Posts Tagged ‘fur trapping’
While randomly passing by somewhere today I smelled my Gramp’s old garage and a wave of nostalgia washed over me. I’m not sure how one would even describe it to someone and come close to getting it right. How do you describe a combination of fresh air, cigarette smoke, firewood, gunpowder, whiskey,chain saws, deer meat, gardening tools, work boots, and wood smoke combined and steeped in lots and lots of time. I’ve read that smell can be a strong trigger for memory, and I instantly remembered poring over old pictures, listening to stories, shooting guns, looking for deer, fishing…but most of all I remembered wanting to be here…in Maine. Exploring whats around the next bend in the river or the next rise of the trail. Jumping at the explosion of the flushing grouse. Throwing out a lure and seeing the line instantly tighten with a fish.
Centerfolds from Playboy magazine hung on the walls as did the names and dates of his friends who had passed. In those days in Maine drinking during the day was an accepted practice, and the estate caretakers and gardeners would often congregate at Gramps garage for a drink at 9 am which was morning break. I would sit with them, a child some 60 years their junior and listen to all their stories, taking everything in. Ted Donnell, Clyde Carter, David Hyde, Tony Hamor, Elmer Green, Hap Haskell, Waldo Damon, Donald Bryant, Ralph Young, and Hughie Wright were part of the crew that would visit his garage. As I sit here today I can still hear and see them in my mind. Before 9 am Gramp would say he was having “apple juice” but after 9 he would call it a snort. You can read more about Gramp here.
I’m not religious but I always had a deep respect for how our town’s minister handled funerals. When Gramp died he took the time to grieve with us and learn some of Gramps stories and special quirks. The minister knew of Gramps garage, and after the funeral quietly handed my mother a piece of paper with a quote from Frederick Buechner.
Only God is Holy, just as only people are human. God’s holiness is God’s Godness. To speak anything else as holy is to say that it has something of God’s mark upon it. Times, places, things, and people can all be holy, and when they are, they are usually not hard to recognize.
One holy place I know is a workshop attached to a barn. There is a wood-burning stove in it made out of an oil-drum. There is a workbench, dark and dented, with shallow, crammed drawers behind one of which a cat lives. There is a girlie calendar on the wall, plus various lengths of chain and rope, shovels and rakes of different sizes and shapes, some worn-out jackets and caps on pegs, an electric clock that doesn’t keep time. On the workbench are two small plug-in radios both of which have serious things wrong with them. There are several metal boxes full of wrenches and a bench saw. There are a couple of chairs with rungs missing. The place smells mainly of engine oil and smoke–both of wood smoke and pipe smoke. The windows are small, even on bright days what light there is comes through mainly in window-sized patches on the floor.
I have no idea why this place is holy, but you can tell it is the moment you set foot in it if you have an eye for that kind of thing. For reasons known only to God, it is one place God uses for sending God’s love through.
Frederick Buechner’s Beyond Words, p. 156
A poem by Robert Service
And when I come to the dim trail-end,
I who have been Life’s rover,
This is all I would ask, my friend,
Over and over and over:
A little space on a stony hill
With never another near me,
Sky o’ the North that’s vast and still,
With a single star to cheer me;
Star that gleams on a moss-gray stone
Graven by those who love me –
There would I lie alone, alone,
With a single pine above me;
Pine that the north wind whinnies through –
Oh, I have been Life’s rover!
But there I’d lie and listen to
Eternity passing over.
A poem written by Robert Service.
There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.
If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.
And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.
He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.
Robert Service – 1874 – 1958
Another one of my favorite Robert Service poems;
There was Claw-fingered Kitty and Windy Ike living the life of shame,
When unto them in the Long, Long Night came the man-who-had-no-name;
Bearing his prize of a black fox pelt, out of the Wild he came.
His cheeks were blanched as the flume-head foam when the brown spring freshets flow;
Deep in their dark, sin-calcined pits were his sombre eyes aglow;
They knew him far for the fitful man who spat forth blood on the snow.
“Did ever you see such a skin?” quoth he; “there’s nought in the world so fine–
Such fullness of fur as black as the night, such lustre, such size, such shine;
It’s life to a one-lunged man like me; it’s London, it’s women, it’s wine.
“The Moose-hides called it the devil-fox, and swore that no man could kill;
That he who hunted it, soon or late, must surely suffer some ill;
But I laughed at them and their old squaw-tales.
Ha! Ha! I’m laughing still.
“For look ye, the skin–it’s as smooth as sin, and black as the core of the Pit.
