Sunday, November 30, 2003

Today’s Word: Lupine

At the last we were forced to use the belay, cleats, and ice hammers to claw our way to the penultimate summit. Snow lay on the mountain like a soft down of feathers upon a goose's neck. The air was bitter cold and thin. Just the effort of breathing made my head dizzy and muzzled.

We struck our anchors in a shelf of rock crusted over with ice and strung our ropes. Then it was time for rest.

John and I took our ease, not yet soaking in the realization that we had conquered a titan, but rather taking our somnolence after so many days of pure labor at mere survival.

The moon rose while we lay on our backs, nearer the stars than any two men still connected to terra firma. It was huge, silver, almost fearsome in its grandeur. It peered down as we peered up, as if contemplating a leap to our summit; a fall to match our peerless climb. Had I the breath I would have beckoned, and grasped it in my weak arms like a lover.

The first howl broke a near perfection of silence, save the wind which we had learned to tune out days ago. This sound was not the incessant skirl of artic winds pulling at us like the fingers of angry gods. It was sharper, more mournful, and, without question, alive.

A form, vaguely lupine, though far too large to be a wolf – more a small pony – rose up on a nearby outcropping, its body silhouetted by the giant moon. Red eyes gleamed at us, though from what light source I cannot say. The thing lifted its head and howled once again, the sound making me plug my ears involuntarily.

I was first on the ropes; first and only as it turned out. As I slid downward, feeling the nylon play in my gloved hands, I heard John screaming and the distinct sound of gortex ripping, mixed with bestial growls, then the wet sound of something large feeding.

I haven't returned to Mount Bryson, not even to the foot. Something there has a taste for man, and I'll not tempt it again.

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