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Blind Descent- Chapter 1

Blind Descent- Chapter 1


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Publish date: Feb 15, 2011
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Chapter One

We have a fatality.
BILL STONE, HALF A MILE DEEP and three mile fr!m the entran"e in a Me#i"an $%er"ave
"alled &heve, did t!%. 'ed(and()hite %lati" $rvey ta%e h$n* a"r! the narr!) %aa*e he
had +een a"endin*. The mea*e, "ra)led !n n!te+!!, %a%er, )a affi#ed t! the ta%e at
"het level, )here it "!$ld n!t +e mied. Afl!at in the "ave- a+!l$te dar,ne, the )hite
%a%er +$rned ! +ri*htly in the +eam !f St!ne- headlam% that it alm!t h$rt hi eye. The
time )a h!rtly +ef!re midni*ht !n Friday, Mar"h ., .//., th!$*h that made n! %arti"$lar
differen"e0it )a al)ay midni*ht in a "ave.
St!ne, a hard(drivin* man )ith a d!"t!rate in tr$"t$ral en*ineerin*, t!!d i# feet, f!$r
in"he tall and )ei*hed t)! h$ndred hard(m$"led %!$nd. He )a !ne !f the leader 1t)!
veteran "aver, Matt Oli%hant and D!n &!!n, )ere the !ther2 !f an e#%editi!n tryin* t!
ma,e the lat *reat terretrial di"!very +y %r!vin* that &heve 1%r!n!$n"ed &HA3(vay2 )a
the dee%et "ave !n earth. He had +r!)n hair, a l!n* hat"het fa"e, a tr!n* ne",, intene +l$e
eye, and a %r!) !f a n!e an*lin* !$t +et)een them. St!ne )a n!t "lai"ally hand!me,
+$t it )a a tri,in*, $n$+tle fa"e men and )!men ali,e l!!,ed at t)i"e.
N!t 4$t n!), th!$*h. Havin* +een $nder*r!$nd f!r alm!t a )ee, n!nt!%, he )a *a$nt,
ha**ard, and h!ll!)(eyed, hi "hee, r!$*h )ith "ra**ly +eard, and he reem+led !me)hat
the 5e$ !f %!%$lar ima*inati!n. A )ee, $nder*r!$nd )a l!n*, +$t n!t e#tremely ! +y
$%er"avin* tandard, )here tay !f three )ee, !r m!re in the vat $nder*r!$nd
la+yrinth )ere n!t $n$$al.
With three "!m%ani!n, he )a half)ay thr!$*h the *r$elin*, t)!(day "lim+ +a", t! the
$rfa"e fr!m the "ave- dee%et ,n!)n %!int, !methin* li,e 6,777 verti"al feet and 8 mile
fr!m the entran"e. The n!te and ta%e had +een tr$n* 4$t +ef!re the e#%editi!n- &am% 9,
)here f!$r !ther )ere tayin*. They e#%lained t! St!ne )hat had ha%%ened. At a+!$t .:;7
%.m. that day, a "aver fr!m Indiana named &hri 3ea*er, t)enty(five year !ld, had entered
the "ave )ith an !lder, m!re e#%erien"ed man fr!m Ne) 3!r,, Peter Ha+erland. 3ea*er had
+een "avin* f!r 4$t t)! year, and *!in* int! &heve )a,
f!r him, li,e a "lim+er )h! had +een !n !nly mall <erm!nt m!$ntain $ddenly ta",lin*
Everet. Thi i n!t a %e"i!$ "!m%ari!n. E#%ert affirm that e#%l!rin* a $%er"ave $"h a
&heve i li,e "lim+in* M!$nt Everet0in revere.
N!t l!n* after he arrived in "am%, m!re e#%erien"ed "aver ni",named 3ea*er =the >id.?
Seri!$ly "!n"erned a+!$t the y!$n*er man- afety, a veteran, elite "ave e#%l!rer named 5im
Smith at 3ea*er d!)n f!r )hat h!$ld have +een a !+erin*, thirty(min$te le"t$re: d!n-t *!
int! the "ave )ith!$t a *$ide, "arry !nly a li*ht day%a", at firt, learn the r!$te in e*ment,
*et =a""limati@ed? t! the $nder*r!$nd )!rld +ef!re *!in* in f!r a l!n* tay. The )arnin* fell
!n deaf ear. 3ea*er tarted hi firt tri% )ith a fifty(five(%!$nd %a",, %lannin* !n a even(day
3ea*er- %r!+lem +e*an !!n. 5$t three h!$r int! the "ave, he did n!t %r!%erly e"$re hi
ra%%el ra", 1a %e"iali@ed metal devi"e reem+lin* a +i* %a%er "li% )ith tranvere +ar, +$ilt
f!r lidin* d!)n l!n*, )et r!%e )ith heavy l!ad in "ave2 t! hi "lim+in* harne. A a
re$lt, he dr!%%ed it. The ra%%el ra", i a "riti"al %ie"e !f eA$i%ment f!r e#treme "ave
e#%l!rati!n, %r!+a+ly e"!nd in im%!rtan"e !nly t! li*ht. With!$t hi, 3ea*er "!$ld n!t
3ea*er $ed hi %artner- ra", t! de"end t! the area )here hi had landed. Biven that a
ra%%el ra", i a+!$t .C in"he l!n* and &heve &ave i alm!t $nima*ina+ly vat and "!m%le#,
thi )a rather li,e l!!,in* f!r a needle in a th!$and hayta",. 3ea*er )a l$",y indeed t!
