"Kennan! Oh, Kennan! Turn out! It's day light!" A sleepy grunt and a still more drowsy "Is it?" from the pile of furs lying on the rough plank floor betrayed no very lively interest on the part of the prostrate figure in the fact announced, while the heavy, long-drawn breathing which soon succeeded this momentary interruption proved that more active measures must be taken to recall him from the land of dreams. "I say! Kennan! Wake up! Breakfast has been ready this half-hour." The magic word "breakfast" appealed to a stronger feeling than drowsiness, and, thrusting my head out from beneath its covering of furs, I took a sleepy, blinking view of the situation, endeavouring in a feeble sort of way to recollect where I was and how I came there. A bright crackling fire of resinous pine boughs was burning on the square log altar in the centre of the hut, radiating a fierce heat to its remotest corner, and causing the perspiration to stand in great beads on its mouldy logs and rough board ceiling. The smoke rose lazily through the square hole in the roof toward the white, solemn-looking stars, which winked soberly at us between the dark overhanging branches of the larches. Mr. Leet, who acted as the Soyer of our campaign, was standing over me with a slice of bacon impaled on a bowie-knife in one hand, and a poker in the other - both of which insignia of office he was brandishing furiously, with the intention of waking me up more effectually. His frantic gesticulations had the desired result. With a vague impression that I had been shipwrecked on the Cannibal Islands and was about to be sacrificed to the tutelary deities, I sprang up and rubbed my eyes until I gathered together my scattered senses. Mr. Leet was in high glee. Our travelling companion, the postilion, had manifested for several days an inclination to shirk work and allow us to do all the road-breaking, while he followed comfortably in our tracks, and by this strategic manoeuvre had incurred Mr. Leet's most implacable hatred. The latter, therefore, had waked the unfortunate man up before he had been asleep five hours, and had deluded him into the belief that the aurora borealis was the first flush of daylight. He had accordingly started off at midnight and was laboriously breaking a road up the steep mountain side through three feet of soft snow, relying upon Mr. Leet's promise that we would be along before sunrise. At five o'clock, when I got up, the voices of the postilion's men could still be heard shouting to their exhausted dogs near the summit of the mountain. We all breakfasted as slowly as possible, in order to give them plenty of time to break a road for us, and did not finally start until after six o'clock.

It was a beautifully clear, still morning when we crossed the mountain above the yurt, and wound around through bare open valleys, among high hills, toward the seacoast. The sun had risen over the eastern hill-tops, and the snow glittered as if strewn with diamonds, while the distant peaks of the Viliga, appeared -

  "Bathed in the tenderest purple of distance 
  Tinted and shadowed by pencils of air" -

as calm and bright in their snowy majesty as if the suspicion of a storm had never attached to their smooth white slopes and sharp pinnacles. The air, although intensely cold, was clear and bracing; and as our dogs bounded at a gallop over the hard, broken road, the exhilarating motion caused the very blood in our veins

  " - to dance 
  Blithe as the sparkling wine of France."

About noon we came out of the mountains upon the sea beach and overtook the postilion, who had stopped to rest his tired dogs. Our own being fresh, we again took the lead, and drew rapidly near to the valley of the Viliga.

I was just mentally congratulating myself upon our good fortune in having clear weather to pass this dreaded point, when my attention was attracted by a curious white cloud or mist, extending from the mouth of the Viliga ravine far out over the black open water of the Okhotsk Sea. Wondering what it could be, I pointed it out to our guide, and inquired if it were fog. His face clouded up with anxiety as he glanced at it, and replied laconically, "Viliga dooreet," or "The mountains are fooling." This oracular response did not enlighten me very much, and I demanded an explanation. I was then told, to my astonishment and dismay, that the curious white mist which I had taken to be fog was a dense driving cloud of snow, hurled out of the mouth of the ravine by a storm, which had apparently just begun in the upper gorges of the Stanavoi range. It would be impossible, our guide said, to cross the valley, and dangerous to attempt it until the wind should subside. I could not see either the impossibility or the danger, and as there was another yurt or shelter-house on the other side of the ravine, I determined to go on and make the attempt at least to cross. Where we were the weather was perfectly calm and still; a candle would have burned in the open air without flickering; and I could not realise the tremendous force of the hurricane which, only a mile ahead, was vomiting snow out of the mouth of that ravine and carrying it four miles to sea. Seeing that Leet and I were determined to cross the valley, our guide shrugged his shoulders expressively, as much as to say, "You will soon regret your haste," and we went on.

