Sunday, June 14, 2009

Misadventures in Bush...

I was looking through my photos trying to organize them. I was reminded of one of my misadventures. Enough time has passed and I think the scars have healed. So I will tell the tail that has to be told...It was in early December and I had a sheep tag that needed to be filled. My Buddy Todd and I planned a two day trip which would take us over a couple of hundred miles into the Baird Mountains or so we hoped.

As we were putting our gear together and making the final preparations we got a couple of conflicting opinions about the way that we should go. One " from a local friend of ours" said that we should go up the Noatak because there was not enough snow to cover the tundra. Our other friend "a certain game warden" said we should cut across to the Noatak by using a short cut. He said "oh there is a marked trail all the way there." So we decided to follow the latter advice and set out on our expedition. We followed the trail for 15 miles or so and then as if snow elf magic they all disappeared. So we stopped...scratched our heads...looked at the map...decided we could pick our way through the hills. We did a good job of it...and then we got back to the Noatak river...almost. We stopped at a steep embankment that looked down over the river. It was about 50 feet down. We looked left...looked right... the terrain did not look any better. We walked down the river looking for a better way down. We found one shoot that looked like our best bet. We sat around for the next 45 minutes or so. Jumping up and down on the little cornice and debating who would be dumb enough to go first. Somehow I won the dumb guy draw. I sat at the top of my snow machine looking at the cornice that had formed on the lip of the cliff that dropped down at a 90 degree angle and then curved to the basin below like a ski jump. It was very hard like concrete. As I got right to the edge I realized that the drop was a little more severe that I had planned. I edged inch by inch out and then...whoosh down and smooth I was riding on one of those water rides at Disney Land. I stopped at the bottom with no problem. Then Todd's turn. It took a little coaxing but at last he came down and the sled that he was pulling didn't even land on his head!!. Wow...What a long time to get where we were. We had traveled about 60 miles but it took all day to do it. We decided to look for a place to camp. We went up a little side creek and found a nice little place away from the main river. It was getting colder. and darker...We decided to break out the Arctic Oven tent that a friend of ours let us borrow. We pulled it out of this huge box and started to set it up. We got it up and it looked good. An Arctic oven Our friend that lent us the tent had a couple of presto logs that he let us have. They burn for about 3 hours each. If we broke them in half so they would fit in the stove they would allow we figured 12 hours of heat. So we broke them in half and got the stove going. We set up our camp and bedded down for the night. It quickly started to get warm. We took a thermometer out and it read 82 degrees at the top of the tent. and 33 degrees at the floor...Sweet!. Good night.
Then... At about one in the morning the air started to taste odd....I thought...okay presto logs kind of smell different...Then it got a little hard to breath. I grabbed my flashlight and aimed it at the ceiling..I could barley see the top of the tent. I yelled Todd!!! He hopped out of his bag...I took a deep breath and almost vomited. We lunged out of the tent in nothing but our thermal underwear. Hacking...Coughing...violent retching. When we had caught our breath we opened up the tent. Tried to vent it and then quickly grabbed our clothes and worked at warming up. After we had built a fire "outside" and had gotten comfortable.Then it was time to work on finding out what was wrong with the stove. I grabbed my gloves that had leather palms.The plan was to remove the stove from the tent so that we could clean it out. I tried to pull the stove pipe apart. It was a very tight fit...and then it came apart. Oxygen rushed into the stove and like a giant blowtorch... fire shot from the pipe still connected to the stove. I slammed the loose piece of pipe perpendicular over the bazooka of flames. Todd and I stood there not knowing what to do. Then we had the idea that since I had the leather gloves...Todd was going to hold the pipe and at the count of three I was going to throw the entire stove outside of the tent. We got into the respective positions...One...Two...Three. I am sure that looking at the tent from afar it was a spectacular sight as the ball of fire exploded out onto the snow. Things calmed down after that. We inspected the stove and found out that the presto log had not burned cleanly. They were mainly made out of creosote and the unburned goo coated the inside of the pipe and plugged the spark arrestor at the top of the chimney and caused all the poisons to back up inside of the tent...So we tried it again we got back into our sleeping bags...started it up and shortly discovered that it was just not going to work...Now it is 25 below zero out and I am not happy about getting back outside of the tent. Again we cleaned the stove out and this time we decide that we must go gather wood. So out into the cold and very dark woods and brush did I go and man...trying to cut frozen trees down with a little pack saw is not my favorite memory. Well, we got enough wood to try it again. But alas the wood would burn so quickly that we had to keep stoking it every 20 minutes or so....thus a very long cold night.
We awoke in the morning. Packed up the best we could and headed up river. Although it was still close to 20 below zero we soon came upon a lot of open water. We looked toward the mountains where the sheep were I felt in my heart that if we were to go up into the mountains that day we were not going to come home. I talked to Todd and we decided that we had tempted fate enough and it was time to go home...I thank Heavenly Father for protecting to hunt another day.

Trying to warm up after our near death experience.

Cold and Dark

Looking up at the top of the tent at our make shift drying lines

The infamous stove...before it attacked us