Read Icefields Online

Authors: Thomas Wharton

Tags: #FIC019000, #FIC000000

Icefields

ICEFIELDS
NUNATAK FICTION

Nunatak is an Inuktitut word meaning “lonely peak,” a rock or mountain rising above ice. During Quaternary glaciation in North

America these peaks stood above the ice sheet and so became refuges for plant and animal life. Magnificent nunataks, their bases scoured by glaciers, can be seen along the Highwood Pass in the Alberta Rocky Mountains and on Ellesmere Island.

Nunataks are especially selected works of outstanding fiction by new western writers. The editors of Nunataks for NeWest Press are Aritha van Herk and Rudy Wiebe.

ICEFIELDS

T
HOMAS
W
HARTON

© Copyright Thomas Wharton 1995
Seventh Printing 2007

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior consent of the publisher is an infringement of the copyright law. In the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying of the material, a licence must be obtained from CAN-COPY, the Canadian Reprography Collective, before proceeding.

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data

Wharton, Thomas, 1963-
Icefields
(Nunatak fiction)
ISBN 978-0-920897-87-4
I. Title. II. Series
PS8595.H37133     1995     C813.54'         C95-910502-6
PR199.3.W52133 1995

Editor for the Press: Rudy Wiebe
Editorial Coordinator: Eva Radford
Cover painting and design: Diane Jensen
Interior design and layout: Brenda Burgess
Photo credits: Alberta Environmental Protection, Natural Resources
Service —Parks: pages
iii
and
vii
, Provincial Archives of Alberta: page
ix
, Ernest Brown Collection (B 9822); pages
1
,
61
,
139
,
185
and
224
, Public Affairs Bureau Collection (PA 225/2)

NeWest Press acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and the Edmonton Arts Council for our publishing program. We also acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP) for our publishing activities.

We are committed to protecting the environment and to the responsible use of natural resources. This book is printed on 100% recycled, ancient forest-friendly paper.

NeWest Press
201, 8540 109 Street
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 1E6
780-432-9427
www.newestpress.com

PRINTED IN CANADA

F
OR
M
Y
F
AMILY

AS IF EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD

IS THE HISTORY OF ICE.

Michael Ondaatje

C
OMING
T
HROUGH
S
LAUGHTER

A N
OTE TO THE
R
EADER

This book is a work of fiction and as such
contains deliberate historical and geographical
inaccuracies. The characters, places, and events
depicted are products of the author's imagi-
nation or are used in a fictional context. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, persons, or
glaciers, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

N
ÉVÉ

T
HIS HIGH PLAIN OF SNOW AND ICE FROM WHICH THE GLACIERS DESCEND CANNOT BE SEEN FROM THE VALLEY.

I
T MUST BE IMAGINED.

1

At a quarter past three in the afternoon, on August 17, 1898, Doctor Edward Byrne slipped on the ice of Arcturus glacier in the Canadian Rockies and slid into a crevasse.

Frank Trask, the expedition guide, was the first to notice his disappearance. He paused in his slow trudge to make a head count and saw, against the glare
of the ice, one less dark, toiling figure than there had been moments before. Trask called out to the others walking farther ahead on the glacier. They turned at his shout and descended quickly to where he stood.

On this bare, windswept slope of ice there was only one place Byrne could be. The climbing party crouched at the edge of the chasm where the young doctor's snow goggles lay, the strap caught on a projecting spine of ice. They shouted his name down into the darkness, but heard nothing. Trask unwound the coil of rope from over his shoulder and knotted a stirrup in one end.

—I'm not married, Professor Collie said. I'll go.

Trask shook his head.

—I am, he said. I will.

There was no time to argue. One end of the rope was secured around a rough bollard hacked out of the ice, and Trask tied the other around his chest. Slipping his foot into the stirrup, he took hold of the rope and stepped backwards into the abyss.

In blue-black darkness almost sixty feet below the surface, his gloved hand touched the doctor's boot. He realized Byrne was wedged upside down between the narrowing crevasse walls. Trask spoke his name and nudged him cautiously with his knee, but Byrne did not respond. The only sound was the muffled splash of meltwater. Trask shouted up to the others and after a few moments a second rope snaked down
towards him from above. He caught the end of the rope and hung in space, waiting for his eyes to grow accustomed to the deep blue gloom. After a few moments he could see that the rucksack on Byrne's back was jammed against an outcrop of the ice wall. This lucky chance had saved him from falling even further, but now the rucksack would only be a hindrance to the rescue.

Trask squirmed himself down into the narrow space beside Byrne. With his hunting knife he sliced through one shoulder strap, then worked the free end of the rope behind the doctor's back, grasped it with the fingers of his other hand and slowly tugged it around. The doctor did not move. Trask let out a long breath. He felt sweat cooling on his neck.

When the rope was snug and knotted under Byrne's arms, Trask cut the other strap and gave the rucksack a shove with his boot. It tumbled down into the dark with a muffled clang of metal.

What the hell was he carrying in there?

Byrne began to slide downward, but the rope went taut and held him.

—I've got him, Trask shouted. Pull him up,

slowly.

Byrne, and then Trask, were hauled to the surface. The doctor's skin was pale blue, his beard and clothing covered in a lacquer of refrozen meltwater.

Professor Collie knelt and examined him,
unwound the ice-encrusted scarf from around Byrne's neck and felt for a pulse.

—He's alive. Unconscious.

With his teeth Trask pulled off his soaked gloves and spat them onto the ice.

—Then he missed all the fancy words I used trying to get that damn rope around him.

—Hypothermia, said Professor Collie. We have to get him warmed up.

The four men carried Byrne down the long, sloping tongue of the glacier to the terminus, where the wranglers were camped, waiting with the horses. Nigel the cook saw them coming and had a fire started and tea brewing when they arrived. Stripped of his soaked, stiffened clothing and bundled in a wool blanket, Byrne was propped upright in front of the fire. Drooping forward, he made a barely audible sound, a gasping hiccup. The professor rubbed his limbs and chest.

Other books

Planting Dandelions by Kyran Pittman
Knight of Darkness by Kinley MacGregor
Dogsong by Gary Paulsen
Spellscribed: Resurgence by Kristopher Cruz
When All Else Fails by J. M. Dabney
The Girl in the Photograph by Lygia Fagundes Telles
Chango's Fire by Ernesto Quinonez
The Book of Books by Melvyn Bragg