find hi ra",, )hi"h all!)ed him t! "!ntin$e d!)n )ith Ha+erland. They did n!t ,ee%
de"endin* f!r l!n*, h!)ever, +e"a$e they A$i",ly *!t l!t and "!$ld n!t rel!"ate the main
r!$te f!r f!rty(five min$te.
After even h!$r, they arrived at the t!% !f a "liff that had +een named the 9;(Meter Dr!%
+e"a$e it )a e#a"tly that, a 8D(f!!t free dr!% fr!m li% t! %it that had t! +e ra%%elled. By
$%er"avin* tandard, )here free verti"al dr!% h$ndred !f feet l!n* are "!mm!n, thi )a
little m!re than a h!% d!)n. Ha+erland )ent firt, "!m%letin* an eay ra%%el )ith!$t in"ident.
At the +!tt!m he deta"hed hi ra", fr!m the r!%e, then m!ved a)ay t! av!id any r!", 3ea*er
mi*ht dil!d*e.
A+!ve, 3ea*er )a )earin* tandard de"ent eA$i%ment, )hi"h in"l$ded a eat harne
imilar t! th!e $ed +y r!", "lim+er +$t +eefed $% f!r the heavier demand !f "avin*. A
l!",in* "ara+iner 1an al$min$m l!!%, a+!$t the i@e !f a %a", !f "i*arette, )ith a hin*ed
=*ate? !n !ne ide2 "!nne"ted the harne t! hi ra%%el ra",, and the ra%%el ra", "!nne"ted
him t! the r!%e. The r!%e )!ve thr!$*h the ra",- +ar, li,e a na,e lidin* !ver and $nder
the r$n* !f a ladder, %r!vidin* en!$*h reitan"e f!r a heavily laden "aver li,e 3ea*er t!
"!ntr!l the %eed !f hi de"ent.
Bef!re *!in* farther, 3ea*er had t! tranfer hi ra", fr!m the r!%e he had +een de"endin* t!
a ne) !ne that )!$ld ta,e him t! the +!tt!m !f the
9;(Meter Dr!%. He made the "han*e $""ef$lly, leaned +a", t! +e*in hi ra%%el, and reali@ed
intantly that !methin* )a )r!n*. The r!%e did n!t t!% hi +a",)ard(tiltin* m!ti!n.
Intead, he ,e%t *!in*, a if ti%%in* !ver +a",)ard in a "hair. S!meh!) hi harne had
+e"!me e%arated fr!m the ra%%el ra",, )hi"h )a till atta"hed t! the r!%e.
Intin"tively, he l$n*ed t! *ra+ the r!%e and the dan*lin* ra%%el ra",. Had he +een "arryin*
n! %a",, !r even a li*ht day%a",, it- %!i+le that he mi*ht have aved himelf +y h!ldin* !n
t! the r!%e, !r t! the an"h!r +!lted t! the )all, !r %erha% even ettin* $% !methin* "alled a
+!dy ra%%el. B$t that )!$ld have reA$ired alm!t $%erh$man tren*th and )!$ld have +een
e#tremely diffi"$lt even )ith!$t any l!ad. Hi fifty(five(%!$nd %a", made any $"h elf(arret
im%!i+le, and in an!ther intant he )a dr!%%in* thr!$*h %a"e. He fell ! A$i",ly that he
did n!t even have time t! "ream.
Fallin* r!", "an hatter and ri"!"het li,e hra%nelE Peter Ha+erland had m!ved !ff and
heltered +ehind a +!$lder, ! he did n!t ee 3ea*er land. He reali@ed !methin* )a )r!n*
!nly )hen he heard a r$h !f air and the "r$n"hin* im%a"t !f a l!n* fall endin* !n !lid r!",.
Prayin* that 3ea*er had dr!%%ed hi %a",, Ha+erland "alled !$t, +$t he *!t n! an)er.
Within e"!nd, Ha+erland f!$nd 3ea*er, lyin* +eide the +!tt!m !f the r!%e. He )a in a %!!l
!f )ater three in"he dee%, !n hi ri*ht ide, hi fa"e %artly in the )ater, hi arm tret"hin*
f!r)ard, a if rea"hin* f!r !methin*. 3ea*er- ri*ht le* )a +r!,en, the f!!t r!tated
*r!teA$ely /7 de*ree ! that )hile the +!dy )a !n it ide, the f!!t %!inted $%. He had n!
