Near Death in the Arctic by Cecil Kuhne

By Cecil Kuhne

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Now Bayev’s track grew faint, as fresh snow covered it: we would find a few footprints, then lose the track altogether. The snow had even begun to obliterate our own tracks. We shouted, whistled, and fired our guns without success. Bayev had a rifle with about twelve shells with him. Had he been nearby, he would have heard our shots and responded in kind. But we heard nothing. We hurried back to the camp to resort to other methods of rescue. There, with the help of long sticks and ski poles, I raised a mast thirty feet high with two signal flags that could be seen from a great distance.

In the distance I could see a large crowd of people who were watching something intently and chatting with animation among themselves. They seemed to be waiting for something, so they paid no attention to us, and we did not heed them either. As we drew near, we asked if they were waiting for someone or something. ” Not wishing to let this lucky opportunity slip by, I approached the old man and asked him to tell us our fortune, to tell us whether we would reach land and be saved. At the same time, I held out my hands with the palms up, as one normally does before a soothsayer.

The sun disappeared behind the mass of clouds, but before it did I checked its direction, and that, combined with various directional checks all day, told me the wind was still southeast and I was steering a straight course due south. The wind continued to increase, but not enough to stop travel. The great ugly mass of black clouds in the distance appeared to be moving closer, but sideways to my path. It looked as if I would catch only the extreme edge of the storm as it went by. Skiing at two miles an hour, I was closing in on the pole.

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