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Authors: Gary Paulsen

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BOOK: The Rock Jockeys
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“What if it’s true?” Spud asked. “What if a
bomber actually crashed up there? Wouldn’t it be neat to get to see it up close?”

“No way.” J.D. shook his head. “The government has had every kind of helicopter and search team up there you can name. They’ve gone over every inch of that mountain from the air and they haven’t found a thing.”

Spud slapped J.D. on the back. “That’s because they didn’t have the Rock Jockeys helping them.”

C
HAPTER
2

J.D. looked down at the gentle, tree-studded ridge behind them. It had been simple enough. They really hadn’t had to use any special skills to climb it. It had been more of a hike than anything.

He turned back to the sheer rock face in front of them. Devil’s Wall was straight up and down. From where they were standing they couldn’t see the snow-covered top. By Spud’s calculations, it would take a full day to make it up there … barring accidents.

J.D. shook his head. “Rick, your dad always
taught us to leave word with someone about where we’re going. I’m not sure this is such a good idea.”

Spud tied the rope in a bowline knot and checked to make sure he had the equipment he needed on his belt. “We left word with Toby Wilson. If we’re not back in four days, he’s supposed to get help.”

“Lead man ready,” Rick yelled from next to the wall.

Spud cupped his hand. “Belayer ready.” He looked at J.D. “Well?”

J.D. hesitated, then grabbed the rope and tied off. “End man ready.”

The first thirty feet was slow going. Rick picked his way carefully, driving metal pitons into the rock face with his hammer, then pulling himself up. Every ten feet he had to stop and let Spud work his way up behind him. Spud in turn waited for J.D. to bring up the rear.

The rock face was black and shiny with silver-lined cracks that glistened in the sun. It was an almost completely flat wall of smooth
rock, offering them no easy way up. Cautiously Rick led them higher, hammering and pulling until the muscles in his arms ached. Finally he stopped to catch his breath.

“Resting,” Rick called down. “Chimney ahead.”

J.D. and Spud were hanging below him. They both knew that a chimney meant hard work. It was a large crevice in the rock. In order to get up it, you had to use your back on one side and your feet on the other, inching up inside, hoping nothing got jammed.

Spud reached in his pocket for a handful of trail mix. “How are you doing down there?”

J.D. waved up at him. “So far so good. What’s taking you slowpokes so long?”

“I heard that.” Rick looked down at him. “I’d drop something on your thick head, but then I’d just have to carry your carcass back down and it isn’t worth it.”

“You just make sure
you
don’t fall on my thick head.”

Rick took a deep breath. “Climber ready.”

He braced his back and started edging his
way up. It was a tight fit. Rick’s knees were almost in his mouth as he struggled through the chimney. Finally he topped out. “I’m up. There’s a ledge here. I’ll anchor and wait.”

One at a time the other two boys emerged from the long crevice. There was barely enough room for all three to stand on the ledge. Above them was a granite overhang that jutted out almost six feet. Rick had already inserted one piton and was trying to find a toehold.

The overhang presented a dangerous problem. Rick, as the leader, had to find a way to go out and over the top. It would mean working upside down and trusting all his weight to the pitons he was able to hammer in along the way.

Spud and J.D. wrapped the rope around themselves and stood ready. Like an oversized spider, Rick climbed along the underside of the rock. He unclipped another piton from his belt and reached for his hammer.

Suddenly the carabiner, the aluminum oval snaplink attached to the piton, bent and
Rick’s body jerked and fell a few inches. Then with a sickening sound the carabiner popped open and the rope came completely loose.

Rick fell backward into space.

Spud and J.D. held their ground. Using a hip belay, Spud gave a little slack when Rick hit the end of the rope. The weight of Rick’s body pulled Spud and slammed him against the rock face. But he held on for all he was worth. J.D. anchored around a rock and dug his feet in.

“We’ve got you, Rick … Rick?” Spud anxiously tried to get a look over the side.

First there was silence. Then a weak voice called up, “I’m a little shook up, but all right. Pull anytime you’re ready.”

J.D. and Spud strained on the rope trying to get him back to the ledge. Rick helped every time he got a chance, using tiny cracks and footholds.

When they hauled him over the edge, his face was white and covered with sweat. He rested for a few minutes and then shakily got to his feet.

“Hold on.” Spud steadied him. “You should take it easy for a while.”

Rick shook his head. “No time. If we’re going to make it to the top before dark we have to hustle.”

J.D. readjusted his pack. “It would be better to spend the night out here on the face than to have the coroner scrape us up off the bottom.”

Spud swallowed. “If you want to switch places, Rick, I’ll take lead for a while.”

Rick set his jaw. “I’m the designated leader on this climb.” He turned to the overhang. “And I’ll see it through to the end. Now let’s get going.”