By gun or by trap, whatever the hap, I swore I would capture it;
By star and by star afield and afar, I hunted and would not quit.
“For the devil-fox, it was swift and sly, and it seemed to fleer at me;
I would wake in fright by the camp-fire light, hearing its evil glee;
Into my dream its eyes would gleam, and its shadow would I see.
“It sniffed and ran from the ptarmigan I had poisoned to excess;
Unharmed it sped from my wrathful lead (’twas as if I shot by guess);
Yet it came by night in the stark moonlight to mock at my weariness.
“I tracked it up where the mountains hunch like the vertebrae of the world;
I tracked it down to the death-still pits where the avalanche is hurled;
From the glooms to the sacerdotal snows, where the carded clouds are curled.
“From the vastitudes where the world protrudes through clouds like seas up-shoaled,
I held its track till it led me back to the land I had left of old–
The land I had looted many moons. I was weary and sick and cold.
“I was sick, soul-sick, of the futile chase, and there and then I swore
The foul fiend fox might scathless go, for I would hunt no more;
Then I rubbed mine eyes in a vast surprise–it stood by my cabin door.
“A rifle raised in the wraith-like gloom, and a vengeful shot that sped;
A howl that would thrill a cream-faced corpse–and the demon fox lay dead. . . .
Yet there was never a sign of wound, and never a drop he bled.
“So that was the end of the great black fox, and here is the prize I’ve won;
And now for a drink to cheer me up–I’ve mushed since the early sun;
We’ll drink a toast to the sorry ghost of the fox whose race is run.”
Now Claw-fingered Kitty and Windy Ike, bad as the worst were they;
In their road-house down by the river-trail they waited and watched for prey;
With wine and song they joyed night long, and they slept like swine by day.
For things were done in the Midnight Sun that no tongue will ever tell;
And men there be who walk earth-free, but whose names are writ in hell–
Are writ in flames with the guilty names of Fournier and Labelle.
Put not your trust in a poke of dust would ye sleep the sleep of sin;
For there be those who would rob your clothes ere yet the dawn comes in;
And a prize likewise in a woman’s eyes is a peerless black fox skin.
Put your faith in the mountain cat if you lie within his lair;
Trust the fangs of the mother-wolf, and the claws of the lead-ripped bear;
But oh, of the wiles and the gold-tooth smiles of a dance-hall wench beware!
Wherefore it was beyond all laws that lusts of man restrain,
A man drank deep and sank to sleep never to wake again;
And the Yukon swallowed through a hole the cold corpse of the slain.
The black fox skin a shadow cast from the roof nigh to the floor;
And sleek it seemed and soft it gleamed, and the woman stroked it o’er;
And the man stood by with a brooding eye, and gnashed his teeth and swore.
When thieves and thugs fall out and fight there’s fell arrears to pay;
And soon or late sin meets its fate, and so it fell one day
That Claw-fingered Kitty and Windy Ike fanged up like dogs at bay.
“The skin is mine, all mine,” she cried; “I did the deed alone.”
“It’s share and share with a guilt-yoked pair”, he hissed in a pregnant tone;
And so they snarled like malamutes over a mildewed bone.
And so they fought, by fear untaught, till haply it befell
One dawn of day she slipped away to Dawson town to sell
The fruit of sin, this black fox skin that had made their lives a hell.
She slipped away as still he lay, she clutched the wondrous fur;
Her pulses beat, her foot was fleet, her fear was as a spur;
She laughed with glee, she did not see him rise and follow her.
The bluffs uprear and grimly peer far over Dawson town;
They see its lights a blaze o’ nights and harshly they look down;
They mock the plan and plot of man with grim, ironic frown.
The trail was steep; ’twas at the time when swiftly sinks the snow;
All honey-combed, the river ice was rotting down below;
The river chafed beneath its rind with many a mighty throe.
And up the swift and oozy drift a woman climbed in fear,
Clutching to her a black fox fur as if she held it dear;
And hard she pressed it to her breast–then Windy Ike drew near.
She made no moan–her heart was stone–she read his smiling face,
And like a dream flashed all her life’s dark horror and disgrace;
A moment only–with a snarl he hurled her into space.
She rolled for nigh an hundred feet; she bounded like a ball;
From crag to crag she carromed down through snow and timber fall; . . .
A hole gaped in the river ice; the spray flashed–that was all.
A bird sang for the joy of spring, so piercing sweet and frail;
And blinding bright the land was dight in gay and glittering mail;
And with a wondrous black fox skin a man slid down the trail.
