فصل 06

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فصل 06

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Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way, two miles literally considerable, ten miles whopping, fifty miles at the very limits of conception. The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know. Planetary scale is your little secret.Life takes on a neat simplicity, too. Time ceases to have any meaning. When it is dark, you go to bed, and when it is light again you get up, and everything in between is just in between. It’s quite wonderful, really.

You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants; you exist in a tranquil tedium, serenely beyond the reach of exasperation, “far removed from the seats of strife,” as the early explorer and botanist William Bartram put it. All that is required of you is a willingness to trudge.

There is no point in hurrying because you are not actually going anywhere. However far or long you plod, you are always in the same place: in the woods. It’s where you were yesterday, where you will be tomorrow. The woods is one boundless singularity. Every bend in the path presents a prospect indistinguishable from every other, every glimpse into the trees the same tangled mass. For all you know, your route could describe a very large, pointless circle. In a way, it would hardly matter.

At times, you become almost certain that you slabbed this hillside three days ago, crossed this stream yesterday, clambered over this fallen tree at least twice today already.

But most of the time you don’t think. No point. Instead, you exist in a kind of mobile Zen mode, your brain like a balloon tethered with string, accompanying but not actually part of the body below. Walking for hours and miles becomes as automatic, as unremarkable, as breathing. At the end of the day you don’t think, “Hey, I did sixteen miles today,” any more than you think, “Hey, I took eight-thousand breaths today.” It’s just what you do.

And so we walked, hour upon hour, over rollercoaster hills, along kinife-edge ridges and over grassy balds, through depthless ranks of oak, ash, chinkapin, and pine. The skies grew sullen and the air chillier, but it wasn’t until the third day that the snow came.

It began in the morning as thinly scattered flecks, hardly noticeable. But then the wind rose, then rose again, until it was blowing with an end-of-the-world fury that seemed to have even the trees in a panic, and with it came snow, great flying masses of it. By midday we found ourselves plodding into a stinging, cold, hard-blowing storm. Soon after, we came to a narrow ledge of path along a wall of rock called Big Butt Mountain.

Even in ideal circumstances the path around Big Butt would have required delicacy and care. It was like a window ledge on a skyscraper, no more than fourteen or sixteen inches wide, and crumbling in places, with a sharp drop on one side of perhaps eighty feet, and long, looming stretches of vertical granite on the other. Once or twice I nudged foot-sized rocks over the side and watched with faint horror as they crashed and tumbled to improbably remote resting places. The trail was cobbled with rocks and threaded with wandering tree roots against which we constantly stubbed and stumbled, and veneered everywhere with polished ice under a thin layer of powdery snow. At exasperatingly frequent intervals, the path was broken by steep, thickly bouldered streams, frozen solid and ribbed with blue ice, which could only be negotiated in a crablike crouch. And all the time, as we crept along on this absurdly narrow, dangerous perch, we were half-blinded by flying snow and jostled by gusts of wind, which roared through the dancing trees and shook us by our packs. This wasn’t a blizzard; it was a tempest. We proceeded with painstaking deliberative-ness, placing each foot solidly before lifting the one behind. Even so, twice Katz made horrified, heartfelt, comic-book noises (“AIEEEEE!” and “EEEARGH!”)as his footing went, and I turned to find him hugging a tree, feet skating, his expression bug-eyed and fearful.

It was deeply unnerving. It took us over two hours to cover six-tenths of a mile of trail.

By the time we reached solid ground at a place called Bearpen Gap, the snow was four or five inches deep and accumulating fast. The whole world was white, filled with dime-sized snowflakes that fell at a slant before being caught by the wind and hurled in a variety of directions. We couldn’t see more than fifteen or twenty feet ahead, often not even that.

The trail crossed a logging road, then led straight up Albert Mountain, a bouldered summit 5,250 feet above sea level, where the winds were so wild and angry that they hit the mountain with an actual wallop sound and forced us to shout to hear each other. We started up and hastily retreated. Hiking packs leave you with no recognizable center of gravity at the best of times; here we were literally being blown over. Confounded, we stood at the bottom of the summit and looked at each other. This was really quite grave.

We were caught between a mountain we couldn’t climb and a ledge we had no intention of trying to renegotiate. Our only apparent option was to pitch our tents–if we could in this wind–crawl in, and hope for the best. I don’t wish to reach for melodrama, but people have died in less trying circumstances.

