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Since he was a boy, Sean Ireton has been an ardent hiker, climbing mountain trails all over the world. Even on family trips, it was typical for him to take a day by himself to knock off a tempting peak. In January 2009, he and his wife, Megan, planned a two-week backpacking adventure in Spain with their son, Aidan. They took off in December and spent their days touring and hiking in the southern mountains, making time to sample the regional cuisine and enjoy the country’s robust red wines along the way. Sean was looking forward especially to a solo hike on El Mulhacen, a rocky knob in Spain’s Sierra Nevada and, at 3478m, the highest peak on the Spanish mainland. From Mulhacen on a clear day you could see all the way across the Mediterranean to Morocco.

When they got near Pradollano, a ski village near Mulhacen, the family pitched their tent in the woods. At this time of year, the mountain’s snowy trails were well packed and straightforward, requiring a hiker to travel at only a moderate clip to reach Mulhacen’s broad summit in about four hours. Early the next morning, Sean put on several layers of warm clothes and set out under a purple and golden sunrise.

Now it was dark, and Sean’s wife and son lay in their tent and worried. ‘When is Dad coming back?’ Aidan asked Megan over and over. ‘Why isn’t he back yet?’

‘He’ll be back soon, sweetie,’ his mother reassured him. In the past her husband had returned late from excursions. But this was pushing it, so sometime after midnight, Megan got up and took Aidan into town to look for help. The ordinarily lively village was deserted, the motionless chairlifts hanging eerily in the dark. Megan didn’t speak Spanish, and a hotel clerk’s directions just sent them in circles. They had to wait till morning. ‘Aidan was so upset,’ Megan recalls. ‘He sensed something was wrong. He had that child’s intuition.’

Sean had neared Mulhacen’s summit by mid-afternoon but turned around a few hundred metres from the top when the trail became dangerously steep and icy. Clouds blew in as he descended, and he veered off track. By the time he realised his mistake, daylight was fading, and it had begun to drizzle. ‘I was getting wet, and it was growing dark fast,* he recalls. Luckily, he spied a crude stone shelter nearby. ‘I didn’t want to get lost and end up on the other side of the mountain, so I decided to spend the night in the hut.* Inside, it was dark and clammy, but there was a table, wooden bunks, and even some foam padding for a bed. Sean ate a chocolate bar from his backpack, and settled in. It would be an easy hike back to camp in the morning, and he imagined his family’s relief when he returned unharmed.

Sean was on foot again by 6 a.m., tracking his way across a broad bowl and up a steep, snowy slope. On the other side of the ridge there was the ski area, and from there he could practically jog down the slopes. He made good progress until a storm suddenly swept over the ridge and nearly blew him off his feet. In minutes, he was caught in a white-out. ‘If I can just make the ridge, Fm home free,’ Sean thought, as he powered forward, bending against the gale.

But the ridge never appeared, and Sean knew it was crazy to stay on the exposed slope. He’d have to find an alternative route. He had no idea where he was but thought he could make out a trail still farther below.

Sean studied the snow in front of him. It looked hard and slick. He regretted that he hadn’t brought his crampons — sharp spikes that attach to hiking boots — or an ice axe, which would have helped ensure safe passage. All he had was a pair of trekking poles. He reached out a foot to test the frozen surface and gradually brought his weight down. For a moment, he balanced but then his feet shot out from under him, and he began tumbling down the steep slope. He accelerated as he fell, rolling wildly over rocks and snow. When he came to rest, far below from where he had stood, he was in a seated position as if he’d just plopped down to have a snack. It would have been comical if he hadn’t been so stunned.

He sat for a while and gathered his wits. He was wearing only a ski hat but his head seemed OK. Then Sean looked down at his legs. The long underwear covering his left leg was shredded, and bright red blood soaked the abraded flesh around his kneecap.

He gingerly inspected the wound. With effort, he got back on his feet, but his injured leg buckled beneath him, and he fell face-first into the snow. He felt a hot surge of alarm. He was kilometres away from help, and certainly no one would come through this area for days, maybe weeks. He sat in the snow, on the verge of despair.

ВОПРОС 1 The main aim of Sean’s visit to Spain was
1) to climb the highest peak on the Spanish mainland.
2) touring and walking.
3) to try the regional cuisine.
4) to enjoy the country’s robust red wines.

ВОПРОС 2 At that time of year, the mountain’s snowy trails were
2) slippery.
3) difficult.
4) uncomplicated.

ВОПРОС 3 Megan and Aidan had to wait till morning because
1) Megan didn’t speak Spanish.
2) the chairlifts didn’t work at night.
3) they couldn’t find any help.
4) a hotel clerk’s directions were wrong.

1) reached Mulhacen’s summit by mid-afternoon.
2) lost his way.
3) descended until dawn.
4) decided to spend the night in the wooden hut.

ВОПРОС 5 Sean could not make the ridge because
1) it was too far.
2) he was very tired.
3) of a blizzard.
4) of a strong wind and poor visibility.

ВОПРОС 6 Sean fell down the slope because
1) a strong wind was blowing.
2) the slope was too steep.
3) he didn’t have special equipment.
4) he didn’t use his trekking poles.

ВОПРОС 7 While falling, Sean
1) was not injured.
2) injured his head.
3) shattered his kneecap.
4) broke his leg.

ВОПРОС 1: – 1
ВОПРОС 2: – 4
ВОПРОС 3: – 3
ВОПРОС 4: – 2
ВОПРОС 5: – 4
ВОПРОС 6: – 3
ВОПРОС 7: – 3