A wedge-faced man there was who ran along the river bank,
Who stumbled through each drift and slough, and ever slipped and sank,
And ever cursed his Maker’s name, and ever “hooch” he drank.
He travelled like a hunted thing, hard harried, sore distrest;
The old grandmother moon crept out from her cloud-quilted nest;
The aged mountains mocked at him in their primeval rest.
Grim shadows diapered the snow; the air was strangely mild;
The valley’s girth was dumb with mirth, the laughter of the wild;
The still, sardonic laughter of an ogre o’er a child.
The river writhed beneath the ice; it groaned like one in pain,
And yawning chasms opened wide, and closed and yawned again;
And sheets of silver heaved on high until they split in twain.
From out the road-house by the trail they saw a man afar
Make for the narrow river-reach where the swift cross-currents are;
Where, frail and worn, the ice is torn and the angry waters jar.
But they did not see him crash and sink into the icy flow;
They did not see him clinging there, gripped by the undertow,
Clawing with bleeding finger-nails at the jagged ice and snow.
They found a note beside the hole where he had stumbled in:
“Here met his fate by evil luck a man who lived in sin,
And to the one who loves me least I leave this black fox skin.”
And strange it is; for, though they searched the river all around,
No trace or sign of black fox skin was ever after found;
Though one man said he saw the tread of HOOFS deep in the ground.
All my life people have been telling me you shouldn’t travel alone. But it’s interesting; I’ve never been told that by anybody who’s ever done it. - Bill Mason
Years ago there was a large tract of land that I liked to hunt – I liked it in part because it was bordered on all sides by woods roads, so one could effectively never take a wrong turn, as long as you could walk in a straight line, you would eventually find your way out. It allowed me to wander rather aimlessly without having to worry about sense of direction. However, I began to notice that invariably I would walk past the same places each time I was there. Deliberately I would enter through a different location each time, and yet once my mind wandered a bit I would begin noticing the same areas once again, which taught me about funneling. There are lots of studies and evidence that says in the absence of sun, landmarks, blindfolded, or in darkness people have a tendency to walk in circles, and while that may be true (I have certainly experienced that on a boat in the fog) I believe that if you turn someone loose in a vast tract of wilderness, they tend to walk along “funnels”. And wildlife do the same thing – which is why there are typically particular “crossings” where you tend to see the most wildlife.
When I asked a friend of mine who has professionally trapped marten for much of his life how I could spot a crossing or funnel his answer was that he couldn’t describe it to me, but he could show it to me. His journals show that the landscape naturally lends itself to certain routes of travel, and that these routes have held true over many years, even if areas were logged. There is a good story that he tells; he will sometimes take out of state people out on the trapline so they can experience what it is like, and one time he had a fellow from New Jersey riding with him, who said that he wanted to chose the spot where they next put in a set. Jerry said no problem, and in short order the guest said that he wanted to stop and make a set. He asked Jerry if he thought it was a good spot, and Jerry said that it wasn’t, but the guest said he wanted to set it anyway, and they did. Jerry, with a caveat to the listener that he was just having fun with the guy at this point, drove 200 yards down the road and said “this is the spot”, and set the location. And sure enough, when checking the sets the next day, Jerry’s spot produced a double of marten, a mere 200 yards from where the guest placed his sets, and upon this discovery the guest said that never again would he ever doubt Jerry’s word. And that’s how legends are formed. It’s interesting that if you walk a certain stretch of woods each day, you begin to notice the subtle changes that happen – bent grass or perhaps a bit of fur on a branch that wasn’t there the day before. I think our ancestors were much more in tune with the world, and used the natural lay of the land for ease of travel before the days of epirbs, cell phones, gps, or even compasses. That’s why the Native American names for places were much more meaningful than those of today – such as Passadumkeag, which means above the gravel bar, and describes the section of the Penobscot River where it meets the Passadumkeag river. And wildlife know them too – I came across an otter track once in the middle of nowhere, far from any source of water. I took a couple of days and followed it in both directions, finding the water where it came from, and where it was heading too, a distance of some 10 miles apart. I think the old ways of the woodsmen are somewhat lost today – being able to extricate yourself from any sort of situation, knowing where you are, and relating that to the surrounding country around you. I enjoyed seeing the old barely discernable marks on the trees whenThe Old Man from the sand pit took me along the old hunting path – a path my Grandfather used, and his grandfather before him. In those days people knew where they were in the woods, much as people today know where they are by what road they are on. It’s just a matter of learning the subtle clues and signs of the path you are traveling.
