Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Chapter 15

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Chapter 15

To the Ice

  • Ai wakes up and is still pretty excited about not being at the Voluntary Farm anymore.
  • They discuss their travel plans. Stowing away on a ship is out, because ships rarely leave the coast during winter. 
  • Hanging out in Orgoreyn doesn't hold many pleasing prospects either. So, it's off to Karhide.
  • Oh, and they'll have to walk. Roads aren't an option because of the Orgoreyn's inspectors, and travel agencies don't seem to exist on Gethen.
  • Aaand, they'll need to cross the Ice, a giant glacial desert.
  • Hey, if it were easy, no one would want to read it. You know, took a nice stroll through some bucolic pastures, hung out with some sheep, and then walked on into Karhide. Not too thrilling, right?
  • Estraven heads out for more supplies while Ai stays behind to practice walking in snowshoes.
  • Trust us, it's harder than you'd think.
  • At twilight the next day, Estraven returns. He's loaded down with a sack of dried goods. Ai asks how he managed to get the stuff, and he says he stole it (a vile crime in Gethenian society).
  • Estraven considers the food, the "hyper-food," the distance, the weather—basically everything—to determine they can make the 800 mile trip back to Karhide in 78 days.
  • Quick math: that's about 10 miles a day. Not bad if you're traipsing through a sunny field, but a lot harder if you're crossing a glacial desert.
  • He asks Ai one more time if he can't call down his ship, but they realize it won't work. Obsle still has his ansible, and using an Orgota transmitter would alert Sarf to their presence.
  • Nope, it's into the wild with them.
  • They spend a day resting, storing up their energy. Estraven writes in his journal and asks Ai why there aren't two Envoys.
  • He originally thinks they must not value life, but Ai points out that two Envoys might be seen as an invasion, plus it means two lives are at stake instead of one. So, actually, they do value life. Just not Ai's.
  • Finally, it's time to start. The first day, they manage fifteen miles even though the sledge is constantly getting stuck in the snow.
  • That night, they talk some more.
  • And, yes, this will be the story's plot pattern for some time.
  • Ai learns Estraven has traveled by sledge before—reassuring to say the least.
  • The two become better friends, deciding to call each other by their first names, Ai and Harth.
  • Ai questions whether he can be friends with a being who could turn into a lover with the cycle of each moon. He's old school like that.
  • The next day they set off again. When they reach the Tarrenpeth Forest, Estraven sets up traps. He's hunting for food.
  • Luckily, Gethen has no large predators. If you've seen Liam Neeson in The Grey, you know just how lucky they are not to have a pack of wolves stalking them across the glacier.
  • They catch six pesthrys—some kind of tasty mammal that everyone likes to hunt—and Estraven makes a stew. Delicious!
  • Protein for the power surge! Ai is unstoppable the next day, until the stew starts to disagree with him.
  • Great. Ai is officially sick, and Estraven orders a stop.
  • Ai takes offense to his friend ordering him about particularly since Estraven looks physically more like a woman than a man. Sexist much?
  • Eventually, he realizes that Estraven wasn't patronizing him. Well, that's a relief.
  • It's raining, too, and they can only make about six and seven miles a day.
  • Eventually, the rain clouds ease and disappear. Finally, they reach the top of a high plateau and can see out into the horizon.
  • In the distance they see the Gobrin Glacier—aka the Ice. It's beautiful from up there, but it's not going to look so beautiful when they're trying to cross it.