DAY 8 – Sunday 28th Feb
-45º incl wind chill
The first flight flew to Herschel island at about midday. When we arrived there were very high winds and it was very cold – the snow was airborne about waist height. So we picketed the dogs straight away, unloaded the aircraft and it took off again. Then the first thing we had to do was to re-stake out the dogs round the back of the building out of the wind, to allow space for the dogs coming in on the next flight.
There is a really nice comfortable hut on Herschel which we have been given permission to use by the HTC. (Hunters and Trappers Association)
The 2nd flight out had a mechanical problem and couldn’t get back in till about 6pm by which time the wind had dropped a bit so we managed to feed the dogs and get the place warm, so that was all a big relief.
DAY 9 – Monday 29th Feb
– 30ºC + -15ºC wind chill = – 45ºC
Strong breeze, sunny clear sky and we sledged all the way down the side of Herschel Island and Pauline Cove, into the channel between the mainland & HI and along the sea ice, 15 miles to the delta. We kept drifting a bit far west and lost a couple of miles. Pretty nasty overflow through the shallows which means running water on top of the ice, this freezes onto the rails of the sledge and onto the dogs legs so each time we run through it we have to stop, hack the ice off the sledge with an axe, try and get the dogs as free from the ice as possible and keep going. If we hit another slushy patch we have to repeat the whole manoeuvre. Monday night we camped in the open.
DAY 10 – Tuesday 1st March
The wind dropped in the night but it snowed all day till about 3.00pm, visibility was very poor. We set off and I used a compass bearing to correct our direction to get to the Firth mouth. It is always a bit hairy just going on a compass bearing, as you don’t know where you are, but anyway we found the mouth of the Firth and just as we could see it in the distance Graham’s sledge handle broke, that took ½ an hour to fix.
We had a good run on frozen overflow and glare ice (hard ice) the dogs sliding around and the sledges all over the place, but then we hit some really bad overflow for 2 hours, up to our knees in water. My sledge got turned over into the water, everything got wet but we managed to move on through the overflow and then we camped about 20 mins later by the side of the river which was a slightly elevated point a couple of feet above it. The overflow was coming down river as well and was creeping towards us getting to within 1 ½ m of our camp and dogs!
Cold, wet and very miserable, everything soaking, we had no fire or water.
DAY 11 – Wednesday 2nd March
– 30ºC all day
Clear and sunny but as we were in a canyon the sun didn’t come through till later. We had to wait all day for the overflow up river to freeze so that we could run on it and we couldn’t go back because of the overflow below us. We had a miserable time, very cold camping in an open area with no shelter and everything was still wet with no chance of drying anything.
DAY 12 – Thursday 3rd March
We set off, it takes about 3 hours to break camp. We came across a lot of hollow ice, then we had a very good run on flat ice to Sheeps Creek, the ice breaking, cracking and groaning under us was a bit alarming! The hollow ice is a real problem, it is where there is a hole in the ice to the running river and rapids underneath, it took us 3 hours to get through. We had been wet since Tuesday and by Thursday, after three very hard days, we were exhausted and dangerously cold.
DAY 13 – Friday 4th March
We had a beautiful run down to Sheeps Creek where there is a rangers hut. Our boots and clothes were still soaking wet so we stayed here for 24 hours to dry out. The only heat we had in the hut was our little Primus stoves which heat the water for our food and drink, and for the dogs. The boots took a whole night to unfreeze. You have to hold the frozen boot over the Primus stove for five mins just to be able to melt the ice enough to get the liner out. We used bin liners over our socks to keep them reasonably dry.
Sheeps Creek is staggering beautiful. Suddenly the dogs started howling then stopped and across the valley wolves howled back.
DAY 14 – Saturday 5th March
We will head out 50 miles to the border, feeling very positive. Have now got 2 sets of dry clothes, one on us and one in the bag. It should be 3 1/2 days to the Alaska/Canada border. Been hell getting this far but we knew this part of the trail would be very difficult.