I dumped my pack and searched through it for my trail map. Appalachian Trail maps are so monumentally useless that I had long since given up using them. They vary somewhat, but most are on an abysmal scale of 1:100,000, which ludicrously compresses every kilometer of real world into a mere centimeter of map. Imagine a square kilometer of physical landscape and all that it might contain–logging roads, streams, a mountaintop or two, perhaps a fire tower, a knob or grassy bald, the wandering AT, and maybe a pair of important side trails–and imagine trying to convey all that information on an area the size of the nail on your little finger. That’s an AT map.

Actually, it’s far, far worse than that because AT maps–for reasons that bewilder me beyond speculation–provide less detail than even their meager scale allows. For any ten miles of trail, the maps will name and identify perhaps only three of the dozen or more peaks you cross. Valleys, lakes, gaps, creeks, and other important, possibly vital, topographical features are routinely left unnamed. Forest Service roads are often not included, and, if included, they’re inconsistently identified. Even side trails are frequently left off. There are no coordinates, no way of directing rescuers to a particular place, no pointers to towns just off the map’s edge. These are, in short, seriously inadequate maps.

In normal circumstances, this is merely irksome. Now, in a blizzard, it seemed closer to negligence. I dragged the map from the pack and fought the wind to look at it. It showed the trail as a red line. Nearby was a heavy, wandering black line, which I presumed to be the Forest Service road we stood beside, though there was no actual telling. According to the map, the road (if a road is what it was) started in the middle of nowhere and finished half a dozen miles later equally in the middle of nowhere, which clearly made no senseindeed, wasn’t even possible. (You can’t start a road in the middle of forest; earth-moving equipment can’t spontaneously appear among the trees. Anyway, even if you could build a road that didn’t go anywhere, why would you?) There was, obviously, something deeply and infuriatingly wrong with this map.

“Cost me eleven bucks,” I said to Katz a little wildly, shaking the map at him and then crumpling it into an approximately flat shape and jabbing it into my pocket.”So what’re we going to do?” he said.

I sighed, unsure, then yanked the map out and examined it again. I looked from it to the logging road and back. “Well, it looks as if this logging road curves around the mountain and comes back near the trail on the other side. If it does and we can find it, then there’s a shelter we can get to. If we can’t get through, I don’t know, I guess we take the road back downhill to lower ground and see if we can find a place out of the wind to camp.” I shrugged a little helplessly. “I don’t know. What do you think?”

Katz was looking at the sky, watching the flying snow. “Well, I think,” he said thoughtfully, “that I’d like to have a long hot soak in a Jacuzzi, a big steak dinner with a baked potato and lots of sour cream, and I mean lots of sour cream, and then sex with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders on a tigerskin rug in front of a roaring fire in one of those big stone fireplaces like you get in a lodge at a ski resort. You know the kind I mean?” He looked at me. I nodded. “That’s what I’d like. But I’m willing to try your plan if you think it will be more fun.” He flicked snow from his brow. “Besides, it would be a shame to waste all this delightful snow.” He issued a single bitter guffaw and returned to the hysterical snow. I hoisted my pack and followed.

We plodded up the road, bent steeply, buffeted by winds. Where it settled, the snow was wet and heavy and getting deep enough that soon it would be impassable and we would have to take shelter whether we wanted to or not. There was no place to pitch a tent here, I noted uneasily–only steep, wooded slope going up on one side and down on the other. For quite a distance–far longer than it seemed it ought to–the road stayed straight. Even if, farther on, it did curve back near the trail, there was no certainty (or even perhaps much likelihood) that we would spot it. In these trees and this snow you could be ten feet from the trail and not see it. It would be madness to leave the logging road and try to find it. Then again, it was probably madness to be following a logging road to higher ground in a blizzard.

Gradually, and then more decidedly, the trail began to hook around behind the mountain. After about an hour of dragging sluggishly through ever-deepening snow, we came to a high, windy, level spot where the trail–or at least a trail–emerged down the back of Albert Mountain and continued on into level woods. I regarded my map with bewildered exasperation. It didn’t give any indication of this whatever, but Katz spotted a white blaze twenty yards into the woods, and we whooped with joy. We had refound the AT. A shelter was only a few hundred yards farther on. It looked as if we would live to hike another day.

