Frigid in the tent, below zero. BI’s cheap thermometer is broken, so no measure, but the frost covering the outside of my sleeping bag and the thickness of the ice over out water hole in the river this morning spelled COLD. The wind was loud enough to hear, and thankfully we were sheltered from the full force of it’s chill.
Unfortunately, Birdie is still not doing well. She shivers, even when bundled up in the down over quilt that is covering her. She’s still demonstrating some type of unfathomable pain, with intermittent sharp yelps that now happen when you don’t even touch her, when she’s walking outside. She runs outside into the cold and wanders back and forth, hunched up. BI is worried enough about her that he decides to get her to a vet, which means walking out today, in the cold, and right into this wind. We’re baling.
Not that we could have done much else but hang right here, and maintain the camp for another day and night. After cutting more wood, we would stoke the stove, read, sleep, drink coffee and tea, and eat the piles of food from our feed bags.
We tried going down river yesterday, but the over flow stopped us. I would explore the edges of the open leads around Attean Falls nearby, plus walk out to poke around on the lower reaches of Attean Pond.
There are ample opportunities to explore animals tracks on this snow. Yesterday, Birdie led us to an otter den that was clearly active, marked by characteristic snow troughs and cylinder shaped scat.
A great resource for learning about ice, snow, animal signs, and how to forecast and deal with winter weather is Exploring Nature in Winter: A Guide to Activities, Adventures, and Projects for the Winter Naturalist by Alan Cvancara.
So the tedious procedure of breaking camp was launched. Packing up on a cold morning in winter is one of my top least favorite activities, but it comes with the territory. My hands have the circulation of turtle feet, especially my left index finger, which was partially severed some 35 years ago when I slipped on ice while I was chopping wood. I use packets of chemical heat warmers out here. This morning I had brief periods of exposing my fingers while we released all the strings, bungees, and ropes that held the tent upright, and then we packed away the various bundles onto the two toboggans. I’d work fast for maybe three minutes, then my hands would become unbearably cold and I’d have to slip them into my chemically heated expedition mittens for three minutes and then repeat the cycle until done.
Eventually we hit the trail, and after struggling up the only bump in the route, around the Falls themselves, we came upon a newly created crater in the ice where it appeared a snowmobile had plunged.
There were numerous tracks all over the bend in the river that were not there when we came in a few days ago.
We were careful to keep our toboggans from plunging into the hole. We both worked each toboggan around the pit, where we took turns standing on ice pieces in the hole itself as we braced against the loads as each sled passed along the foot wide shelf.
We made quick work of reaching the mouth of the river. Looking out over the expanse of ice and swirling surface snow ahead of us, we both exchanged a glance where we recognized that we’d be heading into the vortex of cold.
The next couple of hours of travel were among the most difficult I can recall. The cold was unbelievable. To avoid frostbite, ever inch of your face had to be covered.
I remember being in this same situation walking across Moosehead Lake, where stopping was not a reasonable act. It was zero out, and the wind was strong, steady and powerful enough that it pushed our loaded toboggans over more than once. Mine was heavy enough that it took me considerable effort to haul it upright. BI and I slogged north over the frozen expanse, and survived by chunking down the work by aiming for the lee side of several small islands that were along the path ahead.
It was dramatic how calm, settled, and more tolerable the space was when we sat on the lee side of the islands. I treasured the hot, rich, black coffee that was in my thermos. I devoured roasted nuts, peanut butter crackers, and cookies as we brought our pulses down to reasonable levels. The cold soon had us up and moving; our rests never lasted reached 10 minutes.
Eventually the path veered toward the east, toward the parking lot. With the wind now from the rear, our lagging energy relished the good fortune. It was still cold and difficult for my hands. I stuffed all my gear haphazardly into my empty Voyager, and was done. I high-fived BI. We made it. Our homes would now be cradles of comfort and warmth. The wonder of the shower world, oh those hot showers.