Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Night Out

Last weekend I went on an overnight snowshoe excursion with two friends. Mark has already blogged about the adventure, including pictures and video, and Rob has some of his pictures up too. Prior to heading North, I prepared my pulk using a $20 plastic 60" sled from Canadian Tire (the Pelican Mega Snow Glider is currently on sale for $9.99). I added rope loops along the length of the sled to aid in tying the gear down, and in order to aid in traversing hilly terrain, I added rigid poles. The rigid poles that Rob & I both used (he on his wooden toboggan) are simply 3/4" PVC conduit from (about $5 for a 10' length). I cut the conduit to 6'2" and threaded the towing ropes through, then tied the ends tight with caribiners. The caribiners can then be clipped to a towing harness, or in my case a beefy MEC fanny pack. When towing the sled uphill or on even ground, all of the towing force is on the ropes, but when going downhill, the conduit stops the sled from running forward and maintains some control. I tested towing the sled with the poles crossed and uncrossed, and found it worked much better when they were crossed. Uncrossed poles had the tendency to tip the sled as soon as I turned a corner.

From Nesbit Snowshoe






The back of the sled has loops of rope with additional caribiners in order that a second (shorter) sled can be clipped to the first. I fully expected to need another couple of feet worth of sled to get all my stuff into the bush, but in the end I didn't need it. I had a short sled ready and with us for this purpose.

We parked at the south parking lot for Eb's Trails, a set of cross-country ski trails maintained by the Saskatoon Ski Club. The trails are well-maintained and in the beautiful setting of the Nesbit Forest near both the North & South Saskatchewan Rivers. We then headed across Highway 11 and into the bush to the East, towards the South Saskatchewan River. We snowshoed following skidoo trails for about 3/4 of the distance, with the last stretch toward the river being un-snowmobiled.

From Nesbit Snowshoe










The last descent towards the river was short and steep, and on my snowshoes I skied, slipped and eventually tumbled in a graceful arc down the slope. Initially, it was supposed to be a controlled slide, but oddly enough I somehow failed to maintain control going over that rock outcrop. Mark was able to improve upon my technique by bringing his sled down in front of him and lowering it down.





From Nesbit Snowshoe

Once on the riverbank, we stopped for snacks then continued south until we came to an island to explore. After ruling out the island as a camp spot, we continued to explore the area and found a few interesting sights and sites. Our weather through the day was very bright, sunny, warm, and windy. Our temperatures peaked during the day at around +1C, with the wind 30km/hr and gusty.

From Nesbit Snowshoe
On the ice in a few spots we noticed slush. The feel of the snow underfoot would be quite different, then looking back you could see the slush seeping into our snowshoe & dog prints. For that reason, we generally stayed fairly close to the shoreline.











We followed a skidoo trail back up away from the river until we came to a hilly meadow and a protected copse of trees that would serve well as our home for the the next 20 hours or so. The meadow had a great view out over the river valley, yet the campsite was nestled in a bit of a treed gully which kept us well-protected from the winds, a factor that would prove to be very important later.





After setting up camp, we took advantage of the nearby slopes to play on the adjacent toboggan hill (well, actually it seemed to be a playground for snowmobiles but we took it over for a while). There are a bunch of pictures and some video of that activity from Rob & Mark so I suggest checking out their sites. After our fun on the main hill, I decided to attempt the short but very steep drop into the backside of our camp site. I managed not to break anything so Mark decided to follow me down. He got in a fight with a nasty branch and now has the scar to go along with the story. Below, he is using the lcd screen on his camera in lieu of a mirror to check out the damage.



From Nesbit Snowshoe



Initially, Kaya went and found a small pine tree to dig in a nest underneath. However, I created a bed for her nearer the fire. Here she is lying on a tarp, 2 foam pad pieces, and a heavy wool blanket which wraps over her, all topped with my heavy fleece & nylon sweater. She comfortably slept off the day's activities near the fire.





Through the evening the temperature remained pretty steady at about -2 to -3C. By the end of the evening, I was wondering why I had brought so much for warm clothes as I simply didn't need much of it. We whiled away the evening sharing stories of adventure (mostly Mark's), and trying to put a small dent in the pile of food which Rob & I brought (Mark thinks we travel a tad heavy).



