On Saturday, January 30, 1960, Pauling told his wife that he was going for a walk to check the fence lines at their Big Sur
ranch. She watched him hiking toward the cliffs and hills along the ocean shore south of their cabin. When he did not return
for lunch, Ava Helen figured he lost track of time. When she did not hear from him by dark, however, she drove to the nearest
forest ranger’s office -- they had no phone in the cabin -- and reported her husband missing. Searchers arrived within an
hour and fanned out with flashlights, calling Pauling’s name. They could not find him. At first light they mounted a larger
search. An overeager reporter called in a story saying that Pauling’s body had been sighted at the foot of a cliff, and that
the Nobelist was presumed dead.
Pauling was not dead. He was "ledged," as climbers call it, stuck on a very steep slope high above the shore, in loose rocks,
unable to move without risking a fall to the sea. He could hear the searchers calling, but his replies were lost in the wind.
So he scooped out a resting place and sat up all night, performing mental exercises to say awake. He counted as high as he
could in as many languages as he could. He lectured the surf on chemical bonds. He reviewed the periodic table of the elements.
He was more frightened than he had ever been in his life. By the time they finally found him around noon the next day, he
was exhausted. But he shook it off, thanked the searchers, had some lunch, and drove back to Pasadena. The next day he showed
up for work, walked wordlessly past a cake his staff had made to celebrate his return, closed the door to his office, and
fell apart. He was unable to function, unable even to speak. His son-in-law drove him home. The next few days were spent recuperating
from what appeared to be a nervous breakdown. Two weeks would pass before he again appeared in public.