Email: [email protected] TOMB HUNTER The Adventures of Larra Court Episode 4 Larra and the Lost World Chapter 4 The Canyon The expedition followed Grey’s recommended route as closely as possible. For the first few days they made good speed. Most of the route mapped out by Grey followed high ground and made walking easy. They were able to avoid swampy areas and wild tangles of vegetation that would have turned their trek into a nightmare. Much of the area through which they traveled was only sparsely populated. Here and there they saw signs of human habitation, but villages were few and far between, and those they encountered were small in size. The terrain was fairly rugged and covered with dense forests. It was difficult to believe that there was anything of significance in this part of Africa other than the native flora and fauna. Nevertheless, the four women and their porters forged on. There had to be something here to attract so much attention. And they had found John Grey, just as Burroughs said they would. On the fifth day their route took them into higher ground. Now the terrain became very rugged indeed. Their chosen path took them along the crest of a ridge. Deep vegetation-filled canyons ran off from the ridge in all directions. Larra now saw how crucial Grey’s information had been. The natural inclination of most explorers would have been to follow the valleys into the region, searching for a pass. That would have led to months and months of fruitless hacking and slashing though dense jungle. It appeared to Larra that the deep canyons were, in fact, impassable. By taking the high ground they were able to avoid the worst of the terrain and vegetation. They followed the rugged ridges for four more days. Late on the fourth day the ridge ended in a sheer wall dissected by four canyons. Here Grey’s instructions failed them. He had not said anything about having to make a choice between four canyons. With about only an hour of daylight left the expedition made camp. The four women explored the area near the mouth of the canyons. What struck Larra and the others about the region was that most of the vegetation was denser than what they had been traveling through, and that numerous large boulders which had fallen from the cliffs were scattered about the area. “It looks,” said Larra, as the four women sat around the evening campfire, “as if there has been a fairly severe earthquake in this region quite recently. That would account for the relatively immature state of the forest and the piles of stone rubble. The problem that it creates for us is that we now have to figure out which one of the canyons in front of us leads to our destination.” “We could split up,” suggested Katie. “Each one of us takes a canyon and explores it for a few hours or so and then comes back to this camp and reports on what she has found.” “That would save time,” agreed Larra, “But it would expose us to risk. I suggest that we agree to only go a short distance and then report back. Otherwise, if any of us encounters difficulty we will not have anyone to back us up.” The four women agreed to Larra’s plan. Each would select a canyon and reconnoiter for two hours. Then all of them would turn back to the camp and report what they had found. Anyone encountering any difficulty or danger would immediately turn back and enlist the help of the others before attempting to proceed. The next morning their reconnaissance got under way. Larra chose the canyon farthest to the south. For the first hour or so, it was fairly tough going. Then the canyon opened out. The sides of the canyon were so high that most of the floor was continually shaded. As a result there was less vegetation to impede her progress. The ground also was less rugged and so for awhile she made good progress. Then she came to an impressive barrier. It was a deep cleft right across the center of the canyon. It was about thirty feet wide and several hundred feet deep. In addition, the far side of the chasm was about twenty feet higher than the side she was on. It was time to turn back. She would need help to cross such an obstacle. Larra glanced at her watch. She still had about forty-five minutes left before she was supposed to begin her return. Perhaps there would be time to find a way across the gap. The canyon was about two or three hundred feet across at the point where the chasm intersected it, and as far as Larra could tell the deep cleft in the ground went right the way across. Still, she had time to take a good look, so she walked across the canyon floor, looking for a place where she might cross the chasm safely. She found such a place near the north edge of the canyon. A large tree had fallen into chasm, but because of its size it had dropped only a few feet before becoming wedged in the gap. It provided a natural bridge to the other side. All Larra had to do was make her way across the trunk to the far edge of the chasm and then make a thirty-foot climb to the top. It should offer little challenge for someone as fit as she was. Even as she worked out the details, Larra swung into action. She clambered onto the trunk of the fallen tree and then tightrope walked her way across the trunk. The tree was over a foot wide at its narrowest point so this should have been fairly easy, except for one thing. In her eagerness and overconfidence she had overlooked the fact that the tree might shift beneath her weight, and that was just what it did. She was about two-thirds of the way across when the log rolled beneath her feet. It caught her totally off-guard and she almost fell into the chasm. Only her karate-trained reflexes enabled her to regain her balance. As the tree trunk rolled beneath her, she scrambled desperately and managed to get to a narrow ledge on the far side of the chasm just as the tree broke free and dropped into the abyss below. She was trapped. There was no way for her to return the way she had come. She was now committed to climbing the wall of the canyon in order to get to safe ground. Once again, this should have been as easy task, but she had not reckoned on a large boulder coming loose at an inopportune moment. She had climbed about ten feet up the chasm wall when the chunk of stone broke free. It just missed her head as it fell into the chasm, striking her left shoulder a glancing blow as it passed by. The impact almost knocked her into the canyon and left her arm hanging uselessly by her side. It had been a near thing, but fate had spared her. And so she found herself siting on a narrow ledge, perched above a frighteningly deep chasm with one arm hanging uselessly at her side. She debated what she should do. She could sit here and wait for the other women to show up. They would come looking for her when she did not return. She could also try to climb to the top of the chasm wall. It was only about fifteen feet higher than her head, and there seemed to be plenty of hand and foot holds. Perhaps she should chance it... She ran the options through her mind. Climbing up with just one arm would be difficult and dangerous. On the other hand, she was not due back for two hours. Since no one would bother to look for her until it became obvious that she was late, it would be at least three hours before anyone came to look for her. It would take a search party about two hours more to reach her present location. That meant she would have to sit on the narrow ledge for a total of at least five hours before any rescue party showed up. She frowned. She really didn’t want to sit for five hours with her legs dangling over the edge of an abyss, not when a much more secure perch was only a few feet away. Slowly she dragged herself to her feet. As she had observed, there were plenty of handholds. She should be able to make her way to the top even with only one good arm. She took her pack off and set it beside her. There was a length of rope in the pack and she could use that to pull the pack up after her once she gained the top of the cliff She reached up with her good right arm, hooking her fingers into a solid handhold. Then she lifted her left leg and fitted her boot into an indentation in the cliff face. She pushed up and lifted herself two feet farther up the cliff. The slope near the top was less sheer, so that she was able to climb quite easily. It took her only about a minute to work her way to within a foot of the top. Almost there, she thought. One more step up. He hand closed over a knob-like rock projection on the rim. She let her weight shift onto it as she pushed with her legs to pull herself over the top. Without warning the rock under her hand gave way. She began to toppled backwards away from the cliff face. Reacting quickly, Larra yanked her feet from their toeholds allowing her body to drop straight down. As she fell she thrust her fingers into a small crevice in the cliff. She swung dizzyingly above the abyss, her feet dangling above emptiness. All of her body weight was on the four fingers of her right hand. If she lost her grip she would fall to her death. She probed with her feet trying to find some sort of support in the cliff wall, but she could find nothing. Her feet scrabbled desperately against the smooth cliff face, as her fingers slowly began to slip from the crevice. She was going to fall!