I’m back again from the winter wilds. The project we were working on was suddenly cut in half for now by Encana. I can’t say we were too disappointed as the amount of snow had made it almost impossible to continue. Our tracked machines were working at their limit and any work on foot was nearly impossible. Waist deep snow with no support in it made even snowshoe travel nearly impossible. I often get the most difficult river gorges and canyons to map out as they must be done on foot and being the most able of our crew, I found myself pushed to the limit. On one day, my GPS recorded my rate of travel for the day at just 300m per hour. Under normal circumstances I can average around 6km per hour!!
Above: My tracked Honda with many new improvements over past years. As I get more experience, I’m getting my system down better. New improvements for this year include an articulated holder for my computer which allows me to keep both hands on the steering while still having the screen close enough to read. I also put my satellite dish on a bolted bar (in yellow) rather than my mobile pack which allows me to bash through trees more aggressively! I also invested in a good Swede saw which paid for itself a thousand times over. The heavy snow had bent half the trees down or nearly down making the forest an impossible maze to get through.
Above: This used to be an access road. The only way for me to get to the area I need to survey is to saw my way through so I can drive my ATV through with all the survey equipment. At times I felt more like a lumberjack than a surveyor! Nearly every day at the 6:30am safety meeting, our client praised our hard work which was much appreciated as we were certainly pushing ourselves hard for them.
The bent trees did provide me with some entertainment when an owl landed on a willow bent from the snow load. The impact of his landing knocked the snow off and it whipped up like a sling-shot flinging him way up in the air forcing a screech out of him. He landed again on the unburdened willow and had a very very annoyed look on his face as only an owl can. I stood in front of him laughing out loud till he seemed to have enough embarrassment and flew away. There are many fascinating things in the bush, but not many hilarious things- a rare treat!
The heavy snow was not a mater of levity for other animals though, the deer struggled awfully in the snow. I saw one trying to get through an open marsh where the snow had drifted a bit. Unfortunately, my presence had startled him and he tried to get away. Each sporadic bound would leave just his head sticking out- a rather striking sight but awful knowing how many calories he was burning in the process.
Above: Hard times for some are good times for others. The cougar tracks I found here barely sunk into the same snow me and the deer were drowning in. Below is a spring that was warm enough to stay unfrozen. In every direction was an animal trail spoke. It seemed like a good place for a predator to hang out so I made plenty of imposing noises as I passed by here. I rejoiced in briefly having some tracks to follow making the way easier in the deep snow. I began to acquire a deep abstract appreciation for the following instinct.
Another curious problem was that the big snows came very early in the season. So much snow that many creeks became insulated from the cold temperatures that followed. I got a call on the radio one day from Aaron who needed non-emergency help. It took me about 40 minutes to get to the coordinates he gave me and what a mess I found.
Above: Aaron’s ATV fell through 4 feet of snow and into a creek hidden underneath. The creek was several feet deep and it took us almost 2 hours to get the 700 pound machine out using 2 winches, 2 shovels, a lot of effort and plenty of experience! Apart from some slightly wet and freezing feet, he was fine if not a little embarrassed for having to pull me away from my day plan. Considering where I was I don’t think he realized what a favour he was doing me!
Above: Approaching an imposing wall of snow and spruce. A “light saber” would have been really useful I think.
I had one day of particular disamusement when there seemed to be no end of troubles. The temperature was -37 before the windchill so just getting our machines started took nearly 40 minutes of pull starting, priming and delicate fanagling. Then I spent another 40 minutes driving another surveyor to his stuck quad where we sawed a few trees it was hung up on. Then when I finally got to where I was going, my computer lost it. I.T. problems are frustrating enough in a climate controlled office but in a snowy muskeg at -37, they are mind-numbing! Another 2 hours later between several rounds of jumping jacks, I managed a software workaround to my data card problems. With only an hour of daylight left I discovered I had no radio uplink to verify my data points. I tried making my way back to my rendezvous point and got horribly stuck and spent the rest of the day digging myself out. I got into the truck and Willie Nelson was playing on the radio. Nothing like being completely beaten by the day to make you appreciate old time country music! At least I had this breathtaking view at the end of the day to make it all worthwhile. Ice crystals or something made this smudged out sunset particularly glowing. There’s always rewards in the wilderness.