"Day had broken cold and gray, exceedingly cold and gray, when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail and climbed the high earth bank..."
"It had been days since he had seen the sun.."
"He wet himself to the knees before he floundered out to the firm crust".
This panel illustrates the start of the protagonist's journey. This is the start of the story and point of no return.
"although he couldnot feel it with his fingers. He tried again and again, but he could not grasp it."
The extremity of the this journey is beginning to show. There is no sun and it is 75 degrees under zero. The man had no escape, and begins to wonder if the old man on Sulphur Creek was right.
"Each stick smoked a little and died. The fire provider had failed."
Instinct is more important than ever for the man right now. With the ice cold water under his feet he has to be careful, but his legs fall through the ice and get all wet. He now has numb feet and if he can not get his feet warm he will lose them. The man’s accident is a dramatic moment in the story, as both man and reader seem to fully realize the consequences: the stakes of building a fire are now much higher.
"And still later it moved close to the man and caught the smell of the death...Then it turned and ran along the trail toward the camp it knew"
The detailed description of the man’s struggle to complete simple tasks with frozen fingers demonstrates the realism of London’s writing. The man’s jealousy of the dog shows a shift in his thinking: he is no longer confident in his man-made resources, and recognizes that the dog is better prepared than he because of its natural abilities.
The man’s attempt to light the matches is painful to read and to imagine because of its nightmare-like experience of being unable to do the one thing that will make a difference in saving his life. At this point, the ending of the story starts to become inevitable. The terror of the man, the stark indifference of nature, and the man’s smallness within nature, are clear.
The man whom once suffered to the cold was now in peace, not suffering anymore because he was dead. The dog survives and the man does not, showing the triumph of instinct over rationality.