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Arctic Hare

Mark Bull

It starts as a thin bright line on the horizon, away out on the icecap. After three days of cloudy skies, the sun is coming back. This thin line lifts the spirits as we ski away from camp, round the foot of the peak and into a shallow corrie. Steady going, the familiar rhythm of the skin track. The ground steepens, zigzagging now. Is that subtle crease in the snow a crevasse? No, good, keep going, up onto the ridge.


Too steep to ski now: crampons on, rope up. A narrowing slope between crags and a sharp blade of snow. Then out onto the crest, sudden exposure. A final rocky step and thereís no more up. If I think about it, the isolation is almost overwhelming: this small group of people, three tents out of sight below, then no-one else for fifty, maybe a hundred miles.


The line has widened, a distant streak of blue, sun striking the farthest nunataks. A second peak beckons. Another snow arÍte, steeper this time, a little icy. Crampons bite firmly, no place for a slip. More shattered rocks, then the final summit block. Big drop on the far side, four hundred metres down to the glacier.


The sunshine is getting nearer, pouring liquid gold through the cols to the north. Long purple-black shadows across the snowfields. Magic. No-one else has seen this view before. But we canít stay long: the windís getting up and weíll get cold if we donít move soon. Careful on the descent, pay attention, concentrate. Thatís the steep bit over, good, relax a bit now.


Suddenly Iím aware of him moving, a white dot on a white background. A living thing in all this vast stillness. I shout to the others: they turn and see him too. Heís not close enough to make out his shape, but I recognise the way he moves - just like his cousins on the Scottish hills. He reaches our ski tracks and stops for a moment, cautious. Then heís off again, away down the far side of the ridge and out of sight.


Does he live in this place, two thousand metres up on the edge of the icecap, scraping a meagre living from the moss and lichen? Or is he, like us, just a visitor to this black and white world? What does he make of the aliens with the long, thin feet?


Skis back on now, downhilling into the midnight sun. I let the others go ahead, tiny black figures against the gold. This special place, this special moment, I donít want it to end. But campís just around the corner: a brew, a warm bag, sleep, bliss.