"If you mix a little crowberry juice with this it gives a rich purple color to the liqueur, esthetically very nice...."
They climb some more, the packs still only comfortable weights; the snow remains thick as porridge and fine for climbing. Steadily upward; they have been on Tin Can for two hours now and are able to look back down across the valley they drove up. Then they reach another point where Hershberger stops.
"Yep, this is the place. We dug a snow cave here a month ago. Cozy as a house. You dig into a snow bank, make a little corridor, then turn and hollow out a room. With benches for sleeping. It was 35 below outside, but it was above zero inside and a couple of candles made it snug as could be...."
Mike had left a light snow shovel there on his last trip and now he digs into a mound that looks like several hundred other mounds around and, yes, comes up with the shovel. He ties it to his pack. They pass around a plastic squeeze bottle of peach brandy, nibble on some cheese and begin to climb higher...higher...through black spruce decorated with gray-green Arctic moss and pillows of snow.
At last it is about 5 p.m. They are more than halfway up, almost to the timberline, and now it is time to stop to begin the job of building an igloo for the night. Mike picks a spot beneath a sheltered cover of tamaracks. Judy Spivey is excited about the prospect. Mike takes his shovel and begins to clear off the soft surface snow until he reaches a point where the snow is solid and cohesive enough to begin cutting blocks.
"Actually the word igloo does not refer just to a snow house. It means any house in Eskimo language. In summer they make igloos of sod or skins...."
The New Yorkers ski off from the place of their igloo-to-be and arrive, through a dark corridor of trees, at the brink of a precipice. They gaze out over the edge—and catch their breaths in awe. For far off, far below, they have come to possess in the gloaming of the day an unforgettable view of Alaska—a panorama that reaches all the way down Turnagain Arm, black and ice-speckled in the dusk. Above and beyond the waters is the imprint of a brass sun behind the gray overcast. A carpet pattern of black trees against the snow leads to the edge of the sleeve of water, then the slopes of the Chugach range spring up on each side like sentry giants. The silence of the vista is absolute.
The cheechakos simply stand in awe. They say nothing. This is what they have come to Alaska to see, to do, to be.
Eventually they return to the construction site. Judy Spivey is singing snatches from the Anchorage Nordic Ski Club anthem...
"...we wear our knickers down below our knees...."