%$le !r re%irati!n, +$t Ha+erland t$rned hi fa"e li*htly any)ay, t! ,ee% hi m!$th and
n!e "lear !f the )ater.
Ha+erland r$hed d!)n t! the &heve e#%editi!n- &am% 9, a t)enty( min$te de"ent, )here
he f!$nd t)! !ther "aver, Peter B!ted and 5im Br!)n. They left a n!te han*in* fr!m red(
and()hite $rvey ta%e and r$hed +a", $% t! 3ea*er- %!iti!n )ith a lee%in* +a* and firt
aid $%%lie. When they arrived, they f!$nd that !me +l!!d had r$n fr!m hi n!e, +$t there
)ere n! !ther "han*e. All three attem%ted &P' )ith!$t $""e. &hri 3ea*er )a dead.
Fndertandin* %re"iely )hy the a""ident ha%%ened reA$ire a detailed ,n!)led*e !f "avin*
eA$i%ment. B$t the r!!t "a$e )a n!t eA$i%ment fail$reE it )a =%il!t err!r.? 3ea*er entered
the "ave )ith t!! m$"h )ei*ht, +e"ame fati*$ed, mi$ed hi eA$i%ment, and, lat and )!rt,
failed t! %r!%erly e"$re the l!",in* "ara+iner that "!nne"ted hi harne t! the ra%%el ra",.
He a%%arently made thi mita,e n!t 4$t !n"e +$t t)i"e, the firt intan"e havin* "a$ed the
ra",- earlier l!.
LEA'NINB OF THE A&&IDENT, Bill St!ne "!$ld !nly ha,e hi head in dimay. He had +een
$neay a+!$t 3ea*er- %reen"e in "am% in the firt %la"e. 3ea*erE hi *irlfriend, Tina Shir,E
and an!ther man travelin* )ith them had n!t +een %art !f the !ri*inal e#%editi!n. After
"lim+in* !me v!l"an!e, the three had traveled t! the &heve +ae "am%. Shir, )a a
"!m%etent "aver )h! had +een in &heve the %revi!$ year +$t, )ith a +r!,en "!llar+!ne, )a
n!t "avin* 4$t then. The !ther man had t!ld Shir, and 3ea*er that, earlier, he had e"$red
%ermii!n f!r &hri t! *! int! the "ave. There i !me dia*reement a+!$t that, +$t St!ne,
f!r !ne, ,ne) n!thin* a+!$t it. A far a he )a "!n"erned, the tri! had ="rahed? the
3ea*er- death affe"ted every!ne. Peter Ha+erland later )r!te in a "avin* ma*a@ine arti"le
that he )a =hattered at that m!ment.? Tina Shir, )a devatated. Other rea"ti!n ran*ed
fr!m an*er at an !ver@eal!$ r!!,ie t! *rief !ver a y!$n* man- death t! h!rr!r at the reality
!f a +!dy de"!m%!in* d!)n in the "ave. F!r hi %art, Bill St!ne )a addened +y the
needle l! !f a y!$n* man- life. He )a an*ered +e"a$e 3ea*er- death left the leader
and the team )ith a th!rny %r!+lem that "!$ld +e !lved !nly +y endan*erin* !ther. And he
)a afraid, n!t ! m$"h !f re"!verin* 3ea*er- +!dy, +$t that hi death mi*ht a+!rt the
e#%editi!n. They "!$ld have +een !n the ver*e !f findin* the )ay int! &heve- dee%et
re"ee and, it )a n!t ridi"$l!$ t! a$me, %!i+ly int! hit!ry a )ell. B$t n!) it eemed
li,ely that thi e#%editi!n- time had r$n !$t all t!! !!n.
St!ne )a "!m%letely "!mmitted t! the e#%editi!n- mii!n, finan"ially, em!ti!nally, and
%hyi"ally. The intenity !f hi )!r,, and hi n!(n!nene tyle, left n! d!$+t a+!$t that in
any!ne- mind. He )a thirty(nine year !ld, and if time had n!t r$n !$t f!r him, he "!$ld
hear hi +!dy "l!", ti",in*. Thirty(nine )a %$hin* the $%%er limit f!r a"tivitie li,e e#treme
m!$ntaineerin* and dee% "avin*, )hi"h ma,e $"h fer!"i!$ %hyi"al demand !n
Li,e an Olym%i" athlete )h! train f!r a lifetime t! %end min$te "hain* *!ld, St!ne ,ne)
h!) %re"i!$ an !%%!rt$nity had 4$t +een nat"hed a)ay. It )a e%e"ially *allin* t! have it
t!len +y !me!ne )h!, he +elieved, had n! +$ine +ein* in &heve in the firt %la"e.
Al! li,e an Olym%ian, St!ne )a a)are that hi *!lden !%%!rt$nity mi*ht never "!me a*ain in
thi $%er"ave "alled &heve0!r any)here ele, f!r that matter.
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