Sat Feb. 14 (day 6)

Wake to beautiful clear sky! Finally got out of tent at 7am…cream of wheat breakfast with dried kiwi and orange – something new and wonderful. It’s Valentines Day – Don gives everyone a little chocolate heart to celebrate. How sweet of him – what a great start to the day!

Into Rattrap we go…the name is unforgettable. A slushy narrows forces us up onto the shoreline. Thick heavy blown snow insulates the water from freezing temperatures and the semi frozen surface results. Same consistency as rum slush from my kitchen freezer. Oh well. Better focus ahead on pulling as today the sleds don’t move easily. It’s a short 430m portage into larger Maple (boring name) Lake. I scout it first, breaking trail, following a very old skidoo trail. What a lovely forest with many large fallen trees although none across the trail.

So far, the chain saw has been used only for firewood which has been a blessing. Toasty every night and wood collection has been relatively easy. Thanks Bob! I’m brought back to reality as a short steep section about 25’ long requires the time consuming process of ganging a line to the komatik. As ‘the boys’ haul the sleds are up the slope, I shuttle them forward one by one into Maple Lake.

The sky is absolutely crystal clear. My nose is getting sun burnt on the bottom due to light reflecting off the lake snows. Any breeze is at our backs as we travel southerly. In spite of its dull name, Maple Lake is pretty: comfortable in scale with near hills rising close to shore. The lake funnels into a river at the south end, following a portage which crosses a logging road into Erables Lake. I wonder at the naming of these lakes: ‘maple’ in English is  ‘erables’ in French. Did two friends, one French, the other English explore, fish, trap together here a long time ago? Romantic speculative ideas drift across my imagination. Or was the naming the result of a more mundane situation where the two lakes used to be one, split into two caused changing water levels with the advent of logging, a dam, road/rail line building?

We lunch on the south side of the portage. As the 2 hour mark rolls around, in spite of the fire, I’m somewhat chilled and happy to be moving again. The temperature has definitely dropped in the last few hours, not surprising given the clear skies.

Erables Lake stretches 5 or 6 km to the south and we are going to walk down the middle, to the far end. Twelve inches of deep powder coats the lake, fresh wind blown and fallen. Walking and breaking trail is difficult. A light tail wind occasionally musters enough energy to form clusters of tiny wind tornadoes that pick up the feathery fluff, swirling it off the surface before gently redepositing it further down the lake.

We find a convenient campsite near the base of Erables, on a small peninsula. Larch trees protect the tent from direct wind gusts but provide an open forest which invites casual exploration, unlike the more dense forest we are usually camped in. The tent goes up quickly as the temperature continues to drop. Not only does my hair frost up due to breath but also my nostrils stick together, a sure sign that it’s at least –20C.

The most serious business then takes place.  Neil makes dinner – a combination of chicken, pasta, parm cheese, dehydrated artichoke hearts is delicious. I’m dead tired, a bit hurting, want to sleep but a ‘big discussion’ ensues. It has become pretty apparent to me that we are not covering the daily mileage needed to in order to successfully complete the traverse. In short, we are too slow and/or under powered (for the amount of gear we have). Looking at it the other way, I’d say we are walking the right speed, but need a bit more time to finish the route. However, it’s not possible to stretch the time into another week due to work commitments and food limitations. Solutions bandied about include getting up earlier, shorter lunches. In the end, there is no single clear solution. I go to sleep somewhat cranky but not surprised.