As we gradually approached the white curtain of mist, we began to feel sharp intermittent puffs of wind and little whirlwinds of snow, which increased constantly in strength and frequency as we drew nearer and nearer to the mouth of the ravine. Our guide once more remonstrated with us upon the folly of going deliberately into such a storm as this evidently would be; but Leet laughed him to scorn, declaring in broken Russian that he had seen storms in the Sierra Nevadas to which this was not a circumstance - "Bolshoi storms, you bet!" But in five minutes more Mr. Leet himself was ready to admit that this storm on the Viliga would not compare unfavourably with anything of the kind that he had ever seen in California. As we rounded the end of a protecting bluff on the edge of the ravine, the gale burst upon us in all its fury, blinding and suffocating us with dense clouds of driving snow, which blotted out instantly the sun and the clear blue sky, and fairly darkened the whole earth. The wind roared as it sometimes does through the cordage of a ship at sea. There was something almost supernatural in the suddenness of the change from bright sunshine and calm still air to this howling, blinding tempest, and I began to feel doubtful myself as to the practicability of crossing the valley. Our guide turned with a despairing look to me, as if reproaching me with my obstinacy in coming into the storm against his advice, and then urged on with shouts and blows his cowering dogs. The sockets of the poor brutes' eyes were completely plastered up with snow, and out of many of them were oozing drops of blood; but blind as they were they still struggled on, uttering at intervals short mournful cries, which alarmed me more than the roaring of the storm. In a moment we were at the bottom of the ravine; and before we could check the impetus of our descent we were out on the smooth glare ice of the "Propashchina," or "River of the Lost," and sweeping rapidly down toward the open water of the Okhotsk Sea, only a hundred yards below. All our efforts to stop our sledges were at first unavailing against the force of the wind, and I began to understand the nature of the danger to which our guide had alluded. Unless we could stop our sledges before we should reach the mouth of the river we must inevitably be blown off the ice into three or four fathoms of water. Precisely such a disaster had given the river its ominous name, Leet and the Cossack Paderin, who were alone upon their respective sledges, and who did not get so far from the shore in the first place, finally succeeded with the aid of their spiked sticks in getting back; but the old guide and I were together upon one sledge, and our voluminous fur clothes caught so much wind that our spiked sticks would not stop or hold us, and our dogs could not keep their feet. Believing that the sledge must inevitably be blown into the sea if we both clung to it, I finally relinquished my hold and tried to stop myself by sitting down, and then by lying down flat upon my face on the ice; but all was of no avail; my slippery furs took no hold of the smooth, treacherous surface, and I drifted away even faster than before. I had already torn off my mittens, and as I slid at last over a rough place in the ice I succeeded in getting my finger-nails into the little corrugations of the surface and in stopping my perilous drift; but I hardly dared breathe lest I should lose my hold. Seeing my situation, Leet slid to me the sharp iron-spiked oerstel, which is used to check the speed of a sledge in descending hills, and by digging this into the ice at short intervals I crept back to shore, only a short distance above the open water at the mouth of the river, into which my mittens had already gone. Our guide was still sliding slowly and at intervals down stream, but Paderin went to his assistance with another oerstel, and together they brought his sledge once more to land. I would have been quite satisfied now to turn back and get out of the storm; but our guide's blood was up, and cross the valley he would if we lost all our sledges in the sea. He had warned us of the danger and we had insisted upon coming on; we must now take the consequences. As it was evidently impossible to cross the river at this point, we struggled up its left bank in the teeth of the storm almost half a mile, until we reached a bend which put land between us and the open water. Here we made a second attempt, and were successful. Crossing a low ridge on the west side of the "Propashchina," we reached another small stream known as the Viliga, at the foot of the Viliga Mountains. Along this there extended a narrow strip of dense timber, and in this timber, somewhere, stood the yurt of which we were in search. Our guide seemed to find the road by a sort of instinct, for the drifting clouds of snow hid even our-leading dogs from sight, and all that we could see of the country was the ground on which we stood. About an hour before dark, tired and chilled to the bone, we drew up before a little log hut in the woods, which our guide said was the Viliga yurt. The last travellers who had occupied it had left the chimney hole open, and it was nearly filled with snow, but we cleared it out as well as we could, built a fire on the ground in the centre, and, regardless of the smoke, crouched around it to drink tea. We had seen nothing of the postilion since noon, and hardly thought it possible that he could reach the yurt; but just as it began to grow dark we heard the howling of his dogs in the woods, and in a few moments he made his appearance. Our party now numbered nine men - two Americans, three Russians, and four Koraks - and a wild-looking crowd it was, as it squatted around the fire in that low smoke-blackened hut, drinking tea and listening to the howling wind. As there was not room enough for all to sleep inside the yurt, the Koraks camped out-doors on the snow, and before morning were half buried in a drift.

