Okay so this title is a little misleading. Neither of us have long-term frostbite nor did we flip a snowmobile… entirely. It is an interesting story nonetheless. I was kind of waiting for Suzanne to tell the story since she did all the driving… or is it piloting(?)… who knows. Anyways, she’s being somewhat blog anti-social at the moment so I am here to tell the very short yet utterly enjoyable tale of our second snow mobile excursion.
For those unfamiliar with our first outing on a snow mobile you can delve back into our short history and check it out for yourself. Back then I was relatively new to the whole Arctic cold thing. The deceptively warm weather up here had us dressing very light for the first couple of months. I really didn’t anticipate how cold it could get on a snow mobile during a relatively balmy arctic afternoon. I had my Light Recon outfit with a scarf and thought that would do the trick (…I’ll explain what exactly my Light Recon Outfit is along with other outfits in a future Dressing in Iqaluit post). Let’s just say an hour into our ride in -40c wind chill I got shown how wrong that outfit was. Chilled to the bone, a faucet for a nose and nursing some minor facial frostbite I quickly learned that if I intended to get on a snow mobile again, I’d need to rethink my strategy and take the weather more seriously.
I mean heck, we got that expensive gear for reason right?
My opportunity at redemption came two weeks ago when Suzanne’s manager once again invited us out for a snowmobile outing. Several people were supposed it be in attendance this time and we were to travel across the sea ice to Katannilik Territorial Park.
…travel across sea ice…
This troubled me at first. After all I am the man who fears open water so why not drive heavy machinery over frozen water, right? Despite this blinding fear I was jazzed at the prospect of doing something I could never have predicted I’d ever do. Let’s just say Suzanne’s enthusiasm put mine to shame. While we were extremely excited about doing it, some very serious concerns put doubt in our minds. Besides the whole n00bish fear of falling through the ice we had some really grounded concerns about things like out lack of proper equipment (i.e. wind resistant pants) and Suzanne’s insulin pump. The trip was going to be an all day adventure slated for a 9am departure with us returning around sundown (which would be around 5pm). When we first went out on a snow mobile months ago the weather was unseasonably warm but since then it’s been on average -27c daily with some nasty wind chills on some days. Driving into those wind chills at 30 – 40km makes for a very serious situation if you’re not properly dressed. Layering is all well and fine but if you don’t have something to cut that wind it’s pointless.
Then there was the insulin pump. We’ve seen the effect of the bitter cold on electronics. Batteries get killed in minutes in the extreme cold not to mention she has an exposed tubing for the pump. Even though she intended to bring her insulin pen along, even that wasn’t a guarantee. At these temperatures it would freeze as well. The night before we were scheduled to go we pretty much talked ourselves into not going. Better to be safe than sorry was our reasoning. We figured there would be plenty of opportunities to do such things in the future.
The next day we find out that everyone else (except for her manager) dropped out and it was only him still heading out. Cue crisis of conscience. We felt rotten that everyone bailed and that he’d be going out all alone. It’s not that he can’t handle himself. He’s been out here doing this for years. We felt bad that everyone ditched the trip so at zero hour we decided to take our chances and go with him. We layered up, donned the bears (aka the Resolutes) and psyched ourselves up for the journey. Armed with a pair of snow mobiles, supplies, a rifle and a qamutik we set out towards Katannilik.
I have to say driving across sea ice is an experience that’s extremely hard to describe with just words. The day was cold but it was clear and sunny. You could see for miles. It’s kinda mind boggling thinking about it – driving across the inlet with about 25ft of ice between you and the water below. I have yet to drive an actual snow mobile. I’ve always been the passenger. Suzanne figures the guy nicknamed “Mr. Bump” shouldn’t be at the helm until our medical coverage is straight. It’s all good though. Sitting back and enjoying the scenery is a treat I wouldn’t pass up for anything. It’s amazingly quiet out there when the engines aren’t roaring. I’m talking pin-drop quiet.
