Late yesterday afternoon BI’s leg busted through the thin ice near the water lead while he was chipping a hole through the ice for drinking and cooking. It submerged up past his knee, so his mukluk, felt liner, sock, long underwear, and pant leg were saturated with icy cold water. I had him kneel in some powder snow and we pressed it against his leg, wicking off as much of the moisture as we could.
This morning we fired up the stove around 7 AM and kept the heat going up but the wet footwear was still not dry. BI had left his rubber boots in the car, which would have been his walking option, so our plans changed a bit. He suggested that we use the day to head upriver to scout out a possible campsite for tomorrow night. With a lunch, axe, snowshoes, and a saw we could move much quicker than we would with loaded toboggans. We hoped to pack down a tent space and even prepare the firewood for an easy arrival afternoon tomorrow. I let BI use my rubber boots until I would need them, if ever.
So, after breakfast, we stayed here a bit, found another half dozen standing dead spruce, limbed off the branches and had a complete day’s firewood sawed up ready to go when we got back.
The base camp that we hauled in
I also propped up the stove legs with wooden “floats” . The legs had sunk down into a pool of melted water under the firebox, which refroze during the night when we let the stoves go out.
Unfortunately, I misjudged just how much the stove had cooled off, and the arm of my down jacket came into contact with the surface, quickly melting a series of holes in the sleeve that I patched with McNett clear non-stick tape, that held the down in until I could make a more permanent repair at home.
The air wasn’t too cold, and although there were snow showers coming on, the skies eventually broke from the west.
There were two snowmobile tracks still heading upriver and we stuck to them.
Birdie and Bad Influence head upriver
There were sections of the river where the machines had burned through deep slush that had refrozen. Mostly. We had been walking quickly for about 90 minutes when I stepped on the frozen track and my boot broke through the crust and went into slush.
It is the bane of any winter walker, as it not only soaks through the moose hide of the mukluks, but if and when you shift over to snowshoes, which you eventually need to float on this icy soup, they ice up in sub- freezing temperatures, gathering increasing thickness of ice, as the water cakes onto the snowshoes. It you are hauling toboggans it freezes to the bottom. Both situations require stopping and beating or scraping off the ice on the toboggans with the axe head in order to just keep going forward. It is not good.
The Grey Road to Unlimited Saturation
For more on the topic of overflow, and skill-based winter camping knowledge, I refer you to Snow Walker’s Companion, by Garret and Alexandra Conover. I consider them my mentors on all aspects of winter walking. No better guide exists. They are also excellent writers.
Within the next steps, BI and I were both breaking through, in a section of river where the brush on the sides of the channel was so thick that it would have been close to impossible to move toboggans up and around the slush, which at this point appeared to be a hundreds yards or more long. Of course, there could have been even more, or no slush around the bend. When 50 pound Birdie was repeatedly breaking through until mid leg in whatever direction she bounded , we both realized how fortunate we were to have used the day as a reconnaissance mission.
There wasn’t much discussion. We turned around and headed back, in relief that we hadn’t disassembled our camp and brought it up here to an impasse. Both of us plugged into our respective iPods while we walked back, and I got in a little air guitar to the tune of Please Stand Up, by British Sea Power.
Uncle Tom shreddin'
Volumes of prepared stove wood awaited us when he returned to camp about 2 PM. The rest of the afternoon was spent drinking hot cocoa, and eating nuts, dried fruit, chips, and hummus.
We both drifted in and out of naps as we took turns stoking the stove. BI’s mukluks dried, ready for tomorrow’s adventures.