All night the wind roared a deep, hoarse bass through the forest which sheltered the yurt, and at daylight on the following morning there was no abatement of the storm. We knew that it might blow without intermission in that ravine for two weeks, and we had only four days' dog-food and provisions left. Something must be done. The Viliga Mountains which blocked up the road to Yamsk were cut by three gaps or passes, all of which opened into the valley, and in clear weather could be easily found and crossed. In such a storm, however, as the one which had overtaken us, a hundred passes would be of no avail, because the drifting snow hid everything from sight at a distance of thirty feet, and we were as likely to go up the side of a peak as up the right pass, even if we could make our dogs face the storm at all, which was doubtful. After breakfast we held a council of war for the purpose of determining what it would be best to do. Our guide thought that our best course would be to go down the Viliga River to the coast, and make our way westward, if possible, along what he called the "pripaika" - a narrow strip of sea ice generally found at the water's edge under the cliffs of a precipitous coast line. He could not promise us that this route would be practicable, but he had heard that there was a beach for at least a part of the distance between the Viliga and Yamsk, and he thought that we might make our way along this beach and the pripaika, or ice-foot, to a ravine, twenty-five or thirty miles farther west, which would lead us up on the tundra beyond the mountains. We could at least try this shelf of ice under the cliffs, and if we should find it impassable we could return, while if we went into the mountains in such a blizzard we might never get back. The plan suggested by the guide seemed to me a bold and attractive one and I decided to adopt it. Making our way down the river, in clouds of flying snow, we soon reached the coast, and started westward, along a narrow strip of ice-encumbered beach, between the open water of the sea and a long line of black perpendicular cliffs, one hundred and fifty to three hundred feet in height. We were making very fair progress when we found ourselves suddenly confronted by an entirely unexpected and apparently insurmountable obstacle. The beach, as far as we could see to the westward, was completely filled up from the water's edge to a height of seventy-five or a hundred feet by enormous drifts of snow, which had been gradually accumulating there throughout the winter, and which now masked the whole face of the precipice, and left no room for passage between it and the sea. These snow-drifts, by frequent alternations of warm and cold weather, had been rendered almost as hard and slippery as ice, and as they sloped upward toward the tops of the cliffs at an angle of seventy-five or eighty degrees, it was impossible to stand upon them without first cutting places for the feet with an axe. Along the face of this smooth, snowy escarpment, which rose directly out of two or three fathoms of water, lay our only route to Yamsk. The prospect of getting over it without meeting with some disaster seemed very faint, for the slightest caving away of the snow would tumble us all into the open sea; but as there was no alternative, we fastened our dogs to cakes of ice, distributed our axes and hatchets, threw off our heavy fur coats, and began cutting out a road.

We worked hard all day, and by six o'clock in the evening had cut a deep trench three feet in width along the face of the escarpment to a point about a mile and a quarter west of the mouth of the Viliga. Here we were again stopped, however, by a difficulty infinitely worse than any that we had surmounted. The beach, which had previously extended in one unbroken line along the foot of the cliffs, here suddenly disappeared, and the mass of snow over which we had been cutting a road came to an abrupt termination. Unsupported from beneath, the whole escarpment had caved away into the sea, leaving a gap of open water about thirty-five feet in width, out of which rose the black perpendicular wall of the coast. There was no possibility of getting across without the assistance of a pontoon bridge. Tired and disheartened, we were compelled to camp on the slope of the escarpment for the night, with no prospect of being able to do anything in the morning except return with all possible speed to the Viliga, and abandon the idea of reaching Yamsk altogether.