The snow was nearly knee deep now, and we were tired, but we all but pranced through it, and Katz whooped again when we reached an arrowed sign on a low limb that pointed down a side trail and said “BIG SPRING SHELTER.” The shelter, a simple wooden affair, open on one side, stood in a snowy glade–a little winter wonderland–150 yards or so off the main trail. Even from a distance we could see that the open side faced into the wind and that the drifting snow was nearly up to the lip of the sleeping platform. Still, if nothing else, it offered at least a sense of refuge.

We crossed the clearing, heaved our packs onto the platform, and in the same instant discovered that there were two people there already–a man and a boy of about fourteen.

They were Jim and Heath, father and son, from Chattanooga, and they were cheerful, friendly, and not remotely daunted by the weather. They had come hiking for theweekend, they told us (I hadn’t even realized it was a weekend), and knew the weather was likely to be bad, though not perhaps quite this bad, and so were well prepared. Jim had brought a big clear plastic sheet, of the sort decorators use to cover floors, and was trying to rig it across the open front of the shelter. Katz, uncharacteristically, leapt to his assistance. The plastic sheet didn’t quite reach, but we found that with one of our groundcloths lashed alongside it we could cover the entire front. The wind walloped ferociously against the plastic and from time to time tore part of it loose, where it fluttered and snapped, with a retort like gunshot, until one of us leaped up and fought it back into place. The whole shelter was, in any case, incredibly leaky of air–the plank walls and floors were full of cracks through which icy wind and occasional blasts of snow shotbut we were infinitely snugger than we would have been outside.

So we made a little home of it for ourselves, spread out our sleeping pads and bags, put on all the extra clothes we could find, and fixed dinner from a reclining position.

Darkness fell quickly and heavily, which made the wildness outside seem even more severe. Jim and Heath had some chocolate cake, which they shared with us (a treat beyond heaven), and then the four of us settled down to a long, cold night on hard wood, listening to a banshee wind and the tossing of angry branches.

When I awoke, all was stillness–the sort of stillness that makes you sit up and take your bearings. The plastic sheet before me was peeled back a foot or so and weak light filled the space beyond. Snow was over the top of the platform and lying an inch deep over the foot of my sleeping bag. I shooed it off with a toss of my legs. Jim and Heath were already stirring to life. Katz slumbered heavily on, an arm flung over his forehead, his mouth a great open hole. It was not quite six.

I decided to go out to reconnoiter and see how stranded we might be. I hesitated at the platform’s edge, then jumped out into the drift–it came up over my waist and made my eyes fly open where it slipped under my clothes and found bare skin–and pushed through it into the clearing, where it was slightly (but only slightly) shallower. Even in sheltered areas, under an umbrella of conifers, the snow was nearly knee deep and tedious to churn through. But everywhere it was stunning. Every tree wore a thick cloak of white, every stump and boulder a jaunty snowy cap, and there was that perfect, immense stillness that you get nowhere else but in a big woods after a heavy snowfall.

Here and there clumps of snow fell from the branches, but otherwise there was no sound or movement. I followed the side trail up and under heavily bowed limbs to where it rejoined the AT. The AT was a plumped blanket of snow, round and bluish, in a long, dim tunnel of overbent rhododendrons. It looked deep and hard going. I walked a few yards as a test. It was deep and hard going.

When I returned to the shelter, Katz was up, moving slowly and going through his morning groans, and Jim was studying his maps, which were vastly better than mine. I crouched beside him and he made room to let me look with him. It was 6.1 miles to Wallace Gap and a paved road, old U.S. 64. A mile down the road from there was Rainbow Springs Campground, a private campsite with showers and a store. I didn’t know how hard it would be to walk seven miles through deep snow and had no confidence that the campground would be open this early in the year. Still, it was obvious this snow wasn’t going to melt for days and we would have to make a move sometime; it might aswell be now, when at least it was pretty and calm. Who knew when another storm might blow in and really strand us?

Jim had decided that he and Heath would accompany us for the first couple of hours, then turn off on a side trail called Long Branch, which descended steeply through a ravine for 2.3 miles and emerged near a parking lot where they had left their car. He had hiked the Long Branch trail many times and knew what to expect. Even so, I didn’t like the sound of it and asked him hesitantly if he thought it was a good idea to go off on a littleused side trail, into goodness knows what conditions, where no one would come across him and his son if they got in trouble. Katz, to my relief, agreed with me. “At least there’s always other people on the AT,” he said. “You don’t know what might happen to you on a side trail.” Jim considered the matter and said they would turn back if it looked bad.

