I. Mortal Danger
The man felt like a speck in the frozen nothingness. Every direction he turned, he could see ice stretching to the edge of the Earth: white ice and blue ice, glacial-ice tongues and ice wedges. There were no living creatures in sight. Not a bear or even a bird. Nothing but him.
It was hard to breathe, and each time he exhaled the moisture froze on his face: a chandelier of crystals hung from his beard; his eyebrows were encased like preserved specimens; his eyelashes cracked when he blinked. Get wet and you die, he often reminded himself. The temperature was nearly minus forty degrees Fahrenheit, and it felt far colder because of the wind, which sometimes whipped icy particles into a blinding cloud, making him so disoriented that he toppled over, his bones rattling against the ground.
CHTAURA, Lebanon — The mountain range that forms a natural boundary between Syria and Lebanon has long served also as a wartime conduit for people who cannot travel legally — the gunrunners, the rebels, the dissidents and the ordinary citizens who just want to escape.
On one night last month, it became a death trap. A storm whipped up at the moment a group of about 70 Syrian refugees was climbing over the mountain to try to reach Lebanon.
In the darkness, wind and snow, they began to falter. The elderly fell behind. Children tripped. Men slipped. Unable to see their guide, the refugees became lost and scattered.
One small group became so tired that they decided to lie down on the cold, hard ground and go to sleep.