Icefields

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English
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On an expedition in the Canadian Rockies at the end of the nineteenth century, Dr Edward Byrne slips and falls almost 60 feet into a crevasse on the Arcturus Glacier. While trapped, hanging upside down and wary that the slightest movement could send him plunging deeper into the abyss, Byrne notices a mysterious winged figure embedded in the ice wall. The vision shakes his sanity, and after his recovery continues to haunt him until he abandons his fiancee and his medical practice in England and returns to a lonely vigil in a shack near the spot on the ice where he almost lost his life. His spirit trapped, he seeks the truth by questioning closely the strange characters that cross his path and meticulously recording the advance and decline of the myths and legends of an early settlement and is transformed by the coming of the railroad into a thriving tourist centre - with an impact as far away as the battlefields for the First World War.

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Published 01 January 1995
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EAN13 9781897126530
Language English
Document size 2 MB

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I C E F I E L D SNUNATAK 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
THOMAS WHARTON© 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,
1963Icefields
(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 CANADAFOR MY FAMILYAS IF EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD
IS THE HISTORY OF ICE.
Michael Ondaatje
COMING THROUGH SLAUGHTERA NOTE TO THE READER
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
imagination or are used in a fictional context. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, persons, or
glaciers, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.NÉVÉ
THIS HIGH PLAIN OF SNOW AND ICE FROM WHICH THE GLACIERS DESCEND
CANNOT BE SEEN FROM THE VALLEY.
IT 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 witha 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.
—The pulse is weak, but he’s still with us.
Byrne shuddered and moved his arms. His breathing became audible. A pink glow
spread slowly from the center of his chest, outward to the limbs, suffusing the blue
pallor. He yawned, opened his eyes, and shut them again.
The professor forced hot tea down Byrne’s
throat.
—We must get him away from the ice, Collie said. I’m afraid that if we bivouac
here he might relapse.
As he spoke, he pried the pocketwatch from Byrne’s closed fist.
2
Dark was rising in the valley and, with it, a liquid chill to the air. Collie intended to
make camp in the shelter of the nearest stand of trees, where there would be some
cover from the freezing wind off the glacier. He stood up from his ministrations over
the doctor and glanced around.
—Where is Trask?
—He thought he saw lights, Thompson said, further down the valley. He went to
have a look.
After a few minutes, Trask rode up.
—I’ve got us some shelter. He had found people living at the site of the old
Arcturus trading post, just a short ride away. He told the settlers about Byrne, and