Monday, February 16, 2009

Hecla XC Ski Trip

Two weekends ago, I went on XC ski trip retreat with some friends up at Hecla. Dalen got us a waterfront (or more appropriately "ice-front") cabin up there and we spent just over three days skiing, hanging out, playing games, reading, and discussing life stuff. All in all it was time well spent and the whole weekend cost me less then $80 which included ski rentals from MEC, food, and my part of renting the cabin. Jobina always says I'm a better man when I get back from something like this and I think she's right.

Day 1 (Friday)

Dalen and I met in the city at my house. Usually when we do a trip together it is more rustic and weight/supply choices are very important. Not this time! Basically we could pack whatever we wanted - and we still had room in the car! Staying in a cabin with electricity and plumbing that you can actually drive right up to seemed so luxurious. I actually took a suitcase instead of a pack! Can't remember the last time I did that on an outdoor trip. After spending some time drooling over gear and clothes at MEC I rented some skis and we headed north. Along the way we discussed some intense theological ideas which is always good. As we got further north I realized I had forgotten my Park Pass. We decided to stop in Mennville at Stan and Luella Brandt's house to inquire if they had one (they did, thanks Amy for fetching it). We also stayed for coffee was which was cool (the hospitality of Mennville is always exceptional - thanks Brandts)!

By the time we made it to the island it was dark. We stopped at the new Hecla Oasis resort to get some trail maps and chatted with the front desk guy about the resort. It seems quite reasonable to stay there during the week - a mere $140 for your room. Then we went and found our cabin - very nice! Here's pic of the kitchen:

We were itching to go out skiing and it was then that I couldn't find my headlamp so we went skiing in the dark - a new experience! We got lost only once and eventually found our way to the the resort. We found a bench at the back of the resort and stopped for a rest and some fuel (chips and Eatmore bars). Watching the people inside the restaurant through the huge windows was entertaining - we made up stories about the people inside and their crazy lives. Then we skied back to the cabin. Along the way we both heard/saw something skulking in the trees along the trail but didn't say anything to each other until the next day - we didn't want the other person to freak out! We snacked heavily in the evening and stayed up late talking about relationships and other deep topics.

Day 2 (Saturday)

We slept in and when we woke up the weather was great and we saw some deer in our backyard:

I was excited to see two islands off in the distance: Punk and Little Punk. One of my adventure goals for the weekend was to set foot on Punk Island (and thereby cross it off my list of Lake Winnipeg islands to visit). We had two other guys joining us sometime after lunch but we were wanting to see if the ice could be skied across. I noticed lots of people ice fishing so we decided to ski out and talk to them (as well as test the snow cover on the ice). We skied on the ice (it wasn't too bad at all) out to a lady ice-fishing and had a great conversation with her (turns out her husband was the guy at the front desk of the resort). Both of them moved up to Hecla to retire and they now live here year round. What a great life! She told us we should ski out to one of the commercial fishermen out on the ice and ask the if they could show us what they do. We did and 15 minutes later got to see how they do their thing. Very interesting but feeling guilty, we headed back for lunch and found Dalen's brother Matt and his friend Alan waiting for us at the cabin. We caught up, had a great lunch, and then headed out on the groomed trails of Hecla. I'd guess we did about 15-17 km of intense skiing before making it back to the cabin for supper. Later in the evening my friends Jay and Dahlen came up and we played some board games in the evening. Then they went home (after delivering us some supplies to help us the next morning in our attempt to make it to Punk Island). Again we went too bed too late.