Despite wanting to keep him indoors, Blackjack the cat attacked and jumped at the doorknob every morning with such fervor, and while some controversy surrounds letting a cat outside ( a friend of mine thinks that you should be required to purchase a hunting license if you let a cat outside) , he seemed to love being outside so much that I acquiesced to his demands and let him outside every day. He was an adopted from the shelter cat, and he had come a long way behavior-wise since coming into my home. Although I had never been particularly fond of cats, he was pretty special, and I had grown accustomed to him sitting on my lap at night kneading with his paws. He was usually there waiting for me each day when I got home, except this particular afternoon, he was not waiting for me. I wasn’t too worried when he didn’t come running after I called, but by dusk I was getting very concerned about his whereabouts. I strapped on the headlamp and followed his usual morning path into the woods. After a short walk of scanning the woods floor, in a little clearing I came across the tale. There were scuff marks in ground, and evidence of a short fight with some tufts of black hair that convinced me of my cat’s fate. Following the bent grass I came across fresh coyote tracks and that further cemented my theory that coyotes had got my cat. Although I know that the coyote was only following his instincts revenge immediately came to mind – an eye for an eye as it were…you took from me, now I will take from you. I thought about it, and decided to set a trap in the woods behind the house beyond where my cat was killed, which is legal here in Maine, and see what happened. Several days of checking went by with nothing happening, until early one morning I awoke to noises out back. I immediately went outside and heard the ticking of the trap pan and knew I had something. The headlamp revealed a huge coyote, which I quickly dispatched. End of story? This is when the story really began to get interesting. Four other coyotes were still in the woods, and were not leaving. About 50 yards out in a semicircle they howled and barked for almost a half hour before finally reluctantly turning back into the woods. I figured by the rukus the others were making I had caught the pack leader as well. Curious, and now intrigued, I threw some large bait out back after it snowed a couple of days later to see if and when they would return. It took two weeks before I saw tracks in the snow and the bait had been dug up and dragged back into the woods. I kept putting bait behind the house and began following the pack – I learned a lot about where they slept and the trails they used around the area, and saw some places that I didn’t know existed out there in the woods. Once January and coyote breeding season arrived I noticed something funny – there were coyote tracks that would come in from a side trail and mingle with the pack for a while before leaving on another side trail. They were big and heavy prints, and looked like a big coyote. One morning a couple of days later, shortly after leaving for work a big blonde coyote ran out in front of me. I decided to be late for work and followed him into the woods for a bit, and the tracks matched the ones I was seeing that were mingling in with the pack. A couple of weeks went by and the pack seemed to have accepted him, his tracks stayed with theirs and stopped leaving and returning, and their catnap beds in the snow returned to five from the four I had being seeing before. It seemed he was now one of there own. Then, one cold night in February I was sitting in my chair having a drink in the evening, when suddenly a coyote howl split the night like an emergency siren. It sounded like it was inside the house it was so loud. I quickly ran to the back door, grabbing my coyote howler on the way and flicked on the back light to reveal that blonde coyote just on the edge of the woods in the backyard looking and howling at the house. Chills ran up my spine as I watched him. I put the call to my lips and howled back. He sat still for a few minutes and with one more mournful howl turned back in to the woods and I never saw him again near the house. In my mind I believe he became the new pack leader that breeding season, and he was telling me the pack and I were even.
Tu es mon compagnon de voyage!
Je veux mourir dans mon canot
Sur le tombeau, près du rivage,
Vous renverserez mon canot!
When I must leave the great river
O bury me close to its wave
And let my canoe and my paddle
Be the only mark over my grave.
Translated by Oliver Call.
I can’t recall for sure where I first came across the book Tales of an Empty Cabin, written by Grey Owl. It was possibly just a random book search. I’m glad I did though, because it is a remarkable book, and extremely well written. Grey Owl’s entire life was a bit of an enigma. The world first heard of him through his writing, and then eventually speeches that he was asked to give. To the world he presented himself as a Native American who had an Apache mother and moved to Canada to join the Ojibwa and first was a wilderness fur trapper, who then turned conservationist. His writing is very pervasive, romantic, and tugs at the heartstrings. For me the pendulum swung the other way – I started out as a conservationist, swung to a trapper, and now things are evening out between the two. Time will tell where that ends up for me. If you choose to read the book, keep in mind the time frame that it was written. In the early 1900’s beaver populations were drastically reduced due to exploitation. With the benefit of conservation laws, seasons, and limits, the beaver population is back with a vengeance. Here in Maine current laws are very liberal for the taking of beaver as the state has a large population. I believe that the ambivalence lies within all who take to the woods to some degree, and the pendulum can swing fast or slow in the process. Certainly reading Grey Owls account of listening to the mate of the beaver they had shot calling out through the night for its mate is very emotional. In the story one of the people in the traveling party kills a beaver, and during the night they hear it’s mate calling out for it. The member of the party sleeping next to Grey Owl asks what that noise is, and Grey Owl dismisses it to him as nothing. But he knows what it is.
