Canoeing to My Destiny
Copyright© 2012 by Lance Manne
My first reaction was anger. Anger, because I had been careless enough to fall through the ice. I had violated one of my cardinal rules of using caution around questionably thin ice. My next reaction was fear. I feared that this accident might have a bad ending. When I felt my feet touch something solid, I pushed off and was relieved when my face suddenly broke through the surface. I took a breath, heard a scream from Dawn, and then quickly began to sink again.
Fortunately for me, I remembered the lesson one of my fireman friends had taught me. I had been invited to watch while they were practicing an ice rescue. I learned that in most cases, the 1-10-1 rule will apply. After you fall through the ice, you have one minute to get your breathing under control. That is the period in which most of the people panic. Your first instinct is to gulp for air. Unfortunately, what you inhale is water. Instead, calm yourself and try to reach the surface. After that, you have ten minutes of muscle control. During that time, you should attempt to reach safety or stability.
If you are floating, or frozen to an ice shelf, you have about one hour before you lose consciousness. If nothing else, the best thing you could do would be to throw your arms on the ice and let them freeze to the shelf. This act should keep your head above water. Hopefully, that might buy you some time until help arrives.
I reached into my pockets for my ice picks. I had made them many years ago, just in case I ever fell through the ice. They were nothing more than a couple of spikes in a wooden handle. One spike fit snugly into the handle of the other and they both had a wrist strap. I quickly pulled the spikes apart and once again pushed off toward the surface.
The water was numbing cold. I could feel it sapping my strength. As I surfaced once again, I dug the spikes into the icy edge. The ice broke and I went to the bottom again. I felt myself getting weaker. If something good didn't happen soon, this minor setback just might have a tragic ending.
If I was unable to pull myself out of the water, it could be the end for me. I now understood why some men die. Your body just can't function the way it normally does and your muscles fail. I repeated the action several more times until I was able to get the spikes to grab onto solid ice. I noticed that Dawn had thrown a rope to me. I grabbed that and tied it to the sled
The last time I surfaced, I had actually found a large boulder to stand on. With my waning strength, I pulled myself, using the spikes, up onto the ice. The ice ledge that I was lying on felt very firm. I moved my body away from the hole and tried to pull up the sled, which was now attached to the rope. Working slowly, I was able to pull the sled over to the opening, where I was able to grab it and pull it up onto the ice.
I had lost my ski poles, but my skis had stayed attached to my ankles, thanks to the ankle straps. While standing on the boulder, I had been able to unhook the straps and slid the skis up onto the ice. A quick assessment of the situation seemed to indicate that the loss of equipment was not all that bad.
Dawn was standing at a safe distance, asking what she could do to help. She was pacing back and forth. I could see the anxiety on her face. I told her to gather up some wood and attempt to start a fire. I suggested that a large boulder near shore looked like a good windbreak for the fire. As Dawn went about her task, I inched my way across the ice with the sled in tow.
By the time I had reached the boulder, Dawn had collected some wood and was preparing to start a fire. I quickly stripped out of my wet clothes and asked Dawn to fish the sleeping bag out of the pack on her sled. The air was very cold, but I had to get out of the wet clothes before they froze. I dried myself off, as best I could, and then quickly crawled into the bag. If I had stayed exposed any longer, the frigid temperatures would have had a chance to weaken me even more.
Dawn returned with more wood. Soon, the heat of the fire began to warm my frozen body. I instructed Dawn on how to place my ski shoes and my jacket near the fire so that they could dry. The rest of my wet clothing would have to wait. Fortunately, there was some dry clothing in the pack on Dawn's sled. I could use those items to protect my body for the remainder of the day.
After all the initial excitement had passed, Dawn came over and sat close to me. When her eyes met mine, she began to cry. She told me that she thought that she had lost me. When I had bobbed back up, she had thought about running to me, but she feared that she might break through the ice. Her nursing training had taught her to first assess the situation and she had accomplished that as best she could. Now that the danger was past, all the pent up emotions began to come to the surface.
I was beginning to feel some of the strain, as the adrenalin rush began to subside. What would have happened to Dawn, if I had not survived? What would have happened if I had not brought along the ice spikes? What if the current had swept me under the ice? It was a sobering moment when I realized that my survival was not a guaranteed outcome.
We held each other tight, thrilled in the knowledge that we had been given a reprieve. We were extremely thankful that we would be able to spend some more precious times together.
