A holiday at 14,000 feet leads Nancy to the pinnacle of peril.
"This is going to be the best vacation," Nancy Drew said, brushing her reddish blond hair back. "A whole week of skiing in Washington State." Nancy was weaving through the passengers at Chicago's O'Hare airport with Ned Nickerson, her longtime boyfriend.
Ned answered by squeezing Nancy's hand as he dodged a man carrying an overstuffed garment bag. Since Ned went away to college, Nancy and he didn't see each other often. Ned was on winter break now, and they had planned a whole week of skiing, just the two of them.
When they reached the gate, their flight to Tacoma, Washington, was boarding. "Perfect timing," Nancy murmured. A few moments later they walked through the jetway and onto the plane, but when they reached their seats, they found them occupied.
"Excuse me," Nancy said politely. "I think this is my seat."
"Is it?" The man who smiled up at Nancy was young and athletic looking, with bright blue eyes and a nice smile. He checked his boarding pass as the woman and little girl sitting next to him looked up from the Mickey Mouse coloring book. The little girl was adorable, with cinnamon curls and big blue eyes. The woman was a knockout, with long dark hair and deep green eyes.
"You're right," the man said. "We're supposed to be in Eight D, E, and F." He pointed to the three empty seats on the other side of the aisle.
The woman quickly put the crayons back into the box and gathered up her belongings. Within a few minutes, the young family had moved across the aisle.
"Thanks," Ned said.
Nancy plopped down into the aisle seat next to Ned and stowed her carry-on bag under the seat in front of her. After buckling her seat belt, she opened her copy of Great Outdoors and began reading an article on skiing.
Ned leaned over and squeezed Nancy's hand in excitement. "This is going to be a great week," he whispered, discreetly nuzzling her neck.
Before long the plane had taken off and reached an altitude of 35,000 feet and was soaring over the plains of South Dakota.
After an hour or so Nancy looked over and noticed that the little girl was snuggled up against her mom, sound asleep, a purple crayon still clenched in her small fist.
"She's adorable," Nancy said, leaning across the aisle. "What's her name?"
"Allison." The woman smiled tenderly at her daughter. "We think she's a keeper."
Nancy laughed. "Do you live in Chicago?" she asked.
"No," the husband answered. "We've been visiting my wife Kara's family for the holidays," he answered as he swirled the ice in his soft drink.
"We live in a little town about thirty miles east of Tacoma called Enumclaw," Kara added.
"I think we drive through Enumclaw on our way to Crystal Falls," Nancy said thoughtfully, sipping her tea.
"Oh, you're going skiing?" Kara asked, her eyes bright. "Crystal Falls is a terrific resort. We went skiing there over Thanksgiving and they already had great snow."
Nancy smiled and daydreamed about the skiing. It felt great to leave her detective work behind for six glorious days. At eighteen, Nancy had already established herself as a formidable detective. The daughter of a well-known criminal attorney, Carson Drew, Nancy inherited many cases through her father. She loved solving mysteries, but she had vowed to steer clear of crime on this vacation.
"Do you ski a lot?" Nancy asked, coming out of her dream.
The man laughed. "You could say that. We run a small alpine guide service. Our specialty is alpining -- you know, climbing mountains. But we also do rock climbing and skiing."
"Wow," Nancy said. "That sounds like fun. How long have you been in business?"
"Just over a year. But Kara has been climbing seriously for more than ten years." He reached over and took his wife's hand. "She was the top climber in the U.S. before she gave it all up to become a mom."
"Oh, Alex," Kara said, embarrassed. "You always make my climbing sound like such a big deal."
"It sounds pretty impressive to me," Ned commented, and Nancy agreed.
"I just love to climb and happen to be good at it," Kara said modestly.
"So how's business?" Nancy asked, changing the subject.
"Great," Alex answered, leaning back and stretching his legs out in front of him. "Clients have been coming to us through word of mouth. Sometimes we have to hire freelance guides because more people sign up for a trip than we expected. A staff writer from Great Outdoors magazine is coming on a winter ascent of Mount Rainier with us this week," he said, pointing to the magazine Nancy was holding. "With a little luck, he'll write some positive things about us and we'll really be on our way."
