In his struggle against the harsh, artic elements in which he has placed himself without the heredity and knowledge to survive as the dog possesses, the man forces the dog ahead of him to test for ice pools that lay beneath the snow. When the dog slips, it quickly licks its feet and tries to pick out the ice between his toes as a "matter of instinct." The man quickly removes his mitten and helps the dog; however, his fingers nearly freeze, so he must beat them against his leg.
After he arrives at the forks of the creek, the man congratulates himself on his speed and draws his lunch from inside his coat. But, "he had forgotten to build a fire and thaw out first" because his beard is full of ice and his hands too cold to hold his biscuits. Quickly, he tries to make a fire; working carefully, he soon has a "roaring fire." Afterwards, he moves on, but steps into a frozen pool where there were no signs. He has learned from the old-timer on Sulfur Creek that he must build a second fire to prevent frostbite to his foot which would prevent him from walking. Again, he carefully builds a successful fire.
But before he could cut the strings [to his boot] it happened. It was his own fault, or rather, his mistake. He should not have built the fire under the spruce tree. He should have built it in the open.
He now must build another fire if he is to save his life, and
...this second time there must be no failure. Even if he succeeded, he would most likely lose some toes.
But, his fingers are numb from the cold and no matter what he does, the man fails at building his fire. Without a partner who could build a fire for him, the man is doomed because he has lacked the natural instincts of the dog and the "imagination" that comes from experience.