Crouching to combat the determined blast that buffets with percussion pounding, you heave down your hat to cover your ears. A jigsaw of frost blows from the caps of your leather boots piece by piece. Your mouth is damp from breathing against the collar of your zipped jacket. Your fingers claw at the rolled up used tissues in the lining.
Staring down the descent, the path is obscured by mist. An icy blanket envelops the trail most trodden. And as the draught cultivates the brittle snow, so the trail vanishes. You’re on your own now. Instinct is your only map.
You strain to hear them, but without joy. The wind whistles, drowning cries with high-pitched silence. Your limbs compromise speed with balance, and create a chorus as trouser fabric brushes in rhythm with the crunching surface underfoot.
The rocks are unforgiving. Spearing the soles, they mock their intruder. Carefully you traverse the landscape as it opens up and offers encouragement. But what lies behind the incline is a mystery. You can’t turn back. Should you chose to, the fate of the stones you disturb offer insight into yours.
Tiptoeing along battered ridges like broken teeth you are unexpectedly blinded. The sun rips through the cloud cover, which is so close it can be touched. A ray catches the glass-like surface of a lake below, refracts, and blitzes the steely mountain range. The geyser steams with threatening intent, melting the residue of glacial terrain.
You scurry to the waters edge and tentatively dip an index finger. A shot of warmth smothers your arm and envelops your torso. You re-commit, sinking into the water on hands and feet, rolling into an embryonic ball before taking small strokes away from the shore. The backs of your chameleon hands return to red. Your face tingles, stinging euphorically as you massage the condensation and let the water rise above the tip of your nose.
As you swim further out, and the floor disappears from under you, the pool begins to swirl like a bath with the plug removed. The waves build and surround you, the undercurrent reaches up and tugs you to the depths. At first you panic and kick. You try to grab the surface, but you’re sucked in. All goes dark, until you realize you can breathe.
Oxygenated thanks to the volcanic nature of the pool, you are able to inhale underwater. You lie stiff as a board, arms out in front in a diving position. Your porous skin feels so tender it could tear from the bone. The tenacious current propels you close to the bed, winding and plunging your body through the crevasses, around outcrops and into caves like a snake targeting its oceanic nest. Shapes appear with little warning, and disappear as quickly. Behind, the silt is snatched from its settlement and follows in the wake of your speeding, arrow-shaped form. The motion is building with steady force as the light ahead comes closer, the angle of the pebble-strewn floor becoming acute.
The temperature drops and your arms pimple like a chicken’s breast. They wrap around your chest, desperate for heat. You fan your legs energetically as the propulsion weakens, thrusting wildly for the surface. And when you get there, your disorientation has found a new peak. Behind, the horizon sets on the water. Ahead you encounter dense forest.
The woodland seems impenetrable at first, but through the bush of sap-strewn trunks, thin skeletal branches and long fat grass the wilderness tames. Soaked clothes clinging, you pad across to a dewy green clearing, water squelching from between your laces. Snapping twigs disturb the chatter of nearby rooks, and they flutter away.
Other, more exotic birds, can be heard to either side, unseen. But is that your name they’re chanting? Is that them? You cup your right ear and race forward through the undergrowth. You target the spaces in-between. Each unleashes a new surrounding, like doors into unfurnished rooms. Darkness is beginning to fall, and visibility is arduous. You hear your name, but where is the speaker? Battling through the branches, the forest begins to stagger. Ahead you catch sight of your goal.
The figures march along a distant, boulder-littered track. You stride through vegetation, leap from boulder to boulder, then brush against the tight rock face sides as you bolt through the space in-between and back to exactly where you started.