Friday February 12th 2010
7:00 AM Clear and Cold, 8 below
While eating the morning breakfast we notice that the marten has raided the hanging bait bag. He’s torn a hole in the side of the bag and made off with at least one chicken. I tell Ken he’s pushing his luck. Over breakfast we watch him return to the scene of the crime sniffing around and just generally trying to entertain us and let us know he meant no harm. We’ve named him the “camp raider”. He is pretty amusing, so he gets another reprieve. We move the bag into the storage shed attached to the cabin. No way he gets in there.
After the morning breakfast we load up the sled and hit the northern line to go make good on our promise to really set the area up hard. Ken’s had a revelation through the night that a “hay set” may be just the ticket for the unknown canine. While this may not be the first true Alaskan hay set, to our knowledge it’s the first in this area, and the first to be documented. We load up the equipment and head out. Before lunch time we’ve put in another wolverine snare (in the bowl area that is covered in tracks), a snowmobile trail set, a pee post, and of course Alaska’s first documented hay set (all in the area of the unknown canine tracks.)
Since we are in the tracked-up bowl area we decide we have no choice but to check out the nearby wolverine sets that we had made yesterday. Ken nonchalantly tells me to go check the wolverine bucket on the far side of the pond. Surprise, surprise there he is…My first marten. Caught in a 330 wolverine set. Man am I happy! That is one cool critter.
After the first marten, I’m thinking I cant hope for more than that. After all these traps have been out for less than 24 hours. Just then we drive by another one of yesterday's sets. It’s the set that Ken had recommended I make on the log he had always planned on setting. That belisle 120 had knocked a marten dead right there. The critter hadn’t flinched a muscle. Marten number two was in the bag. Talk about a good day! Not even halfway through our second day on the line and we hadn’t even made our first real check yet, but we already had two marten in the sled.
We return to the cabin and have our warm tea and salmon strip snack. Ken has decided that in order to get to the Southern section of line, it would be best to break out the trail today then return later to set traps. We pack minimal trapping gear, but we will need the chainsaw, ax, and snow shoes. He says we‘ll have to break trail from the river through a timbered area to get to the tundra, where hopefully there well be enough snow to run the sled but not so much as to cause us to need to snow shoe a trail through the tundra. Unlike the other lines, this is not an area that Ken has already broken trail, nor is it an area he had made any bait stations. I’m excited by the idea of going to an area that Ken has not been to yet this year. Something about the idea of unbroken snow gives me the thought of an even more remote location then what I’ve seen so far. I later realized I must have been partially intoxicated on either the salmon strips or the sight of two thawing marten, because I should have know enough to be leery of the term “breaking trail”.
As we travel up the river it is obvious that the river’s attitude changes quickly. We go from a gentle sloping bank bordered by willow flats, to steep and rugged hills that have a vertical drop to the water. As I enjoy the smooth ride over the flat river ice I peer in to the surrounding hills wondering if anyone has ever set foot on their ridges. This truly is a vast and untamed country.
My daydreaming is cut short as Ken pulls to a stop near a head high bank. He asks if I’ve ever worn shoe shoes before, and I tell him no but I wonder how difficult it can be. They look like fairly simple devices, seemingly put on this earth to make “trail breaking” easier. Oh how wrong I was. Snow shoes are actually archaic torture devices, invented centuries ago (quite possibly by white17 himself) and designed to inflict maximum suffering when worn by fat out of shape losers that think they can master them in one afternoon. We each pack enough equipment to complete a couple of marten leaning pole foothold sets and we strike off into the unknown. Ken says we‘ll need the shovel, the ax, and the chainsaw. I proudly volunteer to carry the chainsaw. Man what a mistake, maybe if I’d let him carry the shovel, ax, saw, and me, I might have stood a chance. We initially have to construct a snow ramp from the river to the top of the bank in order to get the machine and sled to the top. Feeling pretty good about my ramp making abilities we proceed to snow shoe into the wilderness. Between making three leaning pole sets and frequent rests for me to shed another layer of clothing we do finally make it to the tundra. Once there we can see that there is very little snow and the clumps of grass and bushes are clearly going to make the sled ride in rough. We decide there isn’t much to be done about it other then to tough it out and deal with it when we return to set traps. On the way back I notice it looks like a redneck garage sale, about every fifty feet we stop to pick up another one of the articles of clothing I’d shed while gimping my way in.
The highlight of the trip was getting to see “gulo ditch”, an area that had been appropriately named considering the numbers of wolverine that Ken recited taking from the drainage. I figure all together we traveled at least 17 miles by snow shoe, Ken tells me the actual number is closer to two. The guy sure is talented, but he obviously cant be relied on to accurately judge distances.
That evening, after eating warmed up leftovers, I had to make a sudden departure from the table to deal with something Ken referred to as a “common snow shoeing side effect.” I refer to it as a pain from my nether regions to my knee that’s intensity can be compared to child birth. I spend the rest of the evening limping over the cabin floor, afraid to sit still and cramp up again. Ken comforts me by telling hilarious stories of his past (I’m sworn to secrecy) and even serenading me with a variety of folk songs, including the heart wrenching ballad of Dan Mcgrew.
Lesson Learned Today:
If snow shoeing were an Olympic sport…
Ken would have at least ten gold medals in the Senior Olympics.
I may or may not recieve a "participation" medal in the Special Olympics.