We join our adventure in progress as our heroines ponder the fate of their beloved guide A.
D. fires up the satellite phone and calls the emergency number. She gets voicemail and leaves a message. She then instructs us to grab some gear - we are hiking down the canyon to see if we can find A. Since she should have been hiking IN that way, we will hike OUT that way and hopefully meet up with her. Since we don't know why she is not back, we bring a sleeping pad (in case she needs to be dragged back), food and water (in case she has none), clothes (in case she is cold/wet) and headlamps (since it will be dark very, very soon). We all try not to be too freaked out by this preparation.
It takes us way too long to get ready, but finally we are on our way. We scramble down the rocks to the canyon and our heads swivel as we look around for any sign of A. D. is hiking fast now, trying to get to the exit of the canyon before dark. We struggle to keep up, still freaked out and soggy from the prior rain. We listen intently for any noise that might signal A. somewhere in the canyon....maybe hurt...maybe unconscious.
D. frantically looks for footprints. Since it rained, this is not as easy as it sounds. She doesn't see any footprints coming in. We try to take this bad news in stride.
Finally, we traverse the switchbacks that take us out of the canyon to the parking lot. Two hours had passed. No sign of A. yet. We wonder if the van will be there. We wonder if A. will be there...maybe in the van, smoking a cig and having a beer?
We switch on our headlamps and fire up our flashlights, as it's now officially dark. There's no sign of the moon and the storm clouds are rolling back in. It's very, very dark. And there's no sign of the van. D. leaves another voicemail on the emergency number. Everyone wonders about the effectiveness of the sat phone, since there's no one answering the other end.
D. decides that we will hike to the other side of the rim by the parking lot, where we can see our campsite and see if we can see any lights there. Maybe A. has mysteriously snuck back to camp and is roasting marshmallows and wondering where the hell WE are. This proves to be a big waste of time. The rain starts to pour. It starts to get cold. We stop to add layers of clothes and put on rainpants, hoods and - for those smart enough to bring them (i.e., not me) - gloves. We get out to the rim and don't see anything. Like I said...waste of time.
Now we have a problem finding our way back to the trailhead from the rim. It looked like a straight line out, but now it looks like a vast field going back. The rain is still pouring down and D. is having problems finding our footprints we left just minutes before. She switches headlamps with me (mine is brighter). This helps minimally. We eventually get back to our starting place at the exit of the canyon. Whew. Then the mutiny starts....
"What!?!? We are going back to camp?"
"I'm worried about flooding"
"I'm worried about twisting my ankle in the dark."
"Let's find the van and stay there."
"Let's find a hotel."
D. wasn't prepared for this (surprisingly). Her advice was for us to hike back to camp. It made sense after she explained it... Camp is warm and dry. All our stuff is there. If A. somehow made it back there, we should be there to help and/or welcome her. We need to take care of ourselves first, then worry about A. second. And yes, there was the fact that the VAN WAS GONE. Duh. We spent way too long discussing this and unruffling feathers before heading back down into the canyon. I wasn't excited about hiking back in, but I didn't see any other option. So into the pitch black night and drizzling rain we hiked. Back down the canyon, up the rocks and back to camp.
D. got back on the sat phone and actually reached someone this time. A. was okay! She had indeed been to the canyon exit, as planned, but was unable to find the trail into the canyon (it was a very confusing way in). She tried for several hours (!!!) before getting back in the van and heading into town to call the emergency number. She luckily had the contact's mobile phone number, while D. had the contact's home phone number. As luck would have it, the contact was not home, so had not gotten any of D.'s messages. D. called A.'s mobile phone and let her know the story. She decided to sleep in the van and hike in Sunday morning to help us pack up and hike back out.
After a quick dinner (it was now about midnight), we crawled into our tents and slept well, knowing that our comrade was safe and sound.