By the time we reached Cabin One the cold was starting to get to me. Suzanne and Mark seemed fine but my hands and toes were feeling quite numb. I didn’t understand why. I was dressed as well as I could. I had 2 pairs of wool sockets on in addition to my -60c rated Sorels but as we sat there in the cold little hut, I could feel my toes taking a nap. We sipped some hot tea Mark brought along and munched on some granola bars while he explained to us why I was feeling the way I was. We’d been riding for quite a while; something like an hour or so. When you’re not moving as much your heart rate drops and therefore your circulation slows. He told me I needed to get up and run around a bit to get the blood flowing and I’d be fine.
Naturally I doubted this because I’m ignorant to logic sometimes but I followed suit and went outside and ran around for a bit. Sure enough once my heart rate got up my fingers and toes warmed up immediately. It was magic. Suzanne discovered that her pump had frozen during the trip despite being inside her parka. I should clarify and say that her tubing froze, much like my iPod buds do whenever I go out. Basically the insulin froze in the tubing. So rather than risk any further damage to the pump, she shut it down. Unfortunately he pen insulin was frozen as well. While this didn’t pose any immediate danger, we couldn’t be out gallivanting for hours on end. Besides, I had tweaked my knee when I got off the snow mobile earlier so I wasn’t against packing it in a little earlier anyway. Nevertheless we stowed our gear back into the qamutik pressed forward towards Cabin Two.
That’s when disaster struck.
Okay so it wasn’t disaster but it was a fail nonetheless. While trying to ascend the mountain Suzanne couldn’t quite hit the angle she wanted and we veered a bit off course. The rig we were on was very top-heavy so naturally once we got parallel to the mountain we started to tip. No amount of leaning we did could have saved us. It felt like we crashed in slow motion but once the back of my head smashed into the icy snow I realized it was a legit fall. Thankfully the snow mobile didn’t roll. It kind of keeled over like a lame horse. Both Suzanne and I pushed off from it when we felt it tipping so we fell a few feet away from it. We were on the side of a mountain though so momentum times gravity made the fall feel worse than it was. According to Suzanne she was yelling at me for a few seconds trying to find out if I was okay. I honestly don’t even recall it. My bell was rung and I had that nasty salty taste of blood in my mouth. After a few minutes of waging war with the evil forces of gravity we managed to get our bearings. No serious damage done.
Mark swung around and made sure we were okay. After flipping the beast right side up once again we decided that was the monkey that broke the camel’s back (or however that saying goes) and started to head back home. Suzanne’s confidence was a bit rocked but Mark and I kept reassuring her it’s what happens. Everyone flips a snowmobile at some point. That didn’t stop daredevil Suzanne from catching some air off of about a 10 foot hill with me clinging for dear life behind her. As we started to reach the choppy shoreline Mark got his snow mobile wedged in a gully so we had to spend some time trying to jimmy it free. Suzanne was still a little leery about tackling some of the hilly crests that we had to cross in order to get to the flatter open water so she let Mark go at it.
He too managed to flip the snow mobile as well which brought some semblance of comfort to Suzanne knowing that even a pro like him can fall victim to it. That provided a prime opportunity to take some pictures of course. Bear in mind Suzanne’s camera has a cracked LCD screen so there’s no way of gauging what you’re shooting or how it’ll turn out. I have to say these pictures turned out quite well if I do say so myself…
We had a blisteringly cold ride back to Iqaluit and got home roughly around 4:30pm. We had spent a whopping 6hrs out in the boonies. Not bad for people who weren’t completely prepared. We bore the war wounds of a nice day of activity. Our fingers were somewhat frostbitten and we were achy like a first day at the gym but after a couple of days of taking it easy we were back to full speed… for the most part. In the end it was an experience that’ll last a lifetime. I’m sure locals and long time residents may not see it that way but for two n00bs from the south it was awesome. Can’t wait till the next road trip.
Note to self… next time get the heat packs going before you leave not while you’re out there. ;p