Beaten By The Ice Giants
We went forth, into the wilderness, to test ourselves.
It was not good.
On the first day, we set forth to do battle with the Ice Giants but, alas, the one known as Studbull began to tire, as I did myself. Our companion, Mule, however, continued to plod steadily onward, seemingly unaffected by the strenuous climb and adverse conditions. In retrospect, our less-than-optimal physical condition can be explained by our sedentary existence as indentured servants and by insufficient training prior to our trip. At any rate, the Ice Giants were completely unimpressed with our poor excuses and struck the first blow as we tramped over a rise straight into the teeth of a frigid, howling wind. Quickly dropping our packs, we struggled to get into our windproof clothing, the task made more difficult by the extreme windchill. Somehow, despite terribly cold hands, we succeeded at our task, barely in time to avoid frostbite. Moving on up the trail we came to the start of the extremely steep path known as the great Lion Head Trail and, after a brief pause to attach our crampons, we began the climb toward the summit. The crest of the ridge was reached without much difficulty, but unfortunately and despite our best efforts, just as we were about to engage the foe, I was forced to call a retreat in the face of punishing blasts of high winds in excess of 90 mph, and a temperature of -12° F without the windchill. My companions' lack of warm mittens, face masks, and the impending onset of darkness were also factors leading to our humiliating retreat.
We fought our way off the mountain and back to the Great Lodge by dark, whereupon my companions changed from battle dress into commoner clothing. I, however, did not change, for I had made the great journey to these sacred mountains for a single purpose - the conquest of the Ice Giants. Storming back into town, we sated our ravenous appetites, ransacked the outdoor suppliers, and eventually stumbled into a virtually deserted tavern. Lusty wenches were in short supply, so I perched on a broken stool and watched the Cheeseheads stomp the combatants from Down East in the Super?Bowl while Studbull and Mule quaffed enormous quantities of Bilgewater Lite and challenged a few of the local rable at the billiard table. Finally tiring of this sport, we trekked back to the Great Lodge in order for Studbull and Mule to change into battle dress again. That task accomplished, we adjourned to a nearby trailhead to rest our bones in the chariot. The minions of the Ice Giants sent blasts of icy wind at us all night, but the worst they could send us was a brittle -10° F.
The morning of the second day we awoke to ice! My companions had felt the creeping cold and had insisted upon closing the chariot windows much more than on the previous night. I warned them of the dire consequences but, alas, they did not heed my advice. As a result, agents of the Ice Giants had made a stealth attack while we slept, and much time was lost while we melted the surprisingly-thick ice off the inside of the windows. Eventually we arrived back at the Great Lodge where, discovering that we were too late for breakfast, Studbull and Mule changed clothes (again). After checking the weather forecast, we trekked back to town (again) in search of the gear that was suddenly deemed essential after the previous day's adventure.
As we bargained with the shopkeepers, the sun crossed the sky and, before we knew it, it was too late to start even a short day hike. I was a little put out, having lost one whole day of optimal weather to carousing about in town, but I do have to admit, however, that part of the problem was my lack of leadership experience. Most of my previous journeys had been solo, and I had to contend only with myself. Had I possessed then the wisdom and experience I have now, perhaps our quest would have turned out differently. At any rate, after partaking of the hospitality, or rather, selfishly gorging ourselves in the hall of the renowned innkeeper Pizza the Hut, we trekked back to the Great Lodge to allow my companions to change clothes (again). While I waited, I looked through the Climbers Register and was surprised to see a name I recognized, that of David Metzsky. He and his companion had made a successful assault upon the Ice Giants and, at that very moment, were probably in a nearby tavern celebrating their conquest with drink and merriment. Vowing to follow in their footsteps and assume our own place in the legends of our people, we paid homage to mighty Orion the Hunter before retiring to the secluded trailhead for sleep. The minions of the Ice Giants once again sent blasts of icy wind to buffet us, but as in their previous assaults, they managed a low temperature of only -10° F.
