From the bottom of the tracks again, I started up what I will call the Right Hand Wall. There wasn’t anything you would call a footpath along this wall, but there was uneven rock that had split away in the past, leaving “shelves” or “extended ledges” or some other word that people who hike and climb a lot would know. You can probably picture it- scrambling and inching and climbing and backing up and advancing up and along a rock wall.

Then, every so often, there’s another level-ish place to stand out in the middle of the crack. After all, workers had had to scramble all over this place when they were installing this incline train, dirty broken useless thing that it was. There were pylons holding up I-beams and cables and wheels and stuff making up the track. While all this stuff was being built, I imagine guys were up and down this crack all the time like billy goats, right?

So every few yards, I could step out onto a broader place, catch my breath and look up at the next obstacle.

The next obstacle I now saw was a boulder, just over head height. By grabbing the top and planting my feet on other protrusions, I could belly up and onto this thing. I thought. When I tried it, I found myself going face first into what we in the South call ‘Sticker Bushes’. There is, no doubt, some gratifyingly fancy scientific name that’s in Latin (A dead language, I’d like to point out) for this vicious plant, but I don’t know what it is, and don’t need it. I have said “Sticker Bush” and I bet that whatever that conjures up in your mind is precisely what I needed to conjure. It was a big, rolling, healthy, full, green bush. Full of thorns, or as Southern vernacular so aptly call them, “Stickers”.

Face first, as I say. So I tried some workarounds. The boulder just wasn’t that daunting, and the Right Hand Wall was getting particularly nerve wracking, so it seemed like there had to be a wall to roll sideways onto the boulder or inch up onto it or something that didn’t involve possible eye injury.

But let me tell you, that bush had no courtesy. It used up all the space available to it. I mean, seriously, what if a little bunny rabbit had wanted to burrow at the base of it? That’s a cute environmentally friendly thing, right? No, this bush wanted only blinded bunnies with scars living near it. It didn’t want anything larger than an insect burrowing in its grounds. So there. So no rabbit-sized space for me to aim my face into. Considering my clothes, I could have rammed my helmet into said bunny-sized space, but no.

So after trying a few options (there are always options… ever-narrowing, worse and worse, options) I was stuck with what my best choice could be. The left wall looked impossible, the boulder was getting frustratingly out of bounds, and the Right Hand Wall was looking better. All things being relative “Better” still wasn’t “Good”, but meant, “Better than standing here starving and dying of thirst.”

I peeked up over the boulder. I hadn’t covered nearly as much ground as I’d hoped. Frankly I was still very much in the bottom third, if not the bottom fourth of the slot. And day was getting on. I didn’t know how much of the run on the river was left for my friends, but if I kept getting delayed, they might come to the parking lot above before I did. If they didn’t find me there, would they assume I’d gotten a ride out an hour ago and head themselves for the campground?

Flustered, hot, thirsty, baffled, losing time, and now starting to see scenarios in which I don’t get out of here before nightfall, I start looking at the other option which has always been there, but I’ve been avoiding.

I could wrangle my way up one of the pylons I mentioned earlier, do a tightrope walk out along an I-beam to the train tracks that were fifteen or twenty feet above my head, and start climbing the ladder up the tracks themselves.

Oh, man. When I tell you that THAT was starting to look like the best option… what does that say?