"It'll take more than luck, Alex," Kara said affectionately.
"What do you mean?" Nancy asked, her curiosity getting the best of her.
"Well, on a big, volcanic, glacial mountain like Rainier, you have a lot to worry about -- snow bridges, crevasses, avalanches, not to mention your equipment," Kara rattled off. "You really have to know what you're doing."
"But getting to the top amidst all that incredible wilderness beauty must be worth it. It must be a real thrill at the top," Nancy said.
"Oh, there's nothing like it," Kara agreed. "It's the most exhilarating feeling I know."
A little while later the pilot's voice announced their approach to the Tacoma airport.
"Wow, that was fast," Nancy commented as a flight attendant passed by to collect their cups and napkins.
At the baggage claim, Nancy and Ned waited for their luggage with their new friends the Wheelers. As they were gathering their things together Alex handed Nancy a business card. "If you want to stop in on your way back from Crystal Falls, let us know," he said. "Enumclaw is about halfway between the ski resort and Tacoma."
"We've just finished building a little house in the woods. We'd love to have you visit," Kara added warmly, picking up Allison.
"Thanks," Nancy answered, smiling. "We just might do that."
"Goodbye, Allison," Ned called as the Wheelers left the terminal.
Allison grinned and waved. "Bye," she called back.
"What great people," Nancy commented to Ned. "I feel like we've known them for years."
While Nancy waited for the luggage, Ned went to rent a car. When he came back with the contract and the keys, he noticed their ski equipment still hadn't arrived. The carousel was nearly empty.
"Oh, no," Ned groaned. "Don't tell me our skis are missing."
Nancy sighed. This wasn't the great start to their vacation she had wanted. "That's what it looks like," she answered, frowning.
Twenty minutes later Nancy and Ned learned that their skis had mistakenly been put on a plane to Arizona. The service representative told them that they probably couldn't get the skis to them for a couple of days.
"What should we do?" Ned asked. "We can't exactly hit the slopes without skis."
"We could rent them," Nancy suggested.
Ned put an affectionate arm around Nancy and gave her a squeeze. "That's why I love you, Nan," he said. "You always think positively, and you always have a plan."
After hoisting their bags, Nancy and Ned made their way to the courtesy van that would take them to their rental car. An hour and a half later they had arrived at Crystal Falls Resort.
After checking into their rooms and freshening up, they met again in the lobby of their hotel and headed across the compound to the ski rental shop. When Nancy walked through the door, she noticed right away that there was hardly any gear for sale. As it turned out, virtually any equipment they could ski on was already rented because it was one of the busiest weeks of the year.
Nancy sighed heavily. She and Ned had flown halfway across the country to a great ski resort and now they had no equipment!
"What are we going to do?" Ned asked as they left the shop to go outside.
"I have no idea," Nancy answered. "Our perfect vacation is turning into a disaster."
"No, it isn't," Ned said, stopping to slip both his arms around Nancy's waist. "My vacation is still wonderful, because you're here with me."
"Oh, Ned, of course you're right," Nancy said, resting her hand lightly on the nape of his neck. She stared off at majestic Mt. Rainier with its snow-covered peaks, the only significant mountain for miles. "But what are we going to do for the next -- Hey," she cried, suddenly excited. "Let's call Alex and Kara and see if we can go on that Rainier trip!"
"Are you sure, Nan?" Ned asked. "I mean, it's January. And Rainier is a big mountain and could be very dangerous to climb."
"Oh, come on, Nickerson. We've both done serious climbing, and we're in good shape."
Ned studied Nancy's face against a backdrop of snow and pines. "All right," he agreed. "If it's what you really want to do, I'm game."
In her room Nancy dialed the number for Alpine Adventures. When Kara answered the phone, Nancy immediately heard the anxiety in her voice. "Kara, it's Nancy Drew."
"Oh, Nancy," Kara said with a sigh.
"Is everything all right?" Nancy asked.
"No," Kara replied. "Somebody has broken into Alpine Adventures -- the place has been ransacked!"
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