Trappers understand animals and their habits more than anybody, and it’s often hard to explain the conundrum of being able to empathize and befriend a creature of the wild whilst running a trapline for another. I guess I can empathize somewhat more with the coyote with mange, or the beaver with mallocclusion. Beaver, like other rodents have teeth that continuously grow, and they need to gnaw to keep them sharp, and the correct length. Mallocclusion is when one becomes out of alignment, or grows past the point where the beaver can gnaw it back, and the creature is left unable to eat, and sometimes the teeth grow long enough to puncture the skull. I’ve seen it.
My favorite story in the book is The Tree. The author describes in great detail the very long life of a tree, from when a squirrel accidentally dropped a nut on the ground, to the deer browsing it’s neighbors, the rabbit eating its bark, and the moose using it for sparring practice. It goes on to describe the native American that visited it, the white man that explored it, and the road coming through that killed it. It is a fantastic story that puts a lot of life and time into perspective for me.
Grey Owl is most famous for his cabin at Ajaawan Lake, where a beaver house was incorporated into the cabin, and he was made Honorary Warden for the protection of the beaver colony. The story is in the book, and is a well regaled account of the daily activities of the beaver, who were allowed to roam the cabin. It is also probably the first case study of its kind on beaver behavior. I love the stories of the beaver tetter-tottering around the cabin on their rear legs carrying mud for the lodge, of how the male would become aggressive and jealous of the author when the female would come into heat, and the stories of chairs and other woodwork being eaten and chewed in the authors absence. It must have been some interesting times, and it is great to be able to share them in the book.
Grey Owl never made it to his 50th birthday. For someone that passed so young, he had an incredible life. After his death, the enigma of his life was discovered. He was born in England in 1888, and had no Native American ties at all, a fraud that dented the conservation movement he had created, but certainly did not change what he did, or his experiences. It’s just who he wanted to be, and what he became.
Here is a video of Grey Owl, his cabin, and the beavers – I wish I could hear the real sounds in the video, the narration is a little cheesy, but the video makes up for it -
And a short video of his cabin and the lake;
And apparently I missed the memo when the movie came out – but one did – I’ll be watching it soon – here is the trailer:
“This book is the story of the Nahanni country in the Northwest Territories of Canada and of an attempt to find the lost gold of that little-known land. The attempt failed, so this must also be the story of a failure – but it was a failure that succeeded in so many other ways that, if life could be entirely filled with such defeats, I for one would never ask for any victory.”
If ever there was a book written about self-reliance, exploration and survival, it is Dangerous River by RM Patterson. In the mid 1920’s Mr. Patterson left a comfortable career as a banker in England to explore the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories of Canada prospecting for gold, and to explore a vast untouched wilderness. Today the river is part of a Canadian National Park, and they run guided raft trips down the amazing river.
What a sight, and life it must have been for RMP. His exploration and description of river life is recanted in very well written detail. He was there for adventure and gold prospecting, and although he didn’t find any gold, he did find lots of adventure exploring, cabin building, wintering over, hunting and trapping. He also was interested in the legends and mysteries of the region. Tales of lost gold and haunted valleys emerged after two headless corpses of prospectors (Willie and Frank McLeod) were found in the region and the legend was bolstered by the mysterious deaths of other prospectors. The McLeod brothers had gone up the river in 1906 in search of gold with a third partner, Bobby Weir whom they had convinced to break his contract with the Hudson Bay company to join them in a search for gold. The trio never came back in the fall, and relatives assumed they were wintering over, and would be back in the spring. When they again did not return, a search party was sent out, and the headless skeletons of the two brothers were discovered. Rumors soon circulated that they had found the mother lode of gold, and had been killed by the other member. No one knows whatever happened to Bobby, but a Native hunting party found a decomposed body a year later about a half a mile away from the brothers bodies. In neither case did the Royal Mounted Police conduct an investigation. Other mysterious deaths followed bolstering the legend of the area. A prospector by the name of Martin Jorgensen was found a few years later beside the burnt remains of his cabin along the Flat River. John O’Brien, a trapper, was found with matches still held in an icy grip next to an unlit campfire, frozen to death, and several others.
