The man took the ropes off our wrists!
"You are in a race now. A race against the weather. You don't need artificial restraints. You must reach the top before you freeze, and the strong among you must help the weak. You are going to get tired... profoundly tired, and frustrated and angry. But... stay tight, don't get strung out on the mountain. If you are getting ahead, rest while others catch up, and help the last person in line climb faster. As we near the top, if you have half an ounce of energy to give your friends, you must give it!
"OK. Suzanne, you will lead. I will be the tail. No one should lead Suzanne, and no one should fall behind me. Is that clear? If you are feeling strong, come back to me and see who needs help. Any questions?
There were none.
"Lets move out!"
At first the man's admonitions seemed silly. Suzanne set the pace, and we actually found ourselves crowding up against her because she didn't go any faster than before. The weather was still nice, and the additional coolness from evening and rising in elevation was refreshing.
We were following a trail, but it was now steep enough that I was breathing heavily as we climbed. We started seeing small pine trees mixed in with the bushes, and when we stopped to catch our breath, it was cold. A wind started blowing.
Nancy and Trish started lagging. I was tired. We all were tired. But I had half an ounce of energy, so I started walking with Nancy, giving her encouragement. Jeannie Eliot was talking with Trish! Where did she get her energy, I wondered?
The trail continued up. The trees got bigger, and changed into real pine trees. From what I learned in my biology class, I would say the climate here was cooler and wetter than on the mudflat. Another rest. My legs were aching. The man announced, "We have made good time. We are about an hour away."
Then the cloud bank reached the moon. It was like night and day, no pun intended. With the moon behind the cloud, our light level went way down. At the same time the wind picked up to a serious level, and it was cold!
"Use your skirts as ponchos!" yelled the man over the rising wind. It was a good idea. My legs got cold, but my chest stayed a little warm.
We climbed some more. It was really hard now. My legs and fingers were getting numb from cold. It was so dark now, that in places I needed to feel my way up the trail. I was helping Nancy, and the man was helping both of us.
Alma fell.... She was OK. Others were falling.... Resting didn't help much because it was sooo coold!
It was an hour. I know it was! But we weren't there yet! The man had lied! How could he! The clouds had thickened. It was even darker! And there was a mist in the air now. Now I knew what "bone chilling mist" meant... sort of... I was having a hard time even thinking.
Suzanne found us a little sheltered spot. One by one she and the man lead us to it. "Snuggle up tight." she said. We did, and we didn't get cold quite so fast. We put our skirt/ponchos around us, and snuggled together with our bare bodies to share warmth. We all shivered.
"We are close." said the man over the wind, but his voice was slurred from cold. "Suzanne and I..."
"No." said Suzanne. She was crying. I think it was because she wanted to be strong, like the man, but she was too cold and too tired. I think this is what she meant when she said, "We need strong men." to Jeannie.
"... I will take you, one at a time, to the top." the man said. He started with Nancy. She whined a little, and couldn't stand. He pulled her on to his shoulder -- fireman's carry -- and walked off, following the trail up.
We got colder. I was getting sleepy. I was saying to myself, "I don't think sleeping is good right now." Then I heard Suzanne say, "Everybody up! Wave your arms around! We all need to generate some heat!"
It seemed like a silly idea, and at first my arms wouldn't wave, but then I warmed up a little, and I felt better. I helped Alma get her arms waving.
The man came back. He looked tired. "Who's next?"
"Should you rest?" asked Suzanne.
"Not in this weather." he replied.
"Yes, you should. You're hypothermic." she said, "Girls, gather round! We are going to warm our man up!"
"No... No..." He stopped protesting as we gathered round on all sides of him. We needed him. I could feel that now. And he needed us. I was feeling somehow deeply satisfied inside me as we all rubbed around "our man" and gave him our love and warmth. He was strong, but he needed our love and warmth....
He took Trish and Lorry next. They were both warm enough that they could walk on their own. We huddled, but the huddle was smaller now, so the cold was biting harder.
Suzanne made a choice: "OK. Those of us here now are stronger and in better shape than those the man took. We are rested. We will continue on, now, all of us."
There were protests. I know I wanted to get carried by the man, too. But I could see her logic. He was a man, but he was just human, as well. He would have a limit. We started walking.
Gosh, this last part was terrible! Now that I was in the cutting wind and trying to walk on a mist-slickened exposed rock trail, I don't know how the man did it!
We met him coming back. He was limping. Suzanne moved ahead to comfort him. He was groggy. He let her hold him a bit. We all came up, and held him. He was ice-cold again.
He recovered a bit, and led us to a flatten area near the summit. In the area was a circle of "coffins" on thick pedestals. Grimly he walked to one, and motioned for us to follow. Alma was leading. Without ceremony he picked her up and lay her in the coffin. As soon as she was in, the coffin's "velvety" interior started to swell and enclose her. She was startled. The man calmed her and held her down.
"It's warm." she said, and she relaxed.
We went around the circle of coffins, and one by one we girls were put in by the man. It was warm and comfortable inside. The interior snuggled up to us, around us, and held us. The man went back to each coffin, checked the girl, and closed the lid. When he came to me, part of the check was to put a breathing thingy on my face. When that was in place, the lining covered all of me, and I heard the lid close.... I got sleepy real quickly....