A wilder, more dangerous location for a camp than that which we occupied could hardly be found in Siberia, and I watched with the greatest uneasiness the signs of the weather as it began to grow dark. The huge sloping snow-drift upon which we stood rose directly out of the water, and, so far as we knew, it might have no other foundation than a narrow strip of ice. If so, the faintest breeze from any direction except north would roll in waves high enough to undermine and break up the whole escarpment, and either precipitate us with an avalanche of snow into the open sea, or leave us clinging like barnacles to the bare face of the precipice, seventy-five feet above it. Neither alternative was pleasant to contemplate, and I determined, if possible, to find a place of greater security. Leet, with his usual recklessness, dug himself out what he called a "bedroom" in the snow about fifty feet above the water, and promised me "a good night's sleep" if I would accept his hospitality and share his cave; but under the circumstances I thought best to decline. His "bedroom," bed, and bedding might all tumble into the sea before morning, and his "good night's sleep" be indefinitely prolonged. Going back a short distance in the direction of the Viliga, I finally discovered a place where a small stream had once fallen over the summit of the cliff, and had worn out a steep narrow channel in its face. In the rocky, uneven bed of this little ravine the natives and I stretched ourselves out for the night, our bodies inclined at an angle of forty-five degrees - our heads, of course, up-hill.

If the reader can imagine himself camping out on the steep sloping roof of a great cathedral, with a precipice a hundred feet high over his head and three or four fathoms of open water at his feet, he will be able, perhaps, to form some idea of the way in which we spent that dismal night.

With the first streak of dawn we were up. While we were gloomily making preparations to return to the Viliga, one of the Koraks who had gone to take a last look at the gap of open water came hurriedly climbing back, shouting joyfully, "Mozhno perryekat, mozhno perryekat!" - "It is possible to cross." The tide, which had risen during the night, had brought in two or three large cakes of broken ice, and had jammed them into the gap in such a manner as to make a rude bridge. Fearing, however, that it would not support a very heavy weight, we unloaded all our sledges, carried the loads, sledges, and dogs across separately, loaded up again on the other side, and went on. The worst of our difficulties was past. We still had some road-cutting to do through occasional snow-drifts; but as we went farther and farther to the westward the beach became wider and higher, the ice disappeared, and by night we were thirty versts nearer to our destination. The sea on one side, and the cliffs on the other, still hemmed us in; but on the following day we succeeded in making our escape through the valley of the Kananaga River.

The twelfth day of our journey found us on a great steppe called the Malkachan, only thirty miles from Yamsk; and although our dog-food and provisions were both exhausted, we hoped to reach the settlement late in the night. Darkness came on, however, with another blinding snow-storm, in which we again lost our way; and, fearing that we might drive over the edges of the precipices into the sea by which the steppe was bounded on the east, we were finally compelled to stop. We could find no wood for a fire; but even had we succeeded in making a fire, it would have been instantly smothered by the clouds of snow which the furious wind drove across the plain. Spreading down our canvas tent upon the ground, and capsizing a heavy dog-sledge upon one edge of it to hold it fast, we crawled under it to get away from the suffocating snow. Lying there upon our faces, with the canvas flapping furiously against our backs, we scraped our bread-bag for the last few frozen crumbs which remained, and ate a few scraps of raw meat which Mr. Leet found on one of the sledges. In the course of fifteen or twenty minutes we noticed that the flappings of the canvas were getting shorter and shorter, and that it seemed to be tightening across our bodies, and upon making an effort to get out we found that we were fastened down. The snow had drifted in such masses upon the edges of the tent and had packed there with such solidity that it could not be moved, and after trying once or twice to break out we concluded to lie still and make the best of our situation. As long as the snow did not bury us entirely, we were better off under the tent than anywhere else, because we were protected from the wind. In half an hour the drift had increased to such an extent that we could no longer turn over, and our supply of air was almost entirely cut off. We must either get out or be suffocated. I had drawn my sheath-knife fifteen minutes before in expectation of such a crisis, and as it was already becoming difficult to breathe, I cut a long slit in the canvas above my head and we crawled out. In an instant eyes and nostrils were completely plastered up with snow, and we gasped for breath as if the stream of a fire-engine had been turned suddenly in our faces. Drawing our heads and arms into the bodies of our kukhlankas, we squatted down upon the snow to wait for daylight. In a moment I heard Mr. Leet shouting down into the neck-hole of my fur coat, "What would our mothers say if they could see us now?" I wanted to ask him how this would compare with a gale in his boasted Sierra Nevadas, but he was gone before I could get my head out, and I heard nothing more from him that night. He went away somewhere in the darkness and squatted down alone upon the snow, to suffer cold, hunger and anxiety until morning. For more than ten hours we sat in this way on that desolate storm-swept plain, without fire, food, or sleep, becoming more and more chilled and exhausted, until it seemed as if daylight would never come.