Dawn's version of the story went like this;
As she was skiing, she suddenly saw me disappear through a hole in the ice. At first she could not believe her eyes. Her first impulse was to scream. After the initial panic, she went to the sled and dug the rope out of the pack. When she saw my head bob out of the water, she tried to throw the rope to me.
It wasn't until after a number of tries, that she was finally able to get the rope to a place where I could grab it. The whole time she concentrated on the task at hand. It wasn't until after the rescue, that she fully realized the dangerous situation that had just been avoided.
After I had warmed up enough, and my boots had dried out, I took stock of my situation. It looked like most of my supplies had stayed attached to the sled. This was due to the fact that I had taken the time to secure them properly. However, during the fall, I had lost my ski poles and it appeared that the tent was also missing. I was thankful that I had brought along a spare set of collapsible poles, just for such an emergency. The tent was another problem. We would need some shelter to sleep in for the night. I noticed that the temperature seemed to be dropping rapidly.
We wrung the water out of everything that was wet, as best we could. We packed it in the sled so that we could attempt to dry it out later. I checked the sled and made a few adjustments to the harness. Then we took off and prepared for the next portion of our trip.
I hoped to put a few miles behind us and planned to establish a campsite where we would be sheltered during the upcoming night.
During the time I was warming up by the fire, we had eaten our lunch. I knew that as soon as I started to ski again, my body would continue to warm up. We skied to the next portage and then traveled along the trail to our next lake. It was a very large lake and I noticed that it was dotted with many small islands.
Trees and large boulders jutted from the surface of the ice. The sky was becoming overcast. It was disappointing to see that some of the brilliance in the landscape appeared to be fading away into moody patterns of gray.
The snow quality was good, so we made very good time as we crossed the lake. Dawn kept checking on me to make sure I was OK. After several hours, we were nearing the portage for the next lake. Once we had traversed that portage, we were on the lake that I had intended to make our home for the night.
It was a beautiful stretch of ice, surrounded by high rocky walls. Pine trees covered the high ledges and offered a bit of softening to the ridgeline. One tall pine dwarfed all the others. It appeared to be a sentinel, a guardian to watch over the wilderness around us.
I asked Dawn where we should set up our camp. She pointed to an area near shore where we would receive the morning sun. We proceeded to gather some firewood and then we built a nice fire. I unpacked some of the wet clothing, which had frozen into a ball, and placed it near the fire, where it could dry out.
Then next step was to make our shelter for the night. Fortunately, there was a huge amount of soft fluffy snow that had drifted toward that part of the shore. I untied the light aluminum shovel from the sled and began to shovel the snow into a huge pile. As I shoveled, I asked Dawn to gather some twigs and break them into twelve inch long pieces. I was feeling pretty warm by the time I had amassed a pile of snow that was about six feet high.
Dawn had been very patient during the last few hours. Finally she asked me what I planned on doing with the pile of snow. Being a man, and knowing I was on a mission, I had forgotten to tell her where we would sleep for the night. I told her that the tent was gone, and our new shelter for the night would be this pile of snow. I could tell by the look on her face, that she was not very pleased by my answer.
I walked around the dome and firmly patted the snow with the flat portion of my shovel. Then I shoveled on some more snow, to replace the compressed snow. After the shoveling was complete, I told Dawn that we had to wait two hours before we could proceed with the building of our shelter.
Working together, we walked around the dome, sticking twigs into the snow until they disappeared from view. The twigs would let me know that I was nearing the outside of the dome, when I began to hollow out the inside of our shelter.
While we were waiting for the snow to set up, I began drilling a hole in the ice. We drilled the opening a short distance from our camp. It's not unusual to have a large amount of water, come up out of the hole, from all the built up pressure. I passed the auger to Dawn, and she drilled for several minutes also. It took a little effort, but we soon had icy cold water rushing up through the hole. It was a relief to have finally made it through the thick ice, to the water below.
As Dawn boiled some water, I dropped a line into the lake, to see whether I might be able to catch one of those beautiful trout. While I watched my line, I tried to wring some more water out of the wet clothing bundles that had begun to thaw. I found some straight branches and trimmed them off so they could be used as poles.
I planted them in the snow, tied a line between them, and then hung the wet clothes on line to dry. Hopefully by morning, the cold air would dry the clothes. If my plan worked correctly, the cold air would change the water droplets into ice crystals, which could then be shaken off.
I turned to see that my tip-up flag had popped up. I hurried over to the hole to find that a fish had taken my bait. I let the line run for awhile before setting the hook. From the pull on my line, I could tell that it was a nice sized fish. When I finally pulled it up through the hole, I was a little disappointed to see that it was only a pike.