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Wilderness Adventures - March Week 3/2014

This is about a remote area in west central British Columbia, Canada called the West Chilcotin. Surrounded by numerous glacial mountain ranges, alpine lakes teeming with wild Rainbow Trout, and full of wildlife. Living here goes from no running water or electricity to spacious log homes with all the conveniences and without the smog!
If you would like to see pictures of wildlife, mountains, lakes, exciting snowmobiling, events and more, and read some great contributed stories and ongoing blogs, just go into Archives on the lower left side of this page.

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30/03/2014 5:30 PM

Break Up Has Stopped Dead

You know, I think I’m just going to stop writing positive weather reports on this blog. Last time I wrote about how much sun we were getting, how the wind was drying things up and that Break Up was here. Mother Nature decided to pull the rug out from under us and winter has come slamming back down. It has snowed for eight out of the past nine days. Admittedly, it has only amounted to a few inches in total (it’s hard to tell because it comes down, melts, comes down, melts) but it has been overcast, dreary, dark and depressing. In the last ten days I have missed walking more days than I have for the entire winter. There’s two reasons for that. One is that I have been kind of swamped and so decided to take advantage of the dreary winter weather to get things done before spring really does arrive, and going out into wet, blowing snow hasn’t appealed to me at all. Unfortunately, the result is that my back has become crocked up from too much time in the office chair and not enough getting out and walking.
The downside of all the additional snow is that in places like our driveway and out on the road where things were drying up nicely back when we had wind and sunshine, the newly thawed ground is absorbing more and more moisture and we could end up with a big mucky mess if this doesn’t smarten up soon.
There is a bright spot, though.
It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you see what’s happening to those poor souls in the rest of Canada. From Ontario right to the east coast they have been inundated with nothing but one blizzard after another for the past few weeks. They just aren't getting a let up from Old Man Winter and the prairie provinces aren’t faring much better with temperatures plummeting into the –20’s. At least our temperatures aren’t bitterly cold and we’re just getting mini blizzards and squalls, not several feet of snow at a time accompanied by hurricane force winds.
At least we had a great time about a week ago. You know that one day out of nine that I mentioned above that didn’t get snow? We had a neighbourhood wiener roast on that day and frankly we couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. It had snowed on Saturday, the day before, and was actually pretty overcast with a little flurry activity that Sunday morning. Andy asked me if we should call everyone and cancel but I figured that hey, we’re all from Canada, we know how to dress warm, and we’re going to have a big fire, so we’re going ahead with it. Besides, I was a little concerned that all the snow would melt at the rate it was going and if we left the burn pile until too late, we would be past the open burning season with no snow on the ground. Had I realized it would snow every day thereafter on top of the 16 inches of snow or so that still hasn’t melted, I wouldn’t have worried about it. There isn’t a hope in Hades that a fire will get away anywhere around here for the next many weeks.
Andy plowed out around the fire so that no one was wading around in two feet of snow. I set out a bunch of chairs with thick cushions on them so our bums wouldn’t get cold, we cut a bunch of wienie sticks, threw some food out shortly after noon and waited for the neighbours to arrive and they did, just about the time the sun broke through. People came and went all afternoon enjoying glorious sunshine, pleasant temperatures and not even a breeze to chill anyone down. It was a really enjoyable day for visiting with everyone. In fact, the weather was so nice that after everyone left Andy and I sat for a little while longer around the fire until nearly supper time just enjoying the beautiful day. It’s a good thing we did. It’s the last one we’ve seen! But we did luck out when we needed to so I can’t complain.
We went walking in the woods today and decided that we had accumulated enough snow on the back trail that I needed to run it with the snow machine. It’s the first really warm day we’ve had so the snow was soft and mushy. I figured if I ran a trail today it would set up tonight and should be great walking after this.
While I did that Andy plowed the ice road figuring that it had also accumulated enough snow for overflow to become a problem if we got much more. At least our ice road has held up. In fact, it’s in better shape now than two weeks ago when I figured we would lose it by the end of that week. All that fresh snow covered up the black sand and gravel that was absorbing heat from the sun and melting big holes into the ice and it’s been cold enough that those holes have frozen right over. So the ice road is actually in excellent shape, which is fortunate, because the main road is not. Highways hasn’t been plowing the little snows off of our main road so all that snow when it melts is going right into the road bed. So far the cooler weather is holding things static but as I mentioned before, if it ever warms up, things are going to get messy.
Monday, March 31st.
