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"About a kilometer," said one.
"About 50 meters," said another.
"Maybe 20," said another.
"Well, how old is it?"
"Do you know why the ice is blue?" was my last question. I didn't ask them what was on the other side of the edge of the universe, or why the world was made, even though—now that I felt so close to the edge of the universe—I was wondering about both those questions.
None of them had any idea about the blueness. They all just sat there and ate chocolate, confident that, whatever its history, the glacier would stay there for at least another couple of hours to hold them up. That's part of the appeal of a glacier; never is one more certain of what is above or less certain of what is below.
"Have you ever fallen down a crevasse?" I asked my Swiss friend Francine in a calm, controlled voice. It was five days later and I had boldly, if not stupidly, gone off with the hardiest group on the biggest camp hike—up the Bishorn, 4,159 meters high and one of the tallest Alps. Francine was busy in the dark trying to tie the mountain-climbing cord to my harness, a device looped round my legs, arms and chest, which she had just assured me would make my stay in a crevasse more comfortable if I should fall into one.
"Uh? Oh. Sure. Twice, I guess," she answered offhandedly, fumbling with the cord. It was hard to see. At four in the morning the only illumination came from the disc-shaped lights strapped to the foreheads of the Alpinists in other climbing parties who were preparing to begin their ascents in the darkness. If it hadn't been for what they were wearing below their foreheads (scarves, down parkas, corduroy knickers, wool socks, boots), they might have been a mini-convention of miners.