Katz and I treated ourselves to two cups of coffee, for warmth, and Jim and Heath shared with us some of their oatmeal, which made Katz intensely happy. Then we all set off together. It was cold and hard going. The tunnels of boughed rhododendrons, which often ran on for great distances, were exceedingly pretty, but when our packs brushed against them they dumped volumes of snow onto our heads and down the backs of our necks. The three adults took it in turns to walk in front because the lead person always received the heaviest dumping, as well as having all the hard work of dibbing holes in the snow.

The Long Branch trail, when we reached it, descended steeply through bowed pinestoo steeply, it seemed to me, to come back up if the trail proved impassable, and it looked as if it might. Katz and I urged Jim and Heath to reconsider, but Jim said it was all downhill and well-marked, and he was sure it would be all right. “Hey, you know what day it is?” said Jim suddenly and, seeing our blank faces, supplied the answer: “March twentyfirst.”

Our faces stayed blank.

“First day of spring,” he said.

We smiled at the pathetic irony of it, shook hands all around, wished each other luck, and parted.

Katz and I walked for three hours more, silently and slowly through the cold, white forest, taking it in turns to break snow. At about one o’clock we came at last to old 64, a lonesome, superannuated two-lane road through the mountains. It hadn’t been cleared, and there were no tire tracks through it. It was starting to snow again, steadily, prettily.

We set off down the road for the campground and had walked about a quarter of a mile when from behind there was the crunching sound of a motorized vehicle proceeding cautiously through snow. We turned to see a big jeep-type car rolling up beside us. The driver’s window hummed down. It was Jim and Heath. They had come to let us know they had made it, and to make sure we had likewise. “Thought you might like a lift to the campground,” Jim said.

We climbed gratefully in, filling their nice car with snow, and rode down to the campground. Jim told us that they had passed it on the way up and it looked open, but that they would take us to Franklin, the nearest town, if it wasn’t. They had heard a weather forecast. More snow was expected over the next couple of days.

They dropped us at the campground–it was open–and departed with waves. Rainbow Springs was a small private campground with several small overnight cottages, a showerblock, and a couple of other indeterminate buildings scattered around a big, level, open area clearly intended for camper vans and recreational vehicles. By the entrance, in an old white house, was the office, which was really a general store. We went in and found that every hiker for twenty miles was already there, several of them sitting around a wood stove eating chili or ice cream and looking rosy cheeked and warm and clean. Three or four of them we knew already. The campground was run by Buddy and Jensine Crossman, who seemed friendly and welcoming. If nothing else, it was probably not often that business was this good in March. I inquired about a cabin.

Jensine stubbed out a cigarette and laughed at my naivete, which caused her a small coughing attack. “Honey, the cabins went two days ago. There’s two places left in the bunkhouse. After that, people are going to have to sleep on floors.”

Bunkhouse is not a word I particularly want to hear at my age, but we had no choice.

We signed in, were given two very small, stiff towels for the shower, and trudged off across the grounds to see what we got for our $11 apiece. The answer was very little.

The bunkhouse was basic and awesomely unlovely. It was dominated by twelve narrow wood bunks stacked in tiers of three, each with a thin bare mattress and a grubby bare pillow lumpily filled with shreds of Styrofoam. In one corner stood a potbellied stove, hissing softly, surrounded by a semicircle of limp boots and draped with wet woollen socks, which steamed foully. A small wooden table and a pair of broken-down easy chairs, both sprouting stuffing, completed the furnishings. Everywhere there was stuff–tents, clothes, backpacks, raincovers–hanging out to dry, dripping sluggishly. The floor was bare concrete, the walls uninsulated plywood. It was singularly univiting, like camping in a garage.

“Welcome to the Stalag,” said a man with an ironic smile and an English accent. His name was Peter Fleming, and he was a lecturer at a college in New Brunswick who had come south for a week’s hiking but, like everyone else, had been driven in by the snow.

He introduced us around–each person greeted us with a friendly but desultory nod–and indicated which were the spare bunks, one on the top level, nearly up at the ceiling, the other on the bottom on the opposite side of the room.

