Everyone was tied together in the line, ice axes in hand, carefully placing their spiky boots in solid footholds and their fingers eagerly ferreting out the crevices. According to the calculations they last did with their original maps, the Ark had to be within a few hundred meters of them now... Everyone in the group was excited and had anticipated victory in a few short days. Being a completely new experience for both Nigel and Sydney, Aaron made sure they were securely tied in the middle of the line for their own safety. He really didnít like the fact that Sydney was with them, but he knew there would have been no way he could have persuaded her to remain behind at camp. Not in a million light years, he chuckled to himself.
Three hours into the climb the group slowly made their way out along a sheer cliff of packed snow, it almost looked like a hockey rink, it was so shiny and flat. The odd granite boulder protruded from the snow and ice reminding them this was no playing field, while large pockets of snow and ice would periodically tumble from their precarious perches above. The place was absolutely stunning.
"We can untie now, right?" Nigel asked Aaron, who was busy doing just that.
"Yeah, weíll take a short break here, seems safe enough."
Nigel was the first to remove the hooks from his harness, and wandered out onto the ice face. While the others sat and poured themselves coffee and cocoa, he was intent on investigating the rather curios positioning of the rocks. Digging his compass from his pocket he held it still in his hand. Hmm, seventy seven hundred feet...he thought. Seven plus seven is fourteen...
" From map to field, the proper yield is East is least and West is best..."He recited to himself, calculating that each of those massive stones were exactly fourteen degrees apart. He took a few steps further watching his compass turn wildly, then before anyone else picked up on it, he could feel the ice beneath his boots begin to vibrate and froze in the spot. "Aaron, Sydney..."
It steadily grew louder and the reverberations more severe. The entire mountain was shifting! Now everyone was on their feet and snapping their safety lines back in place. Nigel took a step towards the others, but that was all. A large crack skirted from under his boot, then fractured out like shards of sheet lightning, condemning his escape route.
"I, I canít go any further. Iíll fall through!" He squeaked, and remained as still as his frightened body would allow.
"Just hold on Nigel, weíll throw you a rope!" Sydney called back, her heart racing, and turning to one of the guides demanded it. "Where is that damned rope?"
He thrust it into her hands and she heaved it out across the snow and ice to Nigel. Landing at his feet, he carefully bent down at the knees so not to unevenly distribute his weight, reaching, inching ahead just a little bit more...
It happened so fast...the entire floor collapsed and Nigel disappeared from sight in a flurry of snow, rock and ice. It sounded like the mountain was sighing, groaning, and then there was nothing. No one could tell if he had grabbed the rope before falling or not. Sydney took up the slack only to find nothing weighty on the other end. No...
"Oh my God...Nigel!" She called out. He had to be there, and jumping to her feet she leapt towards precipice. "Nigel!"
"Sydney no!" Aaron quickly grabbed her around the waist, knowing he was risking the beating of his life. He had no idea how to bring her under control than to tell it like it was, and he hated himself for it. "Those crevasses can be tens or hundreds of feet deep! Youíll be killed, Sydney! Nigelís gone..."
"But we canít not look for him Aaron! He could be easy to reach and might not be dead, just too hurt let us know heís okay! Iím going down there..." The sober look in her dark eyes was truly an awesome to behold. She refused to believe he was lost... "Just tie me to something for God sake!"
"All right, come here." Aaron grudgingly relented, and threw his ice axe to the ground to gather up the ropes. The remaining snow and ice was loose and unstable at best. She was the lightest one out of all of them, except for maybe Bailey himself. She would have to be the one to go.
Go to Part Twenty Five.