March 7 (Day 10)
Ron’s birthday….I wonder what he is doing today? A very cold night, -44F on Garrett’s thermometer and –42C on mine. Today is a layover day, so nothing and no one will move fast. Sausages and pancake breakfast…start eating at 7:30am, but very slow business with everyone to feed. I take off at 10:30, annoyed at wasting a good part of the morning.
Walking along the river I try to figure which spots (if any) are unsafe…(I find out later that the river is more frozen this year than other years). Frozen rapids rumple the snow surface but black water hisses underneath. I can see small open places: the ice varies in thickness from 3” to 3’. Carefully, I proceed following upstream wandering easily along the north side of this frozen highway. While examining 3 large protruding rocks, an otter pokes its head out on the opposite side. I watch as he slides down the bank, scamper across the snow/ice and disappears into a hole in the snow bank. He has left his calling card, a load of fresh poop for me to inspect.
Continuing along the south side, I climb up a steep gulch enjoying the walk with out a sled yanking me backwards. The snow is deep and soft and I sink in the gully but finally make it out to the firmer packed snow above the trees near the top of the bald hill. Lots of fresh ptarmigan tracks, but no birds…I don’t doubt they are laughing at me as I look in vain for them! The hills are classic Labrador…boulder erratic, with a mirror smooth finish on the bald summits, shining and blinding under the burning winter sun.
Its one of the few times I escape on my own and I enjoy the solitude. Its quiet enough to hurt the ears, my blood pounds in my veins, as I push into the wind. Too slick to walk with snow shoes, I remove them and wander easily with my moccasins.
My feet are warm in the 2 pairs of socks, duffle liners and foam insoles. Happily I go, inspecting every lichen patch, willow clump and bare rock. A winter panorama lays before me, inviting further exploration.
Feeling the lack of lunch, I opt for the direct route back to camp and bush crash down a steep slope. Feels like a Warren Miller ski movie, ‘steep and deep’…I experiment with skiing on the back of my snow shoe tails but can’t maintain my balance and forward momentum. Just enjoy running pell-mell downhill, until I trip over a hidden branch and go flying head over heels, snow shoes coming off, bashing my legs, ankles. But it’s a soft landing and the worst is some snow down my anorak. How reckless of me! But I enjoyed the wild ride and to heck with the consequences. I brush myself off and cross back over the river, pick up my morning tracks and return to camp for dinner.
It's steaks and I’m ravenous. Everyone eats a huge load and it almost too full for desert. The tent is smoky from the pan frying but it’s a good stink. What a satisfying day! I’m delirious with joy at being alive and living the outdoor life.