How we almost died on the solstice

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I had taken a bit of flack over my invite that I had put out recently for any that wanted to join me on a longish hike out through the hills north of LacDuBois. The common complaint was that “the hike sounded too hard” and that “I expected people to carry survival gear.”

As it was, the hike was attended by a small, but hardy group, and the intended effect of my invite was accomplished. Unfortunately, these days, too many people feel that everything should be inclusive of all. The fact of the matter is: some of us do not have the capabilities that others have. I could no more go on an ice climb with my friends Mandy and Andrew nor could I hope to ever keep up with Chance when he does his one day Battle Mountain climb. Some people don’t understand this and will show up for hikes that they are ill-prepared for. I have taken the stance that I have to describe a hike as being twice as hard as it is to weed out those that might show up to something that they can’t handle.

As to carrying a survival pack – that goes without saying. When do I take my pack with me? Pretty much any time I am going out for a walk, whether I plan on being out for half an hour or half a day. No one plans to get lost, or plans to have an accident so you shouldn’t just take a pack with you when you are planning on having some misadventure. Now I know a lot of you will pooh-pooh the idea, but watch the newscasts when the SAR teams are packing some hapless soul off of the mountains. How many of the rescuees have packs with them? How many were prepared?

But I had set out to tell you about how Karma and I almost died on the solstice but the preceding rant was to set the stage for the story:

The winter solstice of 2017 started out with a heavier than predicted snowfall and I had set out to retrieve my trail cameras from the mountains at a much later than normal departure time. Sloth was my muse that morning and it was almost noon before I headed out on the trail. I knew it was going to be close for me to get back to the vehicle before nightfall. I had about 10K to do and the snow was piling up fast and it would be a slow go. I had my survival gear with me and had left word with Raven as to where I was going and when I should be back (before nightfall) so I felt confident in heading out.

A short ways into the hike I could feel my knees starting to act up. I had blown out both my knees on the Iditabike back in the late 80’s and, when stressed, they periodically flare up. I knew I should slow my pace but, being the shortest day of the year, I really had no choice but to press on.

I collected my first cameras from the valley floor and started my way up a steeper-than-I-remembered mountain. The going was tough on both Karma and I as she was icing up on her paws and I was falling down on my butt – owing to the steepness of the terrain and the deep snow which hid all types of obstacles below. But it was a good hike and I enjoyed being out in an area with no other humanoid tracks. Deer were plentiful in the area and I kept an eye out for wolf tracks as I was hopeful to catch a wolf or two on my cameras. The wolf tracks I did find were about a day old but you could see where they were covering a lot of area in their search for deer.

By the time I had reached the top of the mountain, the weak light was fading fast. I knew I was not going to make it back at my scheduled time so I sent a text out on my cell to Raven. There is no cell service in this area, but periodically, you can hit a bounce and your phone should send the message when service is established. I took a good drink of water, ate a couple of chocolates to get my sugar levels up, and gave Karma a couple of biscuits to help her along as well. I then set out at a better pace down an old skid trail which offered the safest, if not most direct route, off of the mountain.

Reaching the foot of the mountain, the light was long gone and a dark 3K of hiking was in front of us. Fortunately the valley floor is relatively flat and open and with a couple of short-cuts I knew it was only an hour or so to the car. Karma was starting to tire as her feet were giving her more trouble and she would often lie down to chew the ice-balls from her toes. We crossed through an open meadow and were approaching a thick, dark, forested stretch and I thought I should stop and find my headlamp before making my way through an area where one stands a good chance of getting “poked-in-the-eye-with-a-sharp-stick.”

I searched through my pack and found a great variety of things, but my headlamp was nowhere to be found. I seemed to recall a similar lamp sitting on my desk back home and cursing my luck I started to repack all of my gear which I had heaped up on the snow in front of me. It was then I heard them. Back behind, maybe a kilometer or so, a pair of wolves howled long, low, and eerily. The hairs on the back of my neck crawled. I stuffed my pack with greater urgency.

The pair howled again as in some haunting duet.

“Were they closer?”

“Of course they were!” My over-active imagination immediately saw them gathering the troops for the attack.

Just as I buckled down my pack – a third wolf howled, this time about 300M away and slightly ahead and above us on a small hillside. The further wolves sounded again, and this time it wasn’t my imagination, they were closer. It is amazing how much more energy one has when one is in the company of flesh-eaters. Especially when one’s own flesh might be the meal-de-jour.

Now I know that statistically your chances of being eaten by wolves is so ridiculously low that it is hardly worth thinking about. I know that. The primeval part of my brain that is in charge of keeping me alive doesn’t know that and it was pumping a good deal of adrenaline into my legs and I was amazed at how our pace had picked up.

The pack followed us along with an occasional howl – and I am sure it was to say “Screw the high-cholesterol – I’m going to eat the fat guy!” Consequently Karma and I made it out in record time.

We were not eaten, nor were we ever in any real danger of being eaten. It was great though to go through something like that where your only focus is, in the words of that great 70s disco song, “Staying alive, staying alive, oooh, ooooh, oooh, aaah staying alive. . .”



2 Responses

  1. Dawn Koch

    Great read. Glad you put in everything including the bum knees as it makes it real for all. Good promo for SAR as you are right not enough are prepared.