“Red Cross parcels come on the last Friday of the month, and there’ll be a meeting of the escape committee at nineteen hundred hours this evening. I think that’s about all you need to know.”

“And don’t order the Philly cheese steak sandwich unless you want to puke all night,”

said a wan but heartfelt voice from a shadowy bunk in the corner.

“That’s Tex,” Fleming explained. We nodded.

Katz selected a top bunk and set about the long challenge of trying to get into it. I turned to my own bunk and examined it with a kind of appalled fascination. If the mattress stains were anything to go by, a previous user had not so much suffered from incontinence as rejoiced in it. He had evidently included the pillow in his celebrations. I lifted it and sniffed it, then wished I hadn’t. I spread out my sleeping bag, draped some socks over the stove, hung up a few things to dry, then sat on the edge of the bed and passed a pleasant half hour with the others watching Katz’s dogged struggle to the summit, which mostly involved deep grunts, swimming legs, and invitations to all onlookers and well-wishers to go fuck themselves. From where I sat, all I could see was his expansive butt and homeless lower limbs. His posture brought to mind a shipwreckvictim clinging to a square of floating wreckage on rough seas, or possibly someone who had been lifted unexpectedly into the sky on top of a weather balloon he was preparing to hoist–in any case, someone holding on for dear life in dangerous circumstances. I grabbed my pillow and climbed up alongside him to ask why he didn’t just take the bottom bunk.

His face was wild and flushed; I’m not even sure he recognized me at that moment.

“Because heat rises, buddy,” he said, “and when I get up here–if I fucking ever do–I’m going to be toast.” I nodded (there was seldom any point in trying to reason with Katz when he was puffed out and fixated) and used the opportunity to switch pillows on him.

Eventually, when it became unsustainably pathetic to watch, three of us pushed him home. He flopped heavily and with an alarming crack of wood–which panicked the poor, quiet man in the bunk underneath–and announced he had no intention of leaving this spot until the snows had melted and spring had come to the mountains. Then he turned his back and went to sleep.

I trudged through the snow to the shower block for the pleasure of dancing through ice water, then went to the general store and hung out by the stove with half a dozen others.

There was nothing else to do. I ate two bowls of chili–the house specialty–and listened to the general conversation. This mostly involved Buddy and Jensine bitching about the previous day’s customers, but it was nice to hear some voices other than Katz’s.

“You shoulda seen ‘em,” Jensine said with distaste, picking a fleck of tobacco off her tongue. “Didn’t say ‘please,’ didn’t say ‘thank you.’ Not like you guys. You guys are a breath of fresh air in comparison, believe me. And they made a complete pigpen of the bunkhouse, didn’t they, Buddy?” She passed the baton to Buddy.

“Took me an hour to clean it this morning,” he said grimly, which surprised me because the bunkhouse didn’t look as if it had been cleaned this century. “There were puddles all over the floor and somebody, I don’t know who, left a filthy old flannel shirt, which was just disgusting. And they burned all the firewood. Three days’ worth of firewood I took down there yesterday, and they burned every stick of it.”

“We were real glad to see ‘em go,” said Jensine. “Real glad. Not like you guys. You guys are a breath of fresh air, believe me.” Then she went off to answer a ringing phone.

I was sitting next to one of the three kids from Rutgers whom we had been running into off and on since the second day. They had a cabin now but had been in the bunkhouse the night before. He leaned over and in a whisper said: “She said the same thing yesterday about the people the day before. She’ll be saying the same thing tomorrow about us. Do you know, there were fifteen of us in the bunkhouse last night.”

“Fifteen?” I repeated, in a tone of wonder. It was intolerable enough with twelve.

“Where on earth did the extra three sleep?”

“On the floor–and they were still charged eleven bucks for it. How’s your chili?”

I looked at it as if I hadn’t thought about it, as in fact I hadn’t. “Pretty terrible, actually.”

He nodded. “Wait till you’ve been eating it for two days.”

When I left to walk back to the bunkhouse, it was still snowing, but peacefully. Katz was awake and up on one elbow, smoking a bummed cigarette and asking people to pass things up to him– scissors, a bandanna, matches–as the need arose and to take them away again as he finished with them. Three people stood at the window watching thesnow. The talk was all of the weather. There was no telling when we would get out of here. It was impossible not to feel trapped.

