Back from the Bush 2011 part 1

Another summer season in the can!  I’m glad to be done after much worry over the fire in Slave Lake.  It was not as horrible as I thought though my first tour through town was unsettling.  I heard many first hand accounts from those who were lucky and some who were unlucky.  An eerie experience to start the year was driving though the massive Red Earth fire (fire55 in the forestry parlance.)   The telephone poles had burnt up from the ground leaving the tops freely hanging from I don’t know what. Many of the hanging  pole stumps were still burning!  Hot spots burned everywhere.  Unfortunately I was driving our big semi with the entire camp inside and the narrow road made it impossible to stop to take pictures safely with many emergency vehicles up and down the road.

Odd Things

There’s always some odd things in the bush.  Of the things that stand out was an ill fated expedition to find a route to get trees into a cutblock.  I set out with map compass and gps to find a way to get a quad from an oil road, through a burned forest and muskeg, into a cutblock.  The trees had been hauled out over an iceroad the opposite direction which is why it was difficult to get into.  The trees were thin and burnt leaving a jungle of jailbars.  Underfoot was a swampy mire overgrown with grass.  About a kilometer through this strange landscape, my next step landed me up to my neck in sludgy water barely above freezing!  The sludge was so thick, I couldn’t do anything but thrash in a shock inducing panic. I’m sure it was only ten seconds but after what seemed like a nightmarish struggle, I managed to flop onto some firmer ground.  I was freezing and had to take everything off to wring out the cold water.  Later in the year I was chatting with a forester down in Kananaskis who speculated I fell into an ash hole.  They form when a fire burns down into a deep pocket of spagnum.  I had never heard of this or seen it before and assume it requires delicate conditions to form.  From the surface, sparse grass had grown right over top of it.  I think now I know what goes through the heads of dinosaurs as they fall into tar pits!

Route finding through muskeg turned out to be a theme this season.  Our last camp was a one month isolation camp situated in the middle of the hundred cutblocks contracted out to us.  To get trees and workers to all these far flung blocks involved one Astar helicopter which carries 6 people at a time and lifts 5000 trees per load at a speed of 150km/hour.  We also had 4 Hagglund troop transports which carry 15 people or 20,000 trees per load at a speed of 25 km/hour.  Above: muskeg claims another victim.

Unfortunately, the terrain managed to kill 3 out of 4 of these tracked beasts putting huge demands on the helicopter.  Logistically, it became a nightmare as the helicopter was flying trees to blocks all day.  Normally, I need the helicopter several times a day to audit cutblocks but my work come as second priority to production so I was forced to wait to make my moves.  Knowing that waiting around really puts me behind schedule, I ended up trying to bushwack my way from block to block when time feasible.  The picture above will give a strong hint why walking anywhere in this country can be hazardous!  It’s one thing to look at a map and say “It’s only 2km” it’s another thing to be on the ground wandering through swamp looking for a beaver dam to tightrope across to navigate across a 200 meter cesspool. But after a few successful attempts that were quicker than waiting for the helicopter, my confidence grew.  I would make a plan each morning where I would fly and walk and get picked up at the end of the day.  Apparently the pilot told our “air traffic controller” that there was no way I could get to my pick up point one day and it was a real compliment when the pilot was simply told “He’ll be there.”  It’s true it created more physical exhaustion not to mention the mental energy of navigating difficult terrain by instinct.  But in the end, I finished on time and the owner of the company gave me a nice bonus for finding ways to get the job done in spite of the limited helicopter time.

As usual, our year formal wear award show and variety night was profound, absurd and hilarious.  We built a nice stage with a screen backdrop to see the sunset as we passed out silly and serious awards to deserving people. 

Above: Sunset behind the improvised stage makes a fine backdrop to the awards show in our canvas dining tent.

This followed a gourmet meal on par with the finest hotels in Canada.  Seeing these people in an isolated bush camp in formal wear is about as weird as it gets since the camp often had a foot deep mud underfoot!  As usual, the Dodds brothers got their drums and bass shipped in to provide some light jazz for the awards.  We had difficulty getting fuel and food into this particular camp but the instruments were a priority!

After the awards comes the variety night when people come up and perform skits, songs poems and whatever that have been cooked up in the last week.  We have a pretty creative bunch but in the absence of any other stimulus, the mind tend to run wild so these performances are about as memorable as anything I’ve seen anywhere.  One of my favorites this year was an incredibly choreographed live action recreation of a Nintendo Mario Bros video game.  It took half a dozen extras and many props they built from cardboard boxes and spray paint.

I didn’t take many pictures this year since a bought a nicer camera.  It was too heavy to carry around with me and it ends up being something to worry about the rest of the time.  I did take some flower pictures but perhaps I’ll save those for a second post about the summer.

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One Response to Back from the Bush 2011 part 1

  1. rainswept says:

    Sounds hard & wonderful. Happy you survived! Hear you are seeing CaptainOrange soon. Looking forward to some pics of the hijinx.

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