The Road to Fall Down Lake

Day 2 - Tuesday, March 9, 1999

I wake to the sound of men's voices and the smell of bacon cooking. I feel the group is still wondering if I, the only female on the trip, will hold them back. The sleep room is hot from stoked pot belly stoves and I wonder how I, in my underwear, will dress when 5 men are in the open room across from me.

I pull on my clothes from the day before, brush my hair, change my socks and reinsert the boot liners into my Sorels. Groggy from the nights sweltering heat of the fire, I lumber into the kitchen area hearing dried pine needles crackle under my socks.

Dad is cooking bacon and showing off the toaster. The simplest methods of living can sometimes cause the most interesting of conversations. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Necessity at Pump House, our first camping location, involved placing a slice of bread against the side of the steel drum wood stove until browned on one side. A spatula shaved the toast loose and then Pete placed the slice back on the side of the drum to toast side 2 and worked further on the bacon. A little rust never hurt anyone--maybe. Excitedly, we all had to toast bread.

The men made conversation, muddling through sign language for translation from French to English and back. Sam tried to ask Flag and Ivan about moose, creating virtual horns with his hands placed at the top of his head. Flag smiled and repeated the word "moose" and with understanding added, "Oui (pronounced "whey" in French Canadian) many moose." Sam then moved on to lynx, fox and other animals that might be hunted in the Bush of Canada. While dad continued to cook, Pete sought out the lean-to out house and I watched Sam, impressed with his game of charades.

After breakfast, Ivan and Pete cleaned dishes and I inquired about the snow shoes lined up in the bank outside the door. Ivan chose a wooden pair for me with a rubber boot insert for easy installation. However, I wanted the old-time-lace ties for a more authentic feel of the wild.

I began to try out my new footing, keeping legs wider apart than the normal gait. I walked across the 2 feet of snow on the pond without falling deep to my knees as I had done the day before. I searched for tracks in the snow from the night before to identify what riled the dogs in the middle of the night. My father quickly caught on to what I was up to and laced up his own pair of snowshoes. He joined me on the pond and we ventured off the back edge into the forest to identify bunny tracks leading to a hole.

Walking uphill around trees in the depths of the forest proved to be a challenge. Every so often, one of us would turn a shoe and take a fall into the deep snow. The pillow was soft, making for an easy fall, but returning to our feet was the real challenge.

We returned to the pond to find Sam, in snowshoes, looking for us. We all walked around the pond for a while and joked about the events of the night before. Flag had placed so much wood on the fire he couldn't stand the heat. He left the tent, driving the "montanange" (snowmobile) back to the house for the night, leaving us to swelter in our bags. This morning he boasted of seeing the northern lights sprinkle a green mist across the sky on his trip home. We muttered under our breath thinking we could have been more comfortable out in the snow than in the 100 degree heat of the tent.

Washed, packed and bundled up, we harnessed the dogs for our trip to Fall Down Lake. The process of tying them on the leader happened quickly and succinctly.

I remained in the lead today although Ivan rode on the sled, directing us on the appropriate path. Turning corners proved to be difficult with his weight and mine on the sled. He often dragged a foot on the turns to help redirect the sled. We traveled across frozen lakes and through beautiful spreads of white birch. Small hills tired the dogs, but once over any ridge, they barked happily and picked up to a sprinters pace. If you forced them to stop to wait for the trailing sleds, they would turn to send disappointed glances and yelps my way as if to ask, "what's the hold up?"

Once running again, their barking stopped and the quiet sounds of sled runners over damp snow remained. We soon became hungry for lunch and learned about "the big fire." We tied down the sleds for lunch allowing the dogs to sleep in the cool snow.

Flag and Ivan with chainsaw and axe in hand felled dead pine, dragged them into a pile in the snow and lit the lunch time fire for warmth and the cooking of food. A pile of six-foot logs lay burning with one tiny pot of soup balanced on it. This is an image that will remain in my mind with humor for many years to come. We laid out dried pine boughs as seats and a table and ate cheese, granola and sandwiches while the soup heated. Upon tasting the soup we learned we would humorously decline it at any meal for the remainder of the trip. We were relieved when Ivan instructed us to dump it out. No one wished to insult our chefs, but we also wanted to remain healthy on the trip. The mantra became, "no soup."

Rested and geared up for our remaining journey, we continued over snowy knolls pointing out moose tracks, jack rabbit and Ivan tracks. His simulated moose tracks didn't fool the rest of the group.

Within several hours we came to a halt at the top of a hill. Ivan jumped from the sled and looked at me with a smile, telling me to wait here. He returned to explain our arrival at Fall Down Lake. We didn't know the details of the naming of this lake, but by namesake, we all knew the outcome. I yelled for the dogs to go ("allez") as I dragged the brake to keep them from flipping the sled down the thousand-foot mountain slide. We reached the bottom when the dogs made a quick right turn, forcing the sled over a 2' tree stump, which I somehow managed to pry us away from without injury. To my knowledge, the rest of the group made it to the base unscathed as well. We had arrived at camp #2.

We tied the dogs down for the night, the men dug the water hole in the lake and I scouted out the tent to relax on the pine bed floor. Flag started the fire, Ivan and I worked to decipher the dinner menu and Dad, Pete and Sam scouted the area. Eventually, I learned that "cauchon" was pork and that would be the main ingredient in our dinner stew.

Pete built the fire outside the tent where we would linger for warmth while preparing dinner. We exchanged bits and pieces of what we had learned of the naming of fall down lake.

Apparently, Flag had christened Fall Down Lake on his snowmobile after a heavy snowfall in a previous year. He rolled to the edge of the lake in a daze and arose unharmed. We also exchanged stories of each sled from our days events. It seemed that each of us by now had eaten snow at one point or another.

the idea of dogsleddingthe drive to Senneterrelearning the ropeson to Fall Down Lakeanother big firebitter cold thinkingthe grand finale