The little raft was eight feet long with a dozen, six-inch logs lashed side by side with strips of grapevine. Two smaller diameter logs were laid across at both ends over and under the raft for rigidity. Two straight poles, each fifteen feet in length were cut for setting poles to push them across the ice infested water.
A dwindling reserve of energy slowed their pace. Every movement was an effort and every effort became more painful as the afternoon approached evening. Amid the trees of the forest, they were not troubled by wind. But the icy river with its high, shore-lined trees provided a frigid corridor for the wind to blow through. Breathing was difficult and watery eyes hindered their vision.
They finished just after sun-setting. Gist tied their rifles and snowshoes to the logs and together they dragged the raft to the shoreline and across fifty yards of rough ice. As the frozen fragments flowed by, water spilled over the edge of the ice creating a slick, glassy surface for the last six feet.
"We'll put one end in the water and then you jump on," he instructed the Major. "We'll try to push ourselves across with these poles." Washington nodded.
Water and ice pulled at one end of the raft, gently at first as Washington crawled on. As Gist inched the raft farther out on to the flow, it grabbed as the power of the river slid it off the ice. They stood up and grabbed the setting poles, jamming them through the ice chunks to touch bottom. They made little progress as they tried to coordinate their efforts on one side to push the raft across while the ice flow sped them down the river.
They were inside a giant jigsaw puzzel -- jagged ice segments separated by lines of black water; the whole sequence, moving with the current, was surrounded by a shiny, unbroken icy border. The thin crescent moon, reflecting off the white ice, barely illuminated their destination. Yet before they crossed half way, the raft rested against a larger mass of ice traveling at the same rate of speed. Stuck, they could go no farther across the river.
"How about if I just slow us down so that the chunk goes on by?" Washington said and without waiting for an answer, jammed his setting pole down to the bottom of the river right in front of the raft.
Before Gist could yell, "No!" the force of the current had thrown the raft against the pole that bent and catapulted Washington out into the dark water between the plates of ice. Gist could do nothing. The raft was moving too fast. It was impossible to go back, get to shore or stop. He was a prisoner and Washington was out of sight.
Excerpt from pp 127-128 in Annosanah of the above engraving.