She Needed Help. What Could They Have Done?

·2 min read

This article originally appeared on Climbing

This feature is free for 48 hours, from Tuesday, April 19, 8:00 a.m. Mountain Time until Thursday, April 21, 8:00 a.m. It was first published in the 2022 print issue of Ascent, where it appears under the title "The Girl In The Gully."

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11:36 p.m. 2015. So far south that the night sky hummed orange for hours after the sunset. For the first time that season, the desert cold had teeth. It was Thanksgiving. It was my first time rappelling at night, my second time ever on a rope. The beam of my headlamp quivered around my feet. Sword-tipped leaves of desert succulents trembled in the wind.

"Let's go!" Ben shouted from beneath me in the gully. My hands were trembling, holding my ATC, still clipped into the rope. "What are you waiting for?"

I held my breath until I couldn't. When I finally whispered his name, I was too hoarse to be heard. I coughed.

"Ben, we're not alone."

"Of course we are, Astra. No one else is out here."

"You didn't see her?"

"What are you talking about?"

Ben's voice rose whenever he was angry. We were having an epic. It was my fault--I was new to the sport, and fumbling. The storm we'd spent two days racing had blown in too soon. It was booming around us. Isolated raindrops fell like sharp pellets. Ben was a towering man: bearded, broad-shouldered, with dinner-plate hands, now balled in fists.

"Ben," I whispered again. "There was a girl in the gully. We rappelled right over her."

I finally met Ben's eyes. A long moment passed before either of us spoke again. The only noise was the groan of the wind.

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