C
HAPTER
3

“Don’t you look pretty?” Rick frowned as he hauled J.D. on top of the overhang.

J.D. touched his cheek. Blood came off on his hand. “I guess I must have scraped it coming over.”

The three of them sat on the narrow overhang, resting and looking down at what they had accomplished so far. They were halfway up the wall with no major problems. But this was nothing; other climbers had made it this far. What had stopped them was what still lay ahead.

The rock wall above them was as smooth as polished black marble. There were no crevices and no ledges. They would have to fight for every inch.

Rick looked at his friends. J.D. and Spud nodded silently. Rick stood up and started. His job would be to make the trail. Their job was to make sure he lived through it.

The sun was already on its way down. The climb was taking longer than any of them had expected. But Rick was determined. He kept going, working at a snail’s pace hammering and moving up.

The other two followed, always keeping a watchful eye. At the slightest hint of a slip, Spud and J.D. pulled the rope taut and prayed the pitons would hold them.

Rick was fast becoming exhausted. The climb had taken a lot out of him. He looked down. Spud and J.D. resembled tiny insects trailing along behind him. Everything looked so small and insignificant from up here.

“Putting on headlamp,” Rick yelled down. He reached in his pack and pulled it out.
They were losing the light. From here to the top they would have to work wearing the lamps.

The headlamp threw weird shadows and made it hard to decide where to hammer. Rick unclipped a piton and started to pound it in. The rock was rotten and small pieces came loose in his hand. A big chunk fell out. He grabbed for it and missed.

“Rock!”

Spud covered his head and buried his face in the wall as the rock sailed by. J.D. wasn’t as lucky. The chunk smashed into his shoulder.

“You rock brain. What are you trying to do up there—kill me?”

Rick breathed a sigh of relief. He knew if J.D. was yelling at him, he wasn’t hurt too bad. He shouted back, “Just trying to keep you guys on your toes.”

“Wait till we reach the top,” J.D. called. “I’ll show you how much I appreciate it.”

They worked in silence for the next two hours. The only sounds in the still evening were the clang of the hammer and the groans of the three climbers.

Rick felt above him for the next place to hammer. There was none. Instead his hand grabbed a flat rock. Using both arms, he hoisted himself over the edge. He sat on his knees and pointed his headlamp in front of him. There were patches of snow and trees everywhere.

A slow grin started in one corner of his mouth. He threw his arms in the air triumphantly.

“We made it!”

C
HAPTER
4

They hadn’t stopped grinning and high-fiving each other since J.D. had finally pulled himself over the top. No one in history had ever climbed the entire face of Devil’s Wall and lived to tell about it.

Setting up camp for the night had taken less time than usual. The boys were too happy to realize how exhausted they were.

When the sun came up, J.D. ignored it. He turned over inside his sleeping bag and tried to get comfortable. He was almost sound
asleep again when he heard the other two tramp back into camp.

Spud winked at Rick. “I heard its favorite meal was human flesh wrapped in a bedroll.”

Rick shook his head. “No, it spits out the sleeping bag and bites the victim’s head off, letting the blood slowly drain into its hideous mouth.”

J.D. sat up. “What are you two morons talking about? Can’t you see I’m trying to sleep here?”

“Rick thought he heard something moving around in those trees last night.” Spud looked at Rick. “Should I tell him what we suspect?”

Rick tried to keep a straight face. “He might as well know what we’re up against.”

“We think it’s … the Abominable Snowman.”

J.D. lay back down. “You guys are hilarious. I’m going back to sleep.”

“Come on, J.D.” Spud pulled on the end of the sleeping bag. “How can you sleep with that bomber somewhere up here?”

“I told you, it’s not here.” J.D. rolled over. “Otherwise the government would have found it by now.” He was quiet for a moment, then quickly turned back to his friends. “You didn’t really hear anything out there, did you, Rick?”

“No, we were just kidding about that. But it’s really dark and desolate up here. There’s something about this place that gives me the creeps.”

“I’m not worried. In the first place, there’s no way anything could get up here,” J.D. said. “
We
barely made it. I doubt if there are even any animals up here.”

“He’s got a point there,” Spud said. “Unless maybe they were airlifted here.”

Rick thought about it. “Mountain goats. I bet there are mountain goats up here … and birds. There are probably all kinds of birds.”

Spud pushed the coals in the campfire around with a stick. “I just hope nothing decides to come visit us in the middle of the night.”

J.D. stood up and stretched. “Like I said, I’m
not worried. One sniff of you and it’ll run the other way.” He pulled his boots on and slipped into his jacket. “Well, what are you bums waiting for? Let’s go do some exploring.”

C
HAPTER
5

Rick stopped to check his compass. “I didn’t know the top of Devil’s Wall had so many trees. Sure would be easy to get lost up here.”

BOOK: The Rock Jockeys
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