Most of the morning of the third day was spent preparing our weapons and gear. After planning our strategy, we boldly strode up the steep mountain, and as before, Studbull and I soon fell behind. After a long hike that was made more difficult by the poor traction and the excessive burden of our heavy sacks, we arrived at the mountain encampment of a strong huntress known as Liz the Caretaker. We consulted with her and obtained valuable information about the Ice Giants' strengths and weaknesses. As it turned out, the route that I had taken on a previous journey was firmly in the control of the Ice Giants. That route, through the Ravine of Tuckerman, was being swept by periodic avalanches and was considered to be extremely hazardous, if not altogether impossible. Faced with this situation, we agreed that our only option was to attempt the great Lion Head Trail once again. That decided, we took shelter in a lean-to and, after settling in, we cooked our evening meal and prepared for our second engagement with our foe. With the temperature at -10° F once again, we finally pulled our sleeping bags tightly around us and drifted off to sleep, dreaming of great success and glory.
On the fourth day our quest was immediately beset with trouble as the Ice Giants had staged a sneak attack during the night and attempted to bury us in snow. With the wind blowing at a constant 60 mph, we forged on through the waist-deep powder and once again attempted to scale the steep Lion Head Trail. The great snowfall during the night now made progress an extremely slow, sweaty, and tiring ordeal. The snow appeared to be approaching prime avalanche condition, so we pushed on with as much speed as we could muster.
Mule led for about a third of the way up the trail before I relieved him, and I soon found myself fighting for each step upward as the snow was now chest deep. Near the top, Studbull took the lead, only to plunge into a snowdrift that threatened to swallow him whole. With the assistance of Mule, I managed to free Studbull from this dastardly trap before the Ice Giants could entomb him completely. As we neared the spot of our previous high point, the sky appeared to clear and we rejoiced in what seemed to be certain victory. But, alas, quicker than the eye can blink, the Ice Giants unleashed an unholy wind that threatened to blow us clear off the mountain and the fiercely blowing snow now reduced visibility to less than 50 feet. We learned from record keepers later that the peak wind speed had been recorded at 115 mph. We struggled on for another half hour but managed to gain only another 100 vertical feet up the mountain. Taking shelter near the only cairn we could find, we pondered our fate. Mule wanted to continue the fight, Studbull was becoming weary of the struggle, as was I, and I didn't see any point in exhausting ourselves in a battle we could not possibly win before dark. Although we were not frightened by the prospect of traveling at night and indeed we have done so many times, making our way back down from the summit at night under the current weather conditions was more of a risk than we were prepared to take on.
Once again, I had to give the command to retreat, and a bitter moment it was. Had we all been of equal strength and fortitude, I'm sure we would have been victorious in our battle but, unfortunately the Ice Giants had the upper hand and emerged triumphant. We managed to find our way back to the lean-to where we set about licking our wounds and attempting to dry our soaked battle gear. As the evening wore on, we made several trips to the near-by river to fill our water bottles. With the temperature at 0° F and dropping, the water was partially frozen by the time we got back to our shelter. Cold, wet and tired, we made pot after pot of oatmeal, hot chocolate, macaroni, soup, stew, whatever we had to eat, leaving little for scavengers to pick over.
On the fifth day, we ate a meager breakfast then quickly gathered up our gear. Struggling into our frozen, ice-encrusted armor, we shouldered our sacks and set off down the mountain. Had it been entirely up to me, I would have mounted another assault but, being responsible for two novice warriors, that thought was quickly dispelled. Rejoicing in their victory, the ice giants saw fit to let us leave their domain in relative peace. The disappointment of our defeat was tempered by the sheer beauty of the mountains.
As we hiked humbly down the mountain, the fresh deep powder glowed with a surrealistic light, the only sound that of our muffled footsteps. All too quickly we arrived back at the Great Lodge, where my companions once again changed their clothes and, since most of mine were soaked, I had no choice but to do the same. After we dug the chariot out of an immense snowdrift, we set out in search of a clothes drying apparatus. Miles later we came upon the only public laundry in the land and set about drying our wet and stinking clothing. Our gear smelled rather bad before we dried it, but the odor after it was baked for fifteen minutes was indescribable. Strangely enough, my companions didn't want to take the time to wash the stuff. Perhaps they were frightened by the feral creatures that were skulking about, snatching up bits of lint and unattended clothing. It was truly a bewitched place.
