural insulation on his body, a bit more bulk.
Though able to curl into a rather compact bundle when need be, the position made Einar’s injured leg cramp dreadfully after a time, but when he in his half-sleep sought to straighten it enough to ease the cramps, frigid night air was allowed into his little cocoon and he soon found himself wide awake and shivering uncontrollably. Not working so well, and he shifted position slightly so that he could look out from under his parka hood and see the stars where they arced sharp, white and unblinking above the canopy of spruce boughs which were his concealment for the night. Bright they seemed, dazzlingly bright and near, and he wondered if the starlight might allow him enough sight to begin making his way once more towards the lands above the canyon rim.
Movement would be good, seemed, in fact, the only real option if he wanted to start getting warm again. Which he knew he had better do. Current situation was growing increasingly untenable as the cold crept in and finished numbing his legs, leaving the rest of his body aching and straining as it sought to maintain a useful degree of warmth. Yet, lifting his head and taking a better look at the night landscape, Einar knew he must wait for a lessening of the darkness before he moved too far. Any major travel undertaken now would bring with it a serious risk of ending off far off course come the morning, and having to backtrack. He did not have time to backtrack. And if he was waiting for daylight, might as well do it right where he was. Tempting as movement sounded, he knew that unless he was ready to really travel, cover some distance and get his blood moving, the endeavor would only leave him colder, more worn out and still needing to find someplace to pass a few nighttime hours. Nothing wrong with his current location. Best stay right where he was. Had to stop that cold air, though, and ignoring the cramps that gripped calf and upper leg he brought both knees up to his chest, rolling the backpack over the opening thus left at the bottom of his parka and sealing himself more effectively into his good dry cocoon of skins and fur.
Took Einar a long time to begin warming up, and in fact he never did really manage it, but did at least succeed in halting the rapid loss of heat which had previously been threatening his ability to hold out until the morning. Perhaps not ideal conditions, but they would keep him alive, and that was the only thing which really counted, that night. Drifting somewhere near sleep, Einar found himself glad that Liz was not there to disagree. Though of course, would have been a lot warmer had she been present…
Dawn, and the first flight of the day, took him by surprise. Rigid and unmoving as the sound droned overhead he struggled with eyelids frosted in the night by his breath, finally got them open to see just the faintest hint of daylight through the spruces, not yet bright, but it was enough. Time to be moving, but the task was a bit easier said than done, at first. He’d quit shivering sometime in the night, whether because the parka-cocoon had done its job reasonably well or because his body had simply run out of the limited resources necessary to keep up such intensive activity, he could not be sure, and he found the realization mildly disturbing considering the distance he had to cover that day, figured he’d better try and eat something. Just as soon as he’d got himself untangled from the jumble of elbows and knees in which he’d spent the night, and all of which now seemed tremendously stiff and unwilling to change position.
Success after a bit of struggle, Einar pounding on numbed legs as he half crouched, half leaned against the gnarled, wind-twisted bulk of the night’s shelter-tree, working to get some blood moving. Not much response from his body, and he knew there probably wouldn’t be until he’d given it some energy with which to work. Fumbling with the backpack, finding food that Liz had sent with him, he ate, putting aside the thought that it was compromise, surrender, to thus give in to bodily needs and demands when he ought instead to have been using the occasion as another opportunity to exercise his resolve, increase his ability to resist… No need for such thoughts that morning. He had to find those planes, determine the level of threat presented his family by their continued presence in the area, and act quickly on a plan to mitigate it. Which reminded him. He hadn’t yet even bothered to stand up and peek around the wide, rambling base of his shelter-tree, and have a look at the view as light strengthened on the land.
If Einar had hoped to have a useful view of his future route from the ridge-crest, the coming of dawn found him sorely disappointed. Though the ridge was high and his vantage theoretically good, any view he might have managed of the meadows above the canyon rim, or even the forest surrounding them, was entirely blocked by a rise of timbered land which lay off to the south of his present position, and whose bulk he had been unable to discern in the previous night’s darkness. No grand vista, then, no way to visually plan his route to the last detail as he would have liked to do, and without detailed sectional maps of the area, he was left to remember, and to guess. Guess, mostly, because he had never really got a good look at the area to which he was headed, save from the opposite wall of the canyon, and at that time, he had not been studying it with such an approach as he would now be trying in mind.
Well. He rose, stashed in his pack the few items he had removed in preparing breakfast, and slipped into his icy pants and boots. Better get moving, see what I can see from the top of that big timbered rise, over there. Know I have to cross it to get where I’m headed, one way or the other.