But once in the saddle we found we could not return the way we had come. The drop-off into the feather snow settled that. A short reconnaissance made it very evident that we would have to go completely around the outside of the Citadel, at the level of the saddle, until we had gained the other ridge. This meant about three quarters of a mile against the tremendous cliff.
We found a ledge and started. Our packs weighed about sixty pounds apiece, and we were forced to carry them rather high. The ledge proved to be from six to ten feet wide, with a gentle slope outward. We could not afford the false steps, nor the little slips, nor the overbalancings so unimportant on level ground. Progress was slow and cautious. We could not but remember the heart-stopping drop of that goat after we had cut the rope; and the swoop of the raven. Especially at the corners did we hug close to the wall, for the wind there snatched at us eagerly.
The ledge held out bravely. It had to; for there was no possible way to get up or down from it. We rounded the shoulder of the pile. Below us now was another landscape into which to fall—the valley of the stream, with its forests and its high cliffs over the way. But already we could see our ridge. Another quarter mile would land us in safety.
Without warning the ledge pinched out. A narrow tongue of shale, on so steep a slope that it barely clung to the mountain, ran twenty feet to a precipice. A touch sent its surface rattling merrily down and into space. It was only about eight feet across; and then the ledge began again.
We eyed it. Three steps would take us across. Alternative: return along the ledge to attack the problem ab initio.
“That shale is going to start,” said Frank. “If you stop, she’ll sure carry you over the ledge. But if you keep right on going, fast, I believe your weight will carry you through.”
We readjusted our packs so they could not slip and overbalance us; we measured and re-measured with our eyes just where those steps would fall; we took a deep breath—and we hustled. Behind us the fine shale slid sullenly in a miniature avalanche that cascaded over the edge. Our “weight had carried us through!”
In camp, we found that Harry’s shooting had landed a kid, so that we had a goat apiece.
We rejoined the main camp next day just ahead of a big snowstorm that must have made travel all but impossible. Then for five days we rode out, in snow, sleet, and hail. But we were entirely happy, and indifferent to what the weather could do to us now.
Last fall I revisited Arizona for the first time in many years. My ultimate destination lay one hundred and twenty-eight miles south of the railroad. As I stepped off the Pullman I drew deep the crisp, thin air; I looked across immeasurable distance to tiny, brittle, gilded buttes; I glanced up and down a ramshackle row of wooden buildings with crazy wooden awnings, and I sighed contentedly. Same good old Arizona.