Day 3 (Sunday)
Woke up and the view of the islands was again pretty good. Here's a pic of us preparing to leave the safety of Hecla and venture across the ice:

The thing about these lake crossings is that all of a sudden a snowstorm or wind can result in a total whiteout while you're out on the ice - a very scary situation. Luckily we had my friend Terry's maps, compass, and GPS to help us find our way back if something should go wrong out there. Which was good as after about 10 minutes of skiing a whiteout made the islands impossible to see for half an hour! This is what it looks like when the snow begins to blow:

It's difficult to describe the feeling of skiing into a big white "nothing" and hoping that you are still going in the same direction as where you started. You don't want to miss your target! It's like being in very white, very cold desert. A little later we were all relieved to see the outline of first one and then both islands a kilometer or so away. Eventually we made it to land again. First we stopped at Little Punk and took pictures. Here's a nice pic of the coast:

Matthew saw a clearing up on the isle and with some amazing ski prowess managed to make his way up a very steep coastline - only to find an old cabin! Very cool. We checked it out (it was more shack then cabin) and then left.

I had some problems with my skis not wanting to go on that slowed us up so that eventually we were all pretty cold when we were ready to do the crossing to Punk. It wasn't a very long crossing, but the way the wind hit us it was extremely cold. It took about 15 minutes but it was very bad. The wind cuts you like a knife and we all started to lose feeling in our hands (again, not good). Here's some pics of two guys near the end of their crossing:

When we finally reached Punk we were thankfully out of the wind but all of us were quite cold, especially Alan. We had a potluck lunch out there and it was good but we didn't stay long as we didn't want to freeze. Amazing views from there!

We decided to go back to Hecla via a more direct route, hoping we could find a way up the coastline and connect with the trail system (taking us back to our cabin). The advantage of this was it was a shorter distance back to the main island (at least half a mile) but the disadvantage was not knowing if we would be stopped from getting into the tree cover by near vertical cliffs. Matt and Dalen headed out first (and were about 10 minutes ahead of us) and Alan and I came second. I was a bit concerned about Alan getting frostbite or hypothermia and we stopped several times. Alan came up with this neat memorization game which we used to help us keep our minds off disaster (and until our core temperatures warmed us up enough) which was fun. When we finally got to the coast of Hecla (about an hour later) we weren't in bad shape at all. Matt and Dalen had found a way up that mean we had to only take off our skis for one short climb and then we were on the main trail. When we got back, I finally realized how cold the wind had been on my face when I felt snow and ice in my beard!

Wow, XC skiing off the trails (and exploring islands) was extremely fun - way more interesting then just going down groomed trails! I so much want to do that kind of thing again. All in all another great outdoor adventure.

*Things I learned/was reminded of for XC ski exploration:

1. My new thin polyproplene base layer that my mom got be was completely awesome as a base layer. I didn't sweat once! Seriously, thin and synthetic is the way to go. Except for breaks (and the two nasty crossings) I wore my base layer and a waterproof shell and that was all I needed.
2. In my pack I had brought a heavy fleece in case I got cold. It was perfect when we stopped for lunch and I didn't want to get too cold.
3. When you stop to rest, sit on your pack. It keeps your rear from getting too cold.
4. Never wear cotton base layers. They call it "killer cotton" for a reason. The sweat you produce freezes and is stuck in the cotton (which doesn't wick moisture away) and can chill you quickly when you stop.
5. I need to get something to protect my face. Even a scarf would have helped - I was lucky that we only had to go into the wind for one short crossing, otherwise it might have been more serious.
6. GPS is like a security blanket, bring it along just in case you get lost, in a story, or want to change your plans.
7. Matt had this cool device that you "click" and it becomes a hot hand warmer. The best thing is that its reusable, you just boil it, wait for it to cool and then you use it again. I have no idea how it works but I really want to get a few.


Jobina said...

Suann Decourcey just told me about those handwarmers, they sound awesome!
Now it's our turn to go to the cabin sometime, hey Mark? I'll be honest though, I don't think I'll be cross country skiing across the lake...but trails wouldn't be too bad.

Dayna said...

i have one of thse hand-warmer things! red and shaped like a heart! also the family i lived/worked with lat year had several. the kids love them for when they came in from the "cold"... sounds like a great weekend!

Mark said...

Anyone know where you can get those things?