Atop this the snow suddenly grew deeper and the ascent more precipitous. I fairly wallowed along. The timber line fell below me. All animal life disappeared. My only companions were now at spaced-out and mighty intervals the big bare peaks that had lifted themselves mysteriously from among their lesser neighbours, with which heretofore they had been confused. In spite of very heavy exertions, I began to feel the cold; so I unslung my rucksack and put on my buckskin shirt. The snow had become very light and feathery. The high, still buttes and crags of the main divide were right before me. Light fog wreaths drifted and eddied slowly, now concealing, now revealing the solemn crags and buttresses. Over everything—the rocks, the few stunted and twisted small trees, the very surface of the snow itself—lay a heavy rime of frost. This rime stood out in long, slender needles an inch to an inch and a half in length, sparkling and fragile and beautiful. It seemed that a breath of wind or even a loud sound would precipitate the glittering panoply to ruin; but in all the really awesome silence and hushed breathlessness of that strange upper world there was nothing to disturb them. The only motion was that of the idly-drifting fog wreaths; the only sound was that made by the singing of the blood in my ears! I felt as though I were in a world holding its breath.
It was piercing cold. I ate a biscuit and a few prunes, tramping energetically back and forth to keep warm. I could see in all directions now: an infinity of bare peaks, with hardly a glimpse of forests or streams or places where things might live. Goats are certainly either fools or great poets.
After a half hour of fruitless examination of the cliffs I perforce had to descend. The trip back was long. It had the added interest in that it was bringing me nearer water. No thirst is quite so torturing as that which afflicts one who climbs hard in cold, high altitudes. The throat and mouth seem to shrivel and parch. Psychologically, it is even worse than the desert thirst because in cold air it is unreasonable. Finally it became so unendurable that I turned down from the spur-ridge long before I should otherwise have done so, and did a good deal of extra work merely to reach a little sooner the stream at the bottom of the canon. When I reached it, I found that here it flowed underground.
For ten days we hunted and fished. When the opportunity offered, we made a goat-survey of a new place. Finally, as time grew short, we realized that we must concentrate our energies in one effort if we were to get specimens of this most desirable of all American big game. Therefore Fisher, Frank, Harry, and I, leaving our other two companions and the majority of the horses at the base camp, packed a few days’ provisions and started in for the highest peaks of all.