We spent a wretched night in our bunks, faintly lit by the dancing glow of the stovewhich the timid man (unable or reluctant to sleep with the restless mass of Katz bowing the slats just above his head) diligently kept stoked–and wrapped in a breathy, communal symphony of nighttime noises–sighs, weary exhalations, dredging snores, a steady dying moan from the man who had eaten the Philly cheese steak sandwich, the monotone hiss of the stove, like the soundtrack of an old movie. We woke, stiff and unrested, to a gloomy dawn of falling snow and the dispiriting prospect of a long, long day with nothing to do but hang out at the camp store or lie on a bunkbed reading old Reader’s Digests, which filled a small shelf by the door. Then word came that an industrious youth named Zack from one of the cabins had somehow gotten to Franklin and rented a minivan and was offering to take anyone to town for $5. There was a virtual stampede. To the dismay and disgust of Buddy and Jensine, practically everyone paid up and left. Fourteen of us packed into the minivan and started on the long descent to Franklin, in a snowless valley far below.

And so we had a little holiday in Franklin, which was small, dull, and cautiously unattractive, but mostly dull–the sort of place where you find yourself, for want of anything better to do, strolling out to the lumberyard to watch guys on forklifts shunting wood about. There wasn’t a thing in the way of diversions, nowhere to buy a book or even a magazine that didn’t involve speedboats, customized cars, or guns and ammo. The town was full of hikers like us who had been driven down from the hills and had nothing to do but hang out listlessly in the diner or launderette and two or three times a day make a pilgrimage to the far end of Main Street to stare forlornly at the distant, snow-draped, patently impassable peaks. The outlook was not good. There were rumors of seven-foot drifts in the Smokies. It could be days before the trail was passable again.

I was plunged into a restless funk by this, heightened by the realization that Katz was verily in heaven at the prospect of several days idling in a town, on vacation from purpose and exertion, trying out various attitudes of repose. To my intense vexation, he had even bought a TV Guide, to plan his viewing more effectively over the coming days.

I wanted to get back on the trail, to knock off miles. It was what we did. Besides, I was bored to a point somewhat beyond being bored out of my mind. I was reading restaurant place mats, then turning them over to see if there was anything on the back. At the lumberyard I talked to workmen through the fence. Late on the third afternoon I stood in a Burger King and studied, with absorption, the photographs of the manager and his executive crew (reflecting on the curious fact that people who go into hamburger management always look as if their mother slept with Goofy), then slid one pace to the right to examine the Employee of the Month awards. It was then I realized I had to get out of Franklin.

Twenty minutes later I announced to Katz that we were returning to the trail in the morning. He was, of course, astounded and dismayed. “But it’s the ‘X-Files’ on Friday,” he sputtered. “I just bought cream soda.”

“The disappointment must be crushing,” I replied with a thin, heartless smile.

“But the snow. We’ll never get through.”I gave a shrug that was meant to look optimistic but was probably closer to indifferent.

“We might,” I said.

“But what if we don’t? What if there’s another blizzard? We were very lucky, if you ask me, to escape with our lives last time.” He looked at me with desperate eyes. “I’ve got eighteen cans of cream soda in my room,” he blurted and then wished he hadn’t.

I arched an eyebrow. “Eighteen? Were you planning to settle here?”

“It was on special,” he muttered defensively and retreated into a sulk.

“Look, Stephen, I’m sorry to spoil your festive arrangements, but we didn’t come all the way down here to drink pop and watch TV.”

“Didn’t come down here to die either,” he said, but he argued no more.

So we went, and were lucky. The snow was deep but passable. Some lone hiker, even more impatient than I, had pushed through ahead of us and compacted the snow a little, which helped. It was slick on the steep climbs–Katz was forever sliding back, falling down, cursing mightily–and occasionally on higher ground we had to detour around expansive drift fields, but there was never a place where we couldn’t get through.

And the weather perked up. The sun came out; the air grew milder and heavier; the little mountain streams became lively with the tumble and gurgle of meltwater. I even heard the tentative twitter of birds. Above 4,500 feet, the snow lingered and the air felt refrigerated, but lower down the snow retreated in daily bounds until by the third day it was no more than scrappy patches on the darkest slopes. It really wasn’t bad at all, though Katz refused to admit it. I didn’t care. I just walked. I was very happy.

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