We are told again and again that the man is traveling across a gigantic shelf of ice more than three feet thick, and yet there are warm spring pools that "bubbl[e] out from the hillsides and [run] under the snow and on top of the ice of the creek" (11). They're there to remind us that the world beneath the man's feet is just as unpredictable and dangerous as the world above ground. In the face of so much cold, who would have thought that it'd be warm water bubbling up from the earth that creates the greatest danger? Situational irony, anyone?
And wouldn't you know it, it's his fateful fall through the ice that wets the man's feet and brings about the horrifying chain of events that will seal his Yukon doom (the worst kind of doom!). These pools complicate the cold and make every step potentially life threatening, because "to get his feet wet in such a temperature meant trouble and danger" (12). It's kind of like walking in a minefield, except instead of explosive devices, you've got equally deadly puddles of warm water, which, in any other situation might be kind of nice. It's really a shame the man can't get wet, because some of these warm spring pools sound like they'd make excellent hot tubs.