The Company got little sleep that night because of the cold, so they set out early the next morning. Gandalf was eager to reach the pass that day if possible, but the weather had turned threatening in the night. The clouds were heavy with snow, and the dawning sun shone briefly red on the overhanging clouds behind the sharp peak of Caradhras, before it was veiled again.
They struck a road of sorts, a twisting and climbing path that wound its way up towards the pass. Though buried in snow, the way was still sometimes evident; it had once been the main thoroughfare between Hollin and the mountain-pass, but now it was ruined, and had almost disappeared.
Gandalf led the way, and the others followed in single file. Boromir and Aragorn put the hobbits between them, in an attempt to shield them from the worst of the weather. Gimli followed with Bill the pony, and Legolas took up the rearguard. They struggled on, bracing themselves against the wind, which now was so strong that it seemed almost as though they were pushing against a wall as they went forward.
Snow began to fall; light flakes at first, that swirled around them and then away behind; but soon the snow was coming thick and fast, stinging their faces so that their eyes blinked constantly and they could see one another only as dark bent shapes in the blinding whiteness.
Boromir, looking back to check on the hobbits, saw that they were foundering in the mounting snow. It is too much for them, he thought. He put out his hands to signal them to stop. Kneeling down, he looked into the hooded faces of Merry and Pippin.
"I will carry you!" he shouted in an attempt to be heard above the screaming wind. "Put your arms around my neck, so that you will not fall suddenly if I should need my hands."
He gathered them up, and they clung to him in relief. As Boromir turned back to face the wind, he saw Aragorn doing the same with Frodo and Sam. It was slower going carrying the hobbits; they were not particularly heavy, but it was awkward ploughing through the snow without the use of his hands. Boromir wondered how much further they would have to go, and if the storm would force them to a halt.
Through the swirling snow, he saw Legolas walk past him, moving to the front of the line. He was bent slightly against the wind, but walked lightly with little difficulty on top of the snow. He stood on the edge of a precipice ahead, as if listening to the wind's voice. It did sound strange, thought Boromir, as if there was a voice calling, chanting.
"There is a fell voice on the air!" called Legolas.
Boromir could barely hear him above the gale's shriek. He looked upwards and turned his head to try to catch the words on the wind. The movement blew his hood back away from his face, and his hair whipped and stung his cold cheeks.
"It's Saruman!" Gandalf shouted in warning.
A rumbling filled the air and rocks and snow cascaded down from above. Boromir frantically shifted his grip on Merry and Pippin, tucking their heads down, turning inwards to protect them from the falling stones.
"He's trying to bring down the mountain!" cried Aragorn. "Gandalf! We must turn back!"
Gandalf turned away, and drawing himself up straight he called out into the darkness in a strange tongue. But it was to no avail. The darkness gathered, then was split by a sudden bolt of lightning that struck above them, releasing an avalanche of snow and ice. Boromir caught a glimpse of Legolas pulling Gandalf back from the precipice, just as the snow fell around them; then they were lost from sight. Boromir shouted, and fell forward, shielding the hobbits from the avalanche, and holding them tightly to prevent them from being swept over the edge.
The weight of the snow on his back was incredible; for a moment he was afraid he would himself crush the hobbits. He let them go, and put out his hands to brace himself above them. Merry and Pippin clung to him desperately. Snow was all around, covering him, pushing him down, smothering him.
Boromir tucked his head down as close to his chest as he could manage, in an attempt to keep his face away from the smothering snow. He dug away at it even as it continued to pile up on top of him, hoping to give the hobbits enough of an opening around them to breathe freely.
The minutes passed like hours, but eventually Boromir sensed that the rocks and snow had stopped falling. He grabbed the arms of the hobbits and pulled them away from his neck, at the same time pushing upwards with his legs and head. His mouth filled with snow and he choked, but then his head broke the surface and he was free. He quickly turned to dig out Merry and Pippin. They came up sputtering, but unhurt. A quick glance around showed that the others, too, had survived the avalanche.
Boromir turned to Gandalf, who was struggling to free his staff from under the snowpack. He raised his voice to be heard above the wind.
"We must get off the mountain!" Boromir shouted. "Make for the Gap of Rohan, and take the west road to my City!"
"The Gap of Rohan takes us too close to Isengard!" Aragorn disagreed.
"We cannot go further!" Boromir countered.
"What are we to do, then?" cried Pippin miserably.
"Either stop where we are or go back," was Gandalf's answer. "It is no good going on in this storm. The path ahead will provide no shelter from snow or stones or anything else."
"And it is no good going back while the storm holds," added Aragorn. "We have passed no place on the way up that offered more shelter than this cliff-wall we are under now."
Gandalf stood still for a moment, gazing out into the gathering darkness and the whirling snow. Then he turned and his sigh was audible in spite of the wind.
"Then let us stop here until the storm passes. We will decide then what we must do. Saruman has defeated us...for now."
Boromir used his shield as a shovel to clear a patch for the Company to crouch in. They huddled together with their backs against the cliff-wall. The path was narrow, but there was room for Bill to stand in front of the hobbits, shielding them somewhat from the elements. The snow continued to fall densely, swirling and whirling around them in eddying blasts. The drifting snow mounted above Bill's hocks and went on mounting.
Boromir listened to the murmur of conversation around him as they waited out the storm; he found himself straining to hear what he imagined to be voices in the darkness. The moaning of the wind reminded him of the voice he had heard in his mind when he had picked up the Ring in the snow. He had forgotten it until now. Was that voice speaking to him again? Surely not! It was just the wind, howling in the storm. Yet he could not throw off the feeling that something was calling him. He shivered. The Ring could not be speaking...could it?
Boromir glanced over at Frodo, and suddenly all thoughts of the voice and the Ring vanished. Frodo was asleep! His heart leaped with fear. They must not sleep; it was dangerous in this deep snow to give in to sleep! He stood and lifted Frodo up out of the snow, shaking him gently to wake him.
"This will be the death of the halflings, Gandalf," Boromir said. "It is useless to sit here until the snow goes over our heads. We must do something to save ourselves!"
Gandalf rustled around in his cloak, and drew out a leather flask.
"Give them this," he said, passing the flask to Boromir. "Just a mouthful each, for all of us. It is very precious. Elrond gave it to me at our parting; it is called miruvor, the cordial of Imladris."
The flask was passed around and each drank from it. The draught warmed them immediately and drowsiness left them; they were greatly encouraged and felt new strength of heart. The faint whispering that had been plaguing Boromir was silenced. Yet the snow fell thicker than ever, and did not relent.
"What do you say to fire?" said Boromir, suddenly. "The choice seems near now between fire and death, Gandalf. Doubtless we will be hidden from all unfriendly eyes when the snow has covered us, but that will not help."
The rest of the Company looked at Gandalf hopefully.
"You may make a fire if you can," agreed Gandalf. "If anyone is still watching, then let them see us, fire or no!"
Though they had fuel aplenty that they had brought on the advice of Boromir, it was wet, and it was beyond their skill to light a fire in the swirling wind. At last, Gandalf took a hand, and with a word of command, a flame of green and blue ignited the wood, and it flared and sputtered. The Company gathered close around the fire, glad for its light and warmth. The snow still fell, and the night was like a black wall all around, but the flames were warm bright on their tired, anxious faces.