The Peculiar Legacy of Frozen River

 

What the hell am I doing here?

     It’s a frosty, frosty morning and I’m groveling on my knees, breaking through the snowy snarl of branches and fallen trees. I’m drenched to the skin after climbing half-frozen icefall, deep in the virgin forest of Tatra, far from the warmth of my bed where I could be happily dreaming now. 

     There’s no way back at this point. I don’t know what’s up there, but once we’ve set out to cross this canyon, I can only hope it won’t be too heavy upon us…


     The narrows look almost impassable. I gingerly place my axe into the fragile ice between monumental cliffs, step-by-step slowly climbing up with no rope. I have never climbed any icefall, and I have no clue whether it will hold me or not. Cracking sound coming from the ice makes me feel shaky. I don’t look down.

     But seeing Peter, sinking his iron paws into the ice with an ease of a feline, keeps me going. Cheerful grin on his face and that childish spark in his eyes says it all — he is having fun!

     But he doesn’t really know what’s coming… 


     We don’t talk much. We’ve met just few months ago, but our lust for exploration and love for the mountains soon put us on the first hike together. When I told him about this place, he said yes even before I had a chance to tell the whole idea of exploring the canyon in winter. And just few days later, we are here — somewhere in the middle.


     Rumbling water below the ice sheet, gentle snowfall and fresh footprints of the Wolf paint a shade of mystery above the valley. On a bank of a river, below hundreds of icicles hanging down the cliff like the Sword of Damocles, lies a body of wild boar. A textbook work of Wolf — he chases the prey down to the edge until it falls over cliff.


But the prey is not eaten yet…

     Did we disturbed him? Is he hiding somewhere behind those old Spruces, patiently waiting for us to leave? I just hope he doesn’t think we want to eat his lunch.


     The smell of bloodshed makes me move faster. I wonder how will the Wolf get here to have a bite — with the icefall behind us and one fallen tree over the sapphire water ahead, there are not many choices. Peter balances over the snowy trunk and I carefully follow him, hoping I won’t slip into the cold river — my vigilance has got significantly weaker after six hours of climbing and crawling.


     Another small icefall in front of us seems fairly easy to cross. Peter, with a good dose of confidence, swiftly walks through it without even using an axe. And then…

     The block of ice collapses. Rumbling sound of frozen mass rushing down the rocks fully demonstrates its power. Luckily, he manages to bounce from it and stays on the solid side of the ice. After three seconds of silence, we look at each other and laugh. He most likely wouldn’t get hurt if he would fall into the lakelet; but he very likely could freeze until we would find the way out of this forgotten valley… 


     We are silent again. My hands freeze in wet gloves. My legs are burning and I’m getting seriously tired. But somehow, I am still moving ahead…

     What the hell are you doing here? - I ask myself again. Is it out of sheer curiosity? Or… is there anything more profound in being bound between the walls, in the middle of nowhere, and for hours? 


     It seems to have no end. After every corner, there’s another snarl of bushes and fallen trees, another icefall or beautiful lakelet.

     The dusk is getting closer and we still don’t know how long it’s gonna take. There is either a way back down through the wilds we’ve passed, or further up to the unknown. And now I’m not even sure which one is better… or worse…


     We’ve finally reached the end of the valley and it’s getting dark. It wouldn’t be a problem, but we don’t have any headlamps. Who would have thought that it can take us the whole day, anyway? Again, I have to admit that my estimation sucks…

     The daylight has vanished and it’s getting colder. We break our last chocolate bar in half, put all of our wet clothes on and head to the forest, hoping for a safe descend through the modest face of the hill, back to the river mouth where we have started early this morning.


     After two more hours, we’ve made it down. Finally. Our handshake indicates victory, but there’s one thing still left to be answered…

What the hell was I really doing here?

     Was it just the adventure and nothing more? Sheer curiosity and desire to explore? Or… is there anything more profound in being bound between the frozen walls in the middle of nowhere for hours, with no end in sight, not knowing where it goes and when will it end? 

     I breathe deeply, looking at the river meandering between the banks, making it’s way down the cascades, endlessly flowing like the reflection of eternity. That river hopes for nothing; that river fears nothing. That river flows at its own sweet will and it doesn’t want to go anywhere else. That river is free!

     But… if the river was not bound between those two banks, the flow would disappear and its freedom would be quickly wasted…

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