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.