Wind whistles through a tiny crack near my head. The shriek jars my concentration and interrupts the rhythmic crunch of my boots in the snow. My reverie shattered, I scan the surroundings. I’m on an ever narrowing path with a sheer drop to the left, and the still very large base of Code Mountain to the right. It’s cold and shadowy, it has been for days. I recognize the landscape components, stones and snow, rocks and stunted vegetation, but it’s arranged oddly — simultaneously familiar and foreign. Sighing as I swing my pack to the ground, I fish around for a flare. The shot arcs into the sky then immediately fizzles out. Was it enough to penetrate the gloom? As I search my pack for another, a tiny orange light blinks into existence on the horizon and accelerates rapidly toward me.
The light arrives in seconds and skids to a halt about ten feet above me. It hovers effortlessly, like a sentient disco ball, casting a warm glow across the nearby terrain. It’s illumination reveals both a path and cave that were invisible before. Once the light recognizes its job is done, it zips back to the horizon to attend to its over-the-horizon business. As it fades away, I feel rejuvenated by the newly discovered opportunities. Path or cave? Are you kidding me, I have to check out that cave! After a couple shakes my flashlight is as bright as it’s going to get, so I take a deep breath and inch across the threshold.
Without my glove on I can really feel the details of the cave wall. It’s not as cold as one would expect, and it has a complex pattern etched in its surface. The flashlight is proving worthless so I return it to my pack and take off my other glove. Slowly I sidestep along the mural of grooves, following the crevices with my fingers. The cave is bigger than I estimated and it takes a while to work through the whole design. As I circle back to the entrance I have a vague mental picture of what I just found, but I will need to revisit this cave when I have more time to study it. I retrieve a small hammer from my pack and pound a bright orange flag into the rock outside the opening before moving on. It reads:
/* TODO: reread for clarity */
Four flags later the amount of new information swirling through my head threatens to overwhelm me. I resist the urge to send up another flare. Instead I decide to make camp for a bit and review my notes. As I battle the wind to flip notebook pages, I hear labored breathing behind me. Turning around I find myself face to face with a panting St. Bernard. As soon as I remove his collar he turns and slowly trots away, fading into the sleet in seconds. Sipping on the near scalding coffee from the dog’s tiny barrel, I ponder my next step. The hot brew starts to permeate my core, and I can feel the caffeine’s effects start to kick in. With a final gulp I repack my gear, adjust my pack, and resume the climb.
I take one glance back down the trail. The weather below me is breaking up, and the path behind me is much less foreboding than when I first traversed it. There is even a shaft or two of sunlight puncturing the dense freezing mist. I can see my orange flags dotting the landscape like sprinkles on a giant frosted cupcake and it lifts my spirits. Mmmmm cupcakes. With a renewed determination to reach the top, I pull my pack straps tighter and turn to face the challenges ahead.