Morning dawned at last through gray drifting clouds of snow, and, getting up with stiffened limbs, we made feeble attempts to dig out our buried sledges. But for the unwearied efforts of Mr. Leet we should hardly have succeeded, as my hands and arms were so benumbed with cold that I could not hold an axe or a shovel, and our drivers, frightened and discouraged, seemed unable to do anything. By Mr. Leet's individual exertions the sledges were dug out and we started. His brief spasm of energy was the last effort of a strong will to uphold a sinking and exhausted body, and in half an hour he requested to be tied on his sledge. We lashed him on from head to foot with sealskin thongs, covered him up with bearskins, and drove on. In about an hour his driver, Padarin, came back to me with a frightened look in his face, and said that Mr. Leet was dead; that he had shaken him and called him several times, but could get no reply. Alarmed and shocked, I sprang from my sledge and ran up to the place where he lay, shouted to him, shook him by the shoulder, and tried to uncover his head, which he had drawn down into the body of his fur coat. In a moment, to my great relief, I heard his voice, saying that he was all right and could hold out, if necessary, until night; that he had not answered Padarin because it was too much trouble, but that I need not be alarmed about his safety; and then I thought he added something about "worse storms in the Sierra Nevadas," which convinced me that he was far from being used up yet. As long as he could insist upon the superiority of Californian storms, there was certainly hope.

Early in the afternoon we reached the Yamsk River and, after wandering about for an hour or two in the timber, came upon one of Lieutenant Arnold's Yakut working-parties and were conducted to their camp, only a few miles from the settlement. Here we obtained some rye bread and hot tea, warmed our benumbed limbs, and partially cleared the snow out of our clothing. When I saw Mr. Leet undressed I wondered that he had not died. While squatting out on the ground during the storm of the previous night, snow in great quantities had blown in at his neck, had partially melted with the warmth of his body, and had then frozen again in a mass of ice along his whole spine, and in that condition he had lived to be driven twenty versts. Nothing but a strong will and the most intense vitality enabled him to hold out during these last six dismal hours. When we had warmed, rested, and dried ourselves at the camp-fire of the Yakuts, we resumed our journey, and late in the afternoon we drove into the settlement of Yamsk, after thirteen days of harder experience than usually falls to the lot of Siberian travellers, Mr. Leet so soon recovered his strength and spirits that three days afterwards he started for Okhotsk, where the Major wished him to take charge of a gang of Yakut labourers. The last words that I remember to have ever heard him speak were those which he shouted to me in the storm and darkness of that gloomy night on the Malkachan steppe: "What would our mothers say if they could see us now?" The poor fellow was afterwards driven insane by excitements and hardships such as these which I have described, and probably to some extent by this very expedition, and finally committed suicide by shooting himself at one of the lonely Siberian settlements on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea.

I have described somewhat in detail this trip to Yamsk because it illustrates the darkest side of Siberian life and travel. It is not often that one meets with such an experience, or suffers so many hardships in any one journey; but in a country so wild and sparsely populated as Siberia, winter travel is necessarily attended with more or less suffering and privation.