In a word . . . unusual.
Extreme Weather -
We were terribly warm in January, which can usually be our coldest month. Then came February and I learned a new term – Polar Vortex. We used to just call it an Arctic Cold Front, but a Polar Vortex sounds much more exciting and sexy. Usually, we can get C-O-L-D for a couple of nights and then warm back up to our typical winter temperatures of -20 C at night and -10 C during the day. Perfect winter conditions. Not in February. Back-to-back COLD fronts hit us and put us into the deep freeze for most of the month. Wind chills in the -40 C to -50 C range . . . and a balmy high of -30 C when protected by trees and mountains. It was the kind of cold that freezes exposed skin . . . that had me up every 2 hours for many nights stoking the cook stove and putting fresh Coleman lanterns in the generator box . . . that makes the snow really loud when you walk on it . . . that makes -20 C feel like a heat wave . . . that makes you consider moving to Florida. On the bright side, we did fare better than the prairies – and those brave souls have my sympathies – and the stars were absolutely brilliant!
Extreme(ly) . . . STUCK -
Two of our guests, who will remain un-named to protect the innocent (Joe, you are not innocent), decided to check out Rock Lake before making the drive home. Imagine my surprise when two very frosted folks came into the cook house late in the afternoon. ‘Oh dear . . . where – and how badly – are you stuck?’ Joe put up his hands in surrender ‘It’s all my fault.’ Joe’s long-suffering wife is silent and trying to thaw by the cook stove. It’s a 14-km hike from the lake to the cabins and the temperature was somewhere below -30 C with the wind chill . . . So Joe calls a relative/friend in Edmonton to make the 4-hr drive out to rescue them. And I’m thinking . . . hang on, that seems rather extreme . . . we have two 4×4 pickups up here and I have chains . . . surely we can get you out? So I crank up the generator because my pickup hadn’t been plugged in during the cold snap (and, NO, it won’t start) and jump our repeat guests Paul and Cheryl out of their reverie in the cabin to come out on an adventure with their brand new 4×4 pickup. Meanwhile, Nick and Ella return from town with supplies for Ella to make traditional borscht. Nick is coerced into joining the fun and Ella is abandoned in the cook house. It might have been prudent to show Ella how to light the Coleman lantern . . . or turn on the generator . . . or to maybe come get us if we’re not back by dark . . .
Joe’s Ford Escape is stuck in the Equestrian Overflow at Rock Lake. What on earth possessed you to drive in there?? Well, I thought . . . My first misgivings happened when we turned at the T-junction between the Rock Lake Road and the Overflow. The snowpack did not feel solid. Debated – briefly – whether I should stop and tell Paul to park his truck at the junction on good snow. Didn’t. Hind-sight is always 20-20. Plowed on until I could reach Joe’s car with the sling. My first few attempts at popping him out were showing progress . . . then I slipped off the pack. No worries, I’ll just put the chains on . . . which, really, should be done before one gets stuck. Well, I thought . . . that the snow wasn’t that DEEP . . . that chains make you invincible – which may be true unless you dig clean through the pack with the chains, hit sugar snow and high center . . . and that, surely, our back-up pickup could pull me out.
At dim-thirty, we had all 3 vehicles stuck and I was miserably contemplating having to make the 14-km hike back to the cabins . . . in the dark with no headlamp, somewhere below -30 C, and lots of fresh cougar track. I can ‘hear’ Chris shaking his head. However, solely due to Siberian expertise and inventive use of firewood, Nick was able to get Paul and Cheryl’s pickup back on the (relatively) good snowpack. It was a little challenging for Paul to back up from the Overflow to the T-junction on bad snowpack, but he did an outstanding job. All 6 of us – after convincing Cheryl that she could NOT ride in the bed – crammed into the pickup for the trip back to the cabins.
Poor Ella – sitting all alone in the cook house, in the dark and likely worrying. Ella’s borscht was soooo wonderful! Warmed up frozen bodies right to the toes! Joe’s long-suffering wife said ‘I still love you, Joe’.
A week later, with balmy temperatures that made the Polar Vortex seem like a bad dream, Joe and his friend Martin returned with a Bobcat to clear the road and retrieve the vehicles. Roberta and Cara, repeat guests for the weekend, skied down to Rock Lake to watch the proceedings and drive my (not stuck) Ford Escape back to the cabins. A few hours later, and after digging out all that firewood firmly jammed under my differential and axles (everywhere except under my tires!), Joe pulled my pickup free. Only a short time later, Joe and Martin drove his now unstuck Escape up to the cabins to let me know before they headed back to the city. WELL DONE!!
Other News and More Unusual Weather -
March has now arrived with unseasonably warm temperatures – we’ve hit double digits for the past few days! The snow has gone from powder to sticky, making skiing seem more like ‘shoeing with extra weight attached to your skis. Repeated snow squalls on Sunday caused whiteout conditions and a few more inches of wet snow (rapidly melting).
A flock of White-winged Crossbills came in a few days ago, after an absence of several years. I normally only see them in the fall after the spruce produce a cone crop. They seem to primarily be interested in picking up gravel, although we did have a bountiful spruce cone eruption last year. The owls have been silent, which is unusual as they normally start their breeding season between mid-February and mid-March and are quite vocal at that time. Maybe it’s only the Pine Siskins and Chickadees that sing so cheerily while they’re freezing their patutees off?
Still lots of cougar track and wolves are making their presence known (causing absolute bedlam with Molly and Leo on my bed in the middle of the night!). I saw a lone coyote (partner may have been in the bush) on the Rock Lake Road at the bottom of my trail on my way to town on Monday. On my way home, a Mule Deer was running down the middle of the Rock Lake Road – oblivious to the fact that my car was stopped directly in her path. I thought for a moment that I might have a hard time explaining to the insurance company how a line of hoof dents over the top of my vehicle happened . . . But, no, she skidded to a halt about 10 ft before becoming a new hood ornament, stared in confusion (I think) at the obstacle in her way, then did an about-face and the uniquely mule-deer-sproings in the opposite direction.
When we stared at each other for those brief heart-beats, I noticed her tongue was hanging out. . . . She was running and had been for some time. Which predator?
The Rock Lake Road and my 3-km trail were plowed on Monday. Thanks Manitok! I won’t be taking on guests now for another week so I can catch up on things . . . like SLEEP, bucking up and splitting wood for the cook house, and the myriad of other chores that make for ‘never a dull moment’.
Until next time, and before one gets too old to enjoy it . . . Happy Trails!