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HomeAlgonquin Winter Tracking

Algonquin Winter Tracking 2012

Friday (Day 7)

Today I went to have a look at the wolf tracks that the wolf I saw yesterday evening left behind.

I was fortunate that an impending snowstorm held off until I got a good look at the tracks.

Here is where the male wolf veered off to scent-mark a fallen tree. I posted a photo of him doing so in yesterday's account.

This tree is actually part of a beaver lodge.

Close-up view of the wolf track.
The wolf - actually there were three of them - went to a beaver dam located at the bottom of West Smith Lake, and then went off to the east into the woods. I decided to not follow them, as I had seen what I had come to see.

Instead I set off north across West Smith Lake as it started to snow.

Some pretty shoreline scenery.
It snowed pretty intensely for quite a while as I trod northward.
Eventually I reached a narrows of the lake and decided to turn around. There were boggy areas on both sides of the lake here. I had been following the tracks of a red fox as it too explored along the shoreline of the lake, also heading north.

And here I had a misadventure with the lake! I was heading back south, and decided to step down from the bog area onto the snow-covered lake surface. The channel running through the narrows of the lake was a good 50 feet away, and was open. So, I thought, no problem, I can walk along the lake surface here by the edge of the boggy area. The fox tracks had stayed on top of the boggy area, and I wondered if I too should do the same. But I stepped down and ... suddenly I plunged into the zero-degree water to my waist!!

I found that there was no bottom to push against, and I was slowly sinking farther into the water. After some moments of panic - after all, here I was out all by myself at least a mile from the road and my truck - reason set in and I started to think about what to do.

First of all, I seemed to have stabilized at waist level, although my actions to try to get out were sinking me in deeper. So I undid my camera bag, which was at waist level and not yet wet, and threw it up onto higher snow. At least then if I sank further I wouldn't lose that (expensive).

My next task was to get my snowshoes off, as they were preventing me from getting free and get up out of the water. Also I somehow had to get leverage to get myself up out of the water, so I needed something to grab onto, or step onto.

Fortunately, all the books I've read and all the training I've had in survival kicked in and I knew what to do.

I removed my gloves and threw them up onto the snow, so I would be able to better use my fingers. I then reached down into the water and managed to undo my left snowshoe and remove it. I pulled it up and placed it onto a firmer part of the snow. I could then place my left knee onto this platform, from which I could then undo my right snowshoe and do the same. By using the snowshoes as platforms I was able to get up out of the water onto firmer snow/ground.

Now, being wet right up to my waist, I was faced with the issue of how to deal with my soaked clothing and possibly hypothermia. Fortunately, it was only about -1C out. I had to decide on one of two courses of action: 1. Build a fire and dry out and get warm, or 2. Wring the water out of my wettest clothing and hike back to my truck. I decided on #2 because it wasn't all that cold out and I wasn't feeling cold at all from my dunking, except for my feet. Remember that it was only about -1C (pretty warm), and I only went in to my waist.

I put my snowshoes back on, grabbed my gloves and camera bag and hightailed it to the shore, to find a large tree to shelter under where I could wring out my soaked clothing. I knew where there was some bare ground but it was too far away and I had to act quickly. So, balancing on one foot on my snowshoe and then the other I removed my boots and socks, wrung out all the water I could from my socks and boot liners, and put them back on. I carefully felt my feet and judged that they would get warm after a period of energetic hiking.

So off I went at a very brisk pace, thankful that I had had a very good breakfast that morning, that I hadn't hiked all that far and so wasn't tired, and that my cold hadn't worsened over the past couple of days.

I followed my route back across the lake the same way I had come, but made a few shortcuts. I monitored my toes to ensure they were ok, and once I had been moving for a little while they were not getting any colder. I soon got back out to the highway and back to my truck.

Since I was just parked alongside the highway, I needed to drive to a place where I could get my cold wet boots and clothing off and change into dry gear and get warmed up. Interestingly, I still wasn't cold, except for my toes. And also interestingly, my toes got the coldest during the seven-minute drive to where I could pull off the highway and warm up and change.

After getting warm and changing clothes, I went on to another stopping place where I ate lunch before heading home.
And that was the end of my Algonquin experience this year!

Lessons from today's experience:
1. There was no indication at all that it was unsafe to step down upon the lake surface where I went in. It was covered with a thick layer of snow just like everywhere else.
2. I had a hint from the red fox tracks sticking to the bog and I had an impulse to do likewise, but I dismissed my feeling. I should've listened. Intuitive hunches are very important to listen to out in the wilds.
3. Carry a long thin pole with you when crossing lakes in the winter, with which to test the ice, whether it is exposed ice or hidden (as in this case). If I had tested the lake surface (by stabbing it through the snow) before stepping down, I would've found that it was unsafe.
Another reason to carry a long pole while travelling across frozen lakes is if the ice breaks and you fall in, you have something to keep your head above the water, and also something with which to leverage yourself out. Although that may not have been helpful in this case.


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