Later, in the palace of the King of Burger, we almost came to blows with one of the Kings' lackeys after he attempted to charge a higher price for a sandwich with-out meat than for the same sandwich with meat. Thinking quickly, we ordered the less expensive version with meat, immediately removed the offensive slab of flesh, and presented it to the lackey with a request that he bury it. He was not amused but, recognizing that he had been bested, slunk off into the bowels of the palace and he let us eat our meal in peace. Discussing our options, Studbull made it clear he was not interested in taking on the Ice Giants again and didn't want to haul his heavy sack up even a little hill. Mule and I were quite mystified - after all, wasn't that why we had made the long journey to this strange and wonderful land? I was sorely disappointed and was about to suggest heading for home but, as it came to be, this palace was stocked with a huge array of literature, all pertaining to the ancient Nordic sport of skiing. Using my best persuasive skills, I convinced my companions to spend the next day, along with the remainder of our expedition funds, enjoying the wealth of snow and perhaps learn to ride the mountain's slopes. Mule was already an experienced skier, so he and Studbull elected to try the much more arcane art of snowboarding. Knowing that shortly I would be making a return journey to this mystical land to engage in a ski-mountaineering quest, I decided to hold to skis. We spent the afternoon scouting out several ski resorts before selecting the Black Mountain Ski Area. Following a quick meal, we trekked back to the Great Lodge to change (again!!!). Conversing with other transient warriors, we heard reports that the snow on the great Lion Head Trail had indeed avalanched that day. Fortunately, there were no reports of injury. Back at our secluded trailhead the Ice Giant's minions had gathered a few reinforcements and managed to bring the overnight temperature down to -15° F.
Awakening early on the sixth day, we surprisingly did not go back to the Great Lodge to change clothes! Instead we went straight to Black Mountain, where we traded our last remaining bags of gold for skis and snowboards, a quick lesson, and a lift ticket. No other alpine warriors had yet gathered, so I had a "private" lesson and was quickly on my own. The temperature had risen to a balmy 4° F, but just the same, I got a little chilled riding the lift all the way to the top. Looking down the run the chill I felt wasn't from the cold. And this was a "green" run, a beginners run! I fell twice, but since there were no witnesses, my dignity was spared. I made several more runs, each much faster and more assured than the last, before finally catching up with my missing companions. We made quite a few runs, all down the "green" trails, before taking a short break for food and drink. Afterward, as we rode the lift, we spotted some youngsters skiing down a trail we hadn't tried yet. Turning left at the top of the lift, we came to the start of this new (for us) run. It was rather narrow and far steeper than what we had been running, so we each encouraged the other to go first. At last I gathered my courage and over the edge I went, faster and faster, finally managing to stop a short distance down the slope. I waited a moment for my companions and suddenly Mule shot over the hill, across the trail, missed the turn, and tumbled off the trail into the extremely deep powder. While he dug himself out, I watched for Studbull. At last I saw him, walking back up the hill. "Perhaps to get a better run at it?" I thought. "No," said Mule, "to go down the other trail. This is too steep." I saluted Studbull's insight, for one must know one's limits. I usually don't find mine until I've exceeded it, and then of course it's too late to turn back. Mule was ready, so off we went flying down the mountain until we came to a fork in the trail. Should I go straight through the powder or turn and stay on the groomed trail? I hesitated until the only option I had was to go down, and in a huge cloud of snow, skis and poles flying through the air, that's just what I did. Picking myself up, I got back on the skis and away we went. Back at the lift I looked at the trail map, while we waited for Studbull, and was shocked to see that we had just run a "black diamond" trail! That was all we needed to know! Now we were eager to try all the other runs on the mountain! At last Studbull arrived and, announcing he was done for the day, retired to the lodge. Sleeping in the chariot was not very comfortable and Studbull had suffered the most from lack of adequate rest. Mule and I skied for the rest of the afternoon and enjoyed these lesser heights of a smaller, less-menacing Ice Giant. After turning in our gear and dragging Studbull away from the wench he was attempting to seduce we decided to travel all night instead of sleeping and making the journey back to our flat, mountainless homeland in the morning. So, right there in the almost deserted chariot parking area, temperature at 4° F, we stripped off our weathered battle garb, then stark naked, changed our clothes for the last time. As we were almost done, I noticed a woman in a car a short distance away. She was watching us! And as soon as we hopped into the chariot... she drove away!
Taking turns piloting the chariot, we traveled throughout the night, arriving safely at our castles by 7:30 a.m. Although intensely disappointed with the many defeats we suffered in our "mountaineering", I felt consoled by the lasting memories of skiing the deep snows in the realm of the Ice Giants and I was warmed within by the renewed resolve to once more challenge the mountains... and myself.