hikers were the messages left by hunters, many bragging about the size of their kills, others even disputing earlier claims. The most distasteful of the lot was a faded, brown finger-painted message that read ‘We write our names in the blood of our kill.’ While I have no problem with sustenance hunting, it seemed irreconcilable to me that trophy hunters would travel this far into these remote mountains for the express interest of killing the largest sheep they could find.
Early in the hike Ferg and I had developed the routine of searching every building we passed for abandoned scraps of food. At one we found a dusty tube of honey, which we squeezed straight into our mouths. At another we discovered a pound of lard left behind by hunters, but despite our ravenous hunger we could not bring ourselves to eat much of it. Apart from a few heaping tablespoons mixed with our oatmeal, we left most of it behind. To our delight we now stumbled upon a bucket marked ‘Left Over Food’ tucked in a closet of the ‘Canol Hilton’. We tore it open, finding a dehydrated meal-in-a-bag from Germany, ‘Karrot Stew mit Tofu.’ Although it looked more than a decade old, we prepared and ate it immediately. There were also small bags of coffee whitener and hardened brown sugar. We spent the evening reading news from a pile of ten year old magazines, drinking cup after cup of sweet, milky water.
We had now traveled for nine days without a rest, and our bodies were showing the strain. Day after day of hard work was slowly breaking us down, and a veil of exhaustion had descended on us. Hunger and pain were our constant companions. Even as I put my fork down following dinner, our biggest meal of the day, I would realize I still felt utterly famished. If even a single sunflower seed or peanut husk slipped from our hands during a snack break, we would search the ground in hopes of retrieving the morsel. I chewed everything fastidiously, remembering that thoroughly mixing food with saliva was the start of the digestive process. It seemed nothing could satiate our appetites, and the supplies we carried became immeasurably precious. Although we still carried a heavy reserve, neither of us once considered raiding our stores, knowing that if we did, we could never make it all the way to Norman Wells.
The weight of the packs was taking its toll on our bodies. Shoulders were red and raw. Purple bruises spread across our bony hips where the waist belts cinched. Ankles, knees, back, and core grew weak in