Across the face of the cliff below us ran irregular tiny ledges; buttresses ended in narrow peaks; “chimneys” ran down irregularly to the talus. Here were supposed to dwell the goats.
We proceeded along the crest, spying eagerly. We saw tracks; but no animals. By now it was four o’clock, and past time to turn campward. We struck down the mountain on a diagonal that should take us home. For some distance all went well enough. To be sure, it was very steep, and we had to pay due attention to balance and sliding. Then a rock wall barred our way. It was not a very large rock wall. We went below it. After a hundred yards we struck another. By now the first had risen until it towered far above us, a sheer, gray cliff behind which the sky was very blue. We skirted the base of the second and lower cliff. It led us to another; and to still another. Each of these we passed on the talus beneath it; but with increasing difficulty, owing to the fact that the wide ledges were pinching out. At last we found ourselves cut off from farther progress. To our right rose tier after tier of great cliffs, serenely and loftily unconscious of any little insects like ourselves that might be puttering around their feet. Straight ahead the ledge ceased to exist. To our left was a hundred-foot drop to the talus that sloped down to the canon. The canon did not look so very far away, and we desired mightily to reach it. The only alternative to getting straight down was to climb back the weary way we had come; and that meant all night without food, warm clothing, or shelter on a snow-and-ice mountain.
Therefore, we scouted that hundred-foot drop to our left very carefully. It seemed hopeless; but at last I found a place where a point of the talus ran up to a level not much below our own. The only difficulty was that between ourselves and that point of talus extended a piece of sheer wall. I slung my rifle over my back, and gave myself to a serious consideration of that wall. Then I began to work out across its face.
The principle of safe climbing is to maintain always three points of suspension: that it to say, one should keep either both footholds and one handhold, or both handholds and one foothold. Failing that, one is taking long chances. With this firmly in mind, I spidered out across the wall, testing every projection and cranny before I trusted any weight to it. One apparently solid projection as big as my head came away at the first touch, and went bouncing off into space. Finally I stood, or rather sprawled, almost within arm’s length of a tiny scrub pine growing solidly in a crevice just over the talus. Once there, our troubles were over; but there seemed no way of crossing. For the moment it actually looked as though four feet only would be sufficient to turn us back.
At last, however, I found a toehold half way across. It was a very slight crevice, and not more than two inches deep. The toe of a boot would just hold there without slipping. Unfortunately, there were no handholds above it. After thinking the matter over, however, I made up my mind to violate, for this occasion only, the rules for climbing. I inserted the toe, gathered myself, and with one smooth swoop swung myself across and grabbed that tiny pine!