We finally caught a break in the weather today. There was fresh snow this morning because it came down last night again but it never got that cold, so the snow started to melt fairly quickly today. And we finally saw sunshine!!! Sustained sunshine, yet! Which means the sun broke through the clouds and we actually saw it for more than a few minutes today and boy, did it make a difference. We decided to go out snowshoeing on the trail in the woods that we have been breaking for a cross country ski trail for next winter and mark the trees on either side of the new ‘trail’. That way in spring or this summer after it dries out, we can find it again, clean out some of the underbrush and widen it in spots where we need to get a snowmobile and tracker through next year.
I think I mentioned in the last blog that I wasn’t the most popular person in the world when we broke the trail through with the neighbour on snow machines following the snowshoe tracks Andy and I had made before. There were a lot of tight spots where we had to go between trees or around them and had this been a normal snow year, we might have gotten stuck in the odd spot. Now that the new trail is marked, we can clean it up and hopefully it will be ready to track next winter. I really want to extend it and make a long circle tour out of it, but that might have to be done later in the year. I love skiing out on the lake but between wind and overflow the last few years, it has been just about impossible to ski there. So a trail that can be short or long through the woods would be awesome and one I’m a lot more likely to use on a daily basis. I think the neighbours will use it as well. Now I just have to talk my important half into building me a cross country ski tracker of my own to pull behind a machine so that we don’t have to keep borrowing someone else’s.
We were lucky we had snowmobiled over our snowshoe tracks from before. With all these additional snows the track was nearly obscured but at least it was still good walking with a hard packed frozen trail underneath. We hit a spot we snowshoed and snowmobiled across before but decided this time that we would go around it. It’s a bit of a pothole that has a lot of trees around it of varying ages, but most of them have bright red needles on now dead branches and water rings a couple of feet up the trunks. We have a few spots like that in the back woods where there’s a natural depression and water has filled them up well up into the trees. Normally, the huge pines our woods had would have sucked that water up like there was no tomorrow, but after the mountain pine beetle went through and killed all of the mature pine, many potholes that have filled up with spring melt have never dried up and after a year or two, all the surrounding trees with their feet in the water have died.
Chances were pretty good that when we go out there to clean up the trail this summer, that clearing we so easily crossed this winter will be full of water and there is no way we will be able to walk or ATV across it so, we decided to make a new trail around it and mark it as we went. That was a mistake.
Because it was so warm today, the snow was really wet and soft. On a packed snow machine trail under fresh snow, it didn’t matter, but boy, it sure made a difference where there was no previous trail!
We didn’t go through so far into the snow with our snowshoes that we couldn’t continue on, but Andy was breaking trail in front of me with his longer rawhide and gut shoes and he was still sinking in a bit. Had I been in the lead with my shorter more modern snowshoes, I think it might have been a different story. I could very well have been stuck there until spring, whenever that might be....
We had our two dogs with us as well as a neighbour’s spaniel that we’ve been looking after. She’s a short legged thing and small so she wasn’t sinking into the snow too badly and our hound dog is really strong and agile, so athough she was sinking in, she was strong enough to leap through the snow. It wasn’t until we looked back and saw our big Rottie cross wallowing through the snow well behind us that we realized breaking a new trail in those conditions might not have been a great idea, especially on a side hill where we were now standing that the sun had been shining on for part of the day. It was great snow for making a snowman but definitely not for breaking trail. With the poor dogs struggling through the snow behind us while we tried to stomp a deeper trail for them, we broke back out onto the previously packed trail much sooner than we had hoped to, but it was just too hard on the animals to keep going the way we were, especially on old River dog with his hips weakened by age. Not that it was all that easy on our bones either. I know the dogs are going to sleep well tonight and I’m thinking we will too!
It wasn’t until we got back out onto the road and took our snowshoes off that I realized why mine had become so heavy. Andy’s old fashioned snow shoes were perfect but my new age light weight aluminum ones were encased in wet snow that had frozen into solid ice.
Note to self, do not go snowshoeing in warm, soggy snow with fancy pancy new snowshoes.
You know, sometimes I think people from a couple hundred years ago were a whole lot smarter than we think we are. Many things that they invented or designed then work better in some conditions than stuff we reinvented does now.
While the Rottie might disagree, it turned out to be an enjoyable day but if someone had told me last fall I would still be snowshoeing just before the first of April, I might have looked at them a little funny. On the other hand, winter often lasts until well into May here so maybe not.

