Tues Feb. 17 (day 9)
Another hot night in the tent. It’s a warmish morning of –18C, over cast with little wind. Breakfast is red river, not my favourite but much improved with dehydrated pineapple and cranberries plus slabs of thick sliced bacon. We are packed and ready to roll out by 9:10am, an early start. Just before we leave, a pine martin scampers between branches, hiding safely in the trees. He’s dark and silky with glistening almond eyes.
The going is easy as we are retracing our route, the trail already packed and firm. The komatiks feel light as the food loads daily shrink (although I wonder if a day of rest has done more to restore energy). We fly: it’s 45 minutes walk back to Erables Lake compared to the 3 hours it took to cover the same distance two days earlier. The sky is clearing, and the sun again warms me…living is easy!
We pass the pretty campsite on Erable Lake peninsula as we swing east down a long narrow arm towards Mouse Lake. More slush spots and air holes in this bay. As lunch is being prepared, some people walk ahead to pack the 1860m portage into Big Thunder Lake. Warmer temperatures and bright sun are melting the snow underfoot even on the land. Feels like spring has arrived - south facing slopes on land are slippery and hard to climb with the corn snow.
The komatiks need to be roped on only two steep hills. Side hills present a different challenge - the toboggan wants to slide off the trail sideways, the downhill rail getting buried in the deep snow. Worse, it will tip over if not properly loaded (thus heavy stuff on the bottom) or careen out of control and stop only when dumped over. Then it’s a real struggle to right the toboggan, and start it down the trail again. I’m walking with the chainsaw wanigan sled and it always wants to dump or slide off on the side hills. The trail winds up down and around tight corners. Eventually I find zen, contemplate nothing while subconsciously keeping the komatik in line. In the wind sheltered trees, its hot work - I peel down to the inner poly pro layer.
Finally, Big Thunder Lake (a great name!) appears. As first across the trail, I enjoy the untracked panorama ahead. Pond sized but the light is dramatic and larches seem to wade out from the shore. I grab my camera, fascinated by the boiling roiling clouds in the western sky. Eventually, the others emerge from the portage and the decision is made to camp here. I’m glad, it feels so snug and inviting.
Dick is a great cook. It’s an excellent rotini pasta dinner with thick tomato sauce, almost sweet tasting, with a huge bag of Parmesan cheese. Desert is a large date square log plus rehydrated dried fruit. One thing has become very apparent: winter trips need huge food quantities compared to summer trips! High fat meals are relished and enjoyed. Everyone is relaxed and feeling good. The rhythm of the trip is firmly entrenched. A few blisters, aching backs, small burns have started to sprout but after nine days and no major events, things are going well.