Thursday, 16 January 2014

And now for something completely different...

The alarm went off and I felt as though I'd barely closed my eyes for a second. As I adjusted my balaclava and fitted my goggles I made sure not not to leave any exposed skin before stepping outside. It was -25°C, significantly warmer than the last few days, the sun was yet to rise.

A mere week before I'd never had a pair of skis on in my life but here I was shouldering a heavy bag setting out for a two day, 25km back country ski across a frozen lake. It was cold. Headlines in England described conditions in Canada as a "Polar Vortex", giving rise to some of the coldest temperatures on record. The previous morning the thermometer outside our cabin had confirmed this, registering a frigid -46°C. This meant we had decided to wait another day before setting off.

Skiing across the lake was not what I'd imagined skiing would be like. Rather than gracefully gliding over the surface with minimal effort, it involved what I can only describe as trudging, with long awkward pointy things attached to my feet. The four of us took it in turns breaking trail in the knee deep snow.

By mid afternoon we had skied just under halfway, we stopped to build "Quincy". A type of snow cave which Bron seemed convinced would keep us alive and (dare I say it) even warm during that night. The way they supposedly work is to have a raised platform inside that is above the level of the entrance, this allows bodies inside to warm up the air without the heat escaping. It sounded unlikely.

To my amazement I woke up the next morning still alive! However as I slithered out the door my heart sank, I was met by a full on blizzard, howling winds and a near total whiteout on the lake. Quite a scary place to be as we had no means of contacting anyone or calling for help and thus no option but to make it the remaining 13km to Temagami, the town at the end of the lake. Luckily we had a GPS allowing us to navigate during the whiteout. Skiing through the now waist deep snow drifts in the blizzard felt like being on another planet. My eyes were freezing shut whenever I removed my goggles. My water bottle was tucked firmly inside my crotch to avoid freezing.

In winter the lake freezes so solid that they plow a road a couple of kilometers over the ice from the mainland to "Bear Island". Deeply exhausted and with frost nibbled extremities we staggered onto this as it was getting dark on our second day. God knows how people do extended winter camping trips!