We eventually stayed up late enough that we wouldn't be in bed earlier than our young kids at home. We used my 3-season, 4-person MEC Wanderer 4 tent for just Rob, Kaya & I, while Mark used his own small 4-season tent. When setting up the tent I used some of the pegs buried in snow, and also some sticks buried in the snow. Although initially this has absolutely no holding power, once the snow sets it becomes extremely strong. The tent site was prepped by thoroughly tramping the area with snowshoes. The tent was then set up in an adjacent spot and moved onto the flattened area in order to prevent us from wrecking the flat but soft snow (thanks to Mark for that tip). In the tent I used a single sleeping pad (I often double them up in the winter using a 3/4 length blue foam pad with my thermarest) while Rob & Kaya each used doubled up sleeping pads. In addition, I put the camp seat unfolded flat underneath kaya to keep her away from the ground. I have a -12 (?) rated MEC down sleeping bag which I use together with a thin overbag. Rob used a similar down bag together with a summer-weight down bag. Kaya used an army-surplus wool blanket, two fleece sweaters and my winter jacket. I also used a candle lantern and left it burning all night for the extra degree or two warmth that it might provide. We all went to bed very warm and were soon opening bags and removing layers.



One thing I found is that a 4-person tent (which fits four in a pinch in the summer) is just the right size for two people and a dog. Yes, we could have stored more of our gear in the vestibule for a bit of extra room, but winter bags take up a lot of room and you do want to be away from the walls which frost up.





At 4 am I awoke to some fierce winds blowing through camp. I grew concerned about the sled blowing away so got up and secured everything (Mark had the sense to tie his before bed). Although it was windy all night, at 4 am the gusts came up suddenly, recorded in Prince Albert at 78km/hr. It was then that the temperature started to drop quickly, reaching -20 sometime after 8 am. That was at least 10C colder than originally forecast. (There is some debate on this , Mark & I swear we saw forecasts of about -9C for overnight lows while Rob swears -18C was predicted. We think that Mark I were checking the PA forecast and Rob the Saskatoon forecast. The Saskatoon forecast must have been updated on Saturday morning before PA, as we were all checking at close to the same time.)



With the chilly morning, I remembered why I had brought the previously unused fleeces, and the jacket. I don't think Kayak appreciated the cold very much either and she was loathe to move from her bed near the fire.

After a big breakfast of bacon (precooked at home and re-warmed on the fire) and oatmeal (lots of nuts, raisins, cranberries, etc.) we went on a trek around the neighbourhood. We snowshoed south for a couple of kilometers, exploring some additional trails. Once back to camp and nicely warmed up, we packed up camp, loaded the sleds and began making our way home. The trek out proved arduous. The rolling hills were tough and I quickly began to dread the downhill sections because the uphill portion that followed would be twice as high. We had another day of bright sunshine, but this time the temperature stayed close to -20C all day, with winds again around the 20 - 30 km/hr mark. Our trek out to the car took us on some new trails (though one wasn't exactly as intended) so that added to the adventure. One thing we didn't do much of on the 5.4 km out was eat or drink. It's funny how when I am tired I don't take the time to do the things that would help keep some fuel in the tank. We had plenty of food to be sure, and I should have forced myself to lighten the load by eating some of that food.

The following images (click for a larger version) show the gps-recorded elevation profile for the trip. The first image shows the trek in, descending to the river then back up to our camp site.



The next graph shows the trek out. The circled region shoes an area when I might have been cursing the hills of the river valley just a bit.



Our total trek in 4.9 km and the way out was 5.4 km. Although most of the way out seemed more direct than our route in, I wonder if it was actually any easier than descending to the river, travelling on the flat of the river for a couple kilometers, then ascending up the trail we came in on. We seemed pretty consistent both days in our average speed of 2 km/hr, including the GORP breaks.

I was pretty happy to have gotten out overnight in the winter for the first time in several years. I was also very happy with my new snowshoes and the new Faber bindings. It was great to "discover" this new area so close to home and I am sure to be back.