Testament to the legends can be found in the names of the regions along the river; Headless Range, Deadmen Valley, Headless Creek, and Funeral Range.
There are three stories within the book that I find fascinating – the first being Hells gate rapid, also known as the figure eight rapid, and the original native translation – the rapid that runs both ways.
As described by RMP;
“The mass of water was hurled clean across the river in a ridge of foaming six foot waves, to split on this point of rock on the right bank, thus forming two whirlpools, the upper and the lower. It would be equally difficult, one could see, to run this rapid either upstream or downstream.”
The author contemplates for a while, puts his gear on shore for fear of losing it in an upset, and then tries to run the rapid that goes both ways. He fails, and tries twice more before coming to terms with the fact that he is not going to make it. So, what does our intrepid banker do next? He takes out his ax, and cuts a portage trail around the rapid, finishes and portages everything by nightfall. I consider myself to be rather persistent about exploring, and finding a way to get where I want to go, but I’ll be damned if I’ve ever hacked out a portage trail with an ax to get around a rapid. RM Patterson is a person of an ilk that isn’t made anymore. He was tough, and I admire that greatly.
Here’s a helmet cam video of fourth canyon rapid on the Nahanni. Remember that RMP would have been in a wood and canvas “freighter”, not the composites of today that can take the punishment this type of water can dish out.
The story of building the cabin with woods partner Gordon Mathews, and the adventures there and on the winter trapline make you feel like you are there with them on the adventure. As does the other story I was impressed with – RMP’s winter exploration of the Meilleur river. Camping in temperatures of -40 and -60 he explored the canyon. His description of the cold can make you shiver as you sit next to a hot woodstove at night.
The third adventure whose story I am fascinated with is the trip from the cabin to Fort Simpson. After celebrating Christmas early in the cabin, Gordon was to go to Fort Simpson for the year’s mail and some trapping supplies. Sounds like an easy trip – except that Fort Simpson was 200 MILES away. Can you imagine? When was the last time you strapped on a pair of snowshoes or a dogsled team in the Northwest Territories winter, and went 200 miles one way to get the mail? After a false start, Gordon final gets going on the trip, and RMP plans to spend a month alone. Time passes, and Gordon is overdue to return. RMP waits it out for a few days, and then becomes more worried about his friend, and finally decides to strike out for Fort Simpson to hopefully find him, or at least get news of him. Our intrepid banker goes on foot with snowshoes. The trip is hellacious and full of trial and misery. As RMP describes in part; “The stretch of trail from Ram Creek past the little Butte and down onto the cache riffles was the nearest thing to hell on snowshoes that I have ever struck. There was a three inch crust on top of the drifts, but it was not strong enough to hold a man on a five foot shoe, still less to take the pull and heave of a man with a heavy pack climbing out of a hole in the snow. For it was into a hole in the snow that you fell when you broke through that crust-you were in up to your waist and your next step was on a level with your belt.” 200 MILES! I would have keeled over after 10 of this kind of travel. Blizzards, heavy winds, and -40 temperatures.
After all, as RMP says, At this time the Nahanni legend was in full flower: this was Deadmen Valley, from which no traveler was confidently expected to return, and men said good-bye to you at Fort Liard or Fort Simpson and wished you the best of luck, much as one might shake the hand of a man about to mount the scaffold, wishing him a pleasant visit and a speedy return.
After much trial and tribulation RMP makes it to Fort Simpson in one piece. Shortly after he arrives an unrelated Royal Canadian Mounted Police patrol arrives at the Fort as well, and Gordon was part of the patrol. RMP recounts the ensuing conversation between them;
“Gordon here tells me that you’ve just broken trail for us all the way from South Nahanni, and you traveled alone?” “Yes”. “Well, shake hands again! And let me tell you this – if you’re ever overdue or in any trouble up in those mountains of yours, don’t count on the police sending a patrol to look for you. After this solo trip of yours we’ll just figure that you’re alright where-ever you are and that you will show up sometime!”
I can imagine the swell of pride that I would feel receiving such a comment from a dyed in the wool man of the woods. RMP describes it as “One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever had paid to me.” Indeed.
Here are some nice shots of the Nahanni;