March 13 (Day 16)

I’m starting to notice the small tricks Garrett uses to increase efficiencies. Last nights warm water is poured into a large thermos where it stays hot all night. In the morning, it’s poured into the coffee pot on the wood stove where it quickly heats up to a boil. Handfuls of coffee can then be added and the most immediate need upon rising (well, after the call of nature) is met – how to keep your campers happy!

Mealtime has been a real education. As a summer canoeist and hiker, fresh meats just don’t work on long summer trips due to spoilage, weight, attracting animals. In winter, the variety (chicken, beef, steaks, sausages, bacon) possible is an eye opener – far more than the expected dried salami at lunch. I’m glad the country food larder was left untouched: the fish didn’t bite, the black grouse would have been a smaller taste than the unlucky ptarmigan and no caribou were seen. To my surprise, I’ve developed a liking for steel cut oats! Having always hated mushy oatmeal, the mix of textures (buckwheat groats, cracked wheat, steel cut oats, 2 kinds of raisins and various embellishments) stuck to my ribs almost until noon.

By 10am, we are gliding effortlessly down the frozen river we laboured up 10 days ago. It’s all conditions and perhaps a little bit of skill. We are like horses going back to the stable, our speed is tremendous. Suddenly at the junction of the river and Lake Menihek, we spot 3 caribou far in the distance. So far and so faint, I can barely make out legs, bodies, antlers,  a blur in milky haze of spindrift snow. Yet they are real and maintain their distance from us as we materialize, ghost like ourselves. Two animals are very small, must be yearlings, the 3rd a mature adult.

We find where they bedded down, depressions in the snow, craters where they pawed to get at lichen, reindeer moss and willow bushes. Tiny pebble drops of turds black and round sculpture against the canvas of frozen snow. Maybe more caribou will present themselves over the next 24 hours.

A light snow begins to fall at 1pm, lunch turns into a full blown storm within 5 minutes. I put on ski goggles instead of the usual sun glasses which I normally wear. Hauling the toboggan is actually easier outside our original track as it slides easily along the glazed snow surface, not getting caught in snowshoe ruts or small drifts.

Our objective is to return to the camp where we first overnighted. Tent poles are already cut and stacked up in a tree thus reducing set up time. There is another chance to search for Alexandra’s camera case. Camp is set up by 5pm, the camera case doesn’t turn up. The old water hole is easy to re-extracate compared to digging through another 3 feet of virgin ice. The final dinner is beef stroganoff with ptarmigan appetizer (where did that come from?). The meat is dark and smells like the cooking oil it was fried in. I try the heart, it’s more flavourful than the flesh but tiny in size.  Maria and Alexandra serenade our group with “Prince Leif’s Lament” a catchy jingle which Alexandra wrote herself. We stay up late tonight, until 11pm, no one wants to sleep, it’s the last night. Total mileage today: 8 km….