We are supposed to have a cold front moving down from the north in the next day or so, and it looks like it’s bringing sunshine with it. I actually wouldn't mind some colder nighttime temperatures. We noticed today when we broke out onto the back trail and took our snowshoes off that the trail I packed with the snow machine yesterday didn’t actually freeze up, probably because of the fresh snow on it from last night insulating it a bit. At nearly 8C or 46, today seems to be the beginning of warmer daytime temperatures and we certainly noticed that on the trail as well. We saw snow fleas out on the snow all along the trail for the first time and that’s usually a good harbinger of spring. There was also a little spider and a tiny beetle farther along, so heaven knows where they came from. You have to wonder when these insects end up sitting on top of 16 “ of pure white snow what they think, if they do actually think. Or maybe they were little eggs in the fall and they’ve hatched out in the soil under the snow. They must have some little clock inside them like a hibernating bear that says, okay, time to wake up and head for the surface. It’s springtime! And then they get there and go, “What the f….?!!!!”
Now that I think of it, that’s pretty much what every Canadian east of Ontario has been saying for the last three blizzard days. :-)
Oh well, you know spring has to come some time. It’s just a matter of which month and here in Canada, we have several to choose from.
One thing that we haven't seen a lot of so far this spring is birds. We went to town a little over a week ago and this time of year you would normally expect to see swans, geese and ducks on the river next to the highway near Redstone where the fowl hang out until the lakes open up. I searched both going in and coming out and finally saw a couple of swans on the river coming back but that was it. We finally had two show up on the lake on the same day as we had the wiener roast. They sat out on the ice for a while but they were gone by late afternoon. A few days later Andy called me outside to look at what we thought might be the first robin of the season. It was snowing at the time (what else is new) so it was hard to tell until I took at look at the photo on my computer. Blown up you could see that it wasn’t a robin but what’s called a Varied Thrush. It’s mate was with it but those were the only two birds we saw and they were gone shortly after as well.
Yesterday we saw a huge V of Canada geese going over while on our walk, and they were headed north so there must be hope for spring after all. I think that the unusually cold winter in the States has slowed down bird migration to some extent and that’s probably a very good thing if we’re going to have a late spring. According to Environment Canada weather forecasters that is the case. But really, who believes the weatherman anyway?
One thing that has changed a lot in the past couple of weeks with all this local snow is that the mountains are now white. In fact, they’re whiter than they have been all winter. Not only was it strange to see black mountains this winter but it was also a bit of a worry, particularly for folks at lakes like Charlotte. Charlotte Lake froze up really late this year, and was very, very low when it did. The result has been that most residents out there have had their water lines frozen. It does not bode well if their lake levels don’t come up and the only way that will happen is if the snow level rises on the local mountains. These last few snows seem to be accomplishing that from the looks of the mountains when we can see them, which until today, has been kind of rare.
Maybe we should start snowmobiling finally.....

Last week's blog is at March Week Two.


Anahim Lake Highway cam looking West.




The purpose of this web site is to draw attention to a remote area of west central British Columbia. It is a beautiful area that relies heavily on tourism. The search engines don't know much about the West Chilcotin, Anahim Lake, Nimpo Lake or any of the other small communities in the region and I hope to change that! Even as large as this site will eventually be, there just isn't enough room or time in the day to fully describe this incredible country but I am going to try scraping away at the tip of the iceberg, so join me!


Follow the links, and see what the West Chilcotin is really like!
Bright blue winter sky reflects on mountains.
 
A bright orange and black striped bird on the gravel driveway.
 
Two swans sit on the ice with mountains behind.
 
People sit in chairs around a bonfire.
 
Children, parents and wienie sticks.
 
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