On February 21, 2014 myself and my Dad, and my two cousins, Dan and Chris, and a friend, Jackson, began our journey North to Kapikik Lake. This time we were not in an airplane. Kapikik Lake is technically only accessible by air, making it an extremely remote location for our fisherman in the summer. That being said, there is one other way to get there, which can only happen in the wintertime. There is a winter bush/ice road that takes you to Birch Lake where the Springpole Gold Project is situated. From there, there are about 6 lakes between Birch and Kapikik that can be crossed only by snowmobile.
Taking advantage of this winter road is a great way to haul materials and furniture to your outpost cabin to cut down on the amount of freight that needs to be flown in by airplane. Having done this many times before to our other outpost cabins, my Dad and Chris were well prepared with the proper equipment to move our stuff from point A to point B.
With three trucks, each hauling a huge trailer, we were loaded down to the max. Lumber, paneling, cupboards, appliances, furniture, 7 snowmobiles, and a few large hauling sleighs, we were going to make this trip count. Ahead of us, we had about 75 miles on the Red Lake Hwy, 60 miles through the bush on the winter road, and about 30 miles across lakes and portages by snowmobile. We left at 5:00 a.m., which would give us lots of time to get to the cabin before dark.
Fueling Up in Ear Falls Around 7:00 a.m.
We fueled up in Ear Falls and then turned down toward the winter road. We thought the road had been plowed recently, but we were sadly mistaken. There was about 2 feet of snow on this very rough and narrow road with snowdrifts upwards of 3 feet. Once we started down the road and realized what a challenge it was going to be, there was not one place we could have turned around – we were committed.
And the Shoveling Begins...
How we made it down that road is beyond me. The trucks took turns pulling each other out of the ditch and up hills. We broke many tow ropes, shoveled until we couldn’t shovel anymore, and somehow always managed to become unstuck. With about 20 miles left to go, we unloaded a couple of snowmobiles to lighten up the trailers. Jackson and I rode these machines the rest of the way on the road. This was after we used the snowmobiles to pull one of the trucks up a hill because being the truck in the lead, there was no one ahead to pull it out.
Pulling the Truck & Trailer with Snowmobiles
9 hours later, after getting the trucks stuck 20+ times, we eventually made it to the first lake that we would cross by truck. We were one portage away from Birch Lake and were held up for about an hour as we waited for a jack-knifed semi truck to get pulled out by a grader. These guys are the definition of "ice road truckers" and they were about to tackle the same road that we had just come down.
Ice Road Truckers Leaving the Mine
It was a great feeling arriving at Birch Lake. Excited to get to the cabin, we unloaded the other snowmobiles and packed the sleighs with supplies. We studied the map, which showed the several lakes we would be crossing and the portages to get from lake to lake. We had a few hours left of daylight – plenty of time to get some miles behind us and get our journey started. We decided that if it wasn’t working out, we would follow our trail back to the trucks and stay in one of the trailers for the night, which was equipped with a heater.
We took off in single file; the Summits ahead to break trail. Things seemed to be going well, despite the huge snowdrifts and blizzard-like conditions that would sweep away our tracks within minutes. However, we figured we would still be able to find our way back, if need be. We had a few miles behind us, when we hit our first patch of slush. The first 4 sleds made it through, but my Dad who was pulling a heavy aluminum sleigh, got absolutely buried. After about an hour of digging and pulling and getting other machines stuck, we all broke free and continued on. It was a minor set back, but nothing that we hadn’t expected.
At the end of Birch Lake, it was time to find the first portage. This should be easy enough, as our map marked the spot exactly and it was still daylight. As we sat on the lake waiting for Chris and Dan on their Summits to locate the trail, the daylight started to slip away. But, they eventually found the trail and we continued on.
At the beginning of this first portage was where things started to go downhill for me. I had no idea how hard it would be to handle a snowmobile in that deep of snow! Following a trail should have been easy, but keeping my sled on it was such a challenge! It wasn’t long before I flew off the trail and fell off of my machine. When I stood up, the snow was up to my chest. I have no idea how Dan and my Dad were able to dig me out, but thank goodness I had them. The journey didn’t get any easier after that. We got stuck countless times in chest deep snow and waist deep slush.
We had made it across a few lakes getting closer to our destination. The dark had set in completely and the wind and snow hadn’t let up at all. The only lights we had were our snow-covered headlights. At times we would spend an hour in one bay searching and searching for the portage trail. The Summits would search the shoreline for any break in the trees, getting stuck over and over again. We stopped and talked many times discussing whether to turn back and stay in the trucks overnight or to trudge on in the dark. Everyone was in consensus that we wanted to get to the cabin and stay the night. This way we would get a good sleep, and have a trail to follow the next day when it came time to haul more supplies from the trucks to the cabin.
We spent hours and hours searching and circling around on these lakes. We had left behind us the aluminum sleigh on one lake, Chris’s sleigh on a different lake, and a smaller sleigh on another lake. It was just too hard to break trail pulling these sleighs and we were tired of getting them stuck in the slush. Eventually, I had had enough of driving, so we left my snowmobile behind too. I got on the back of my Dad’s machine and we continued on. We had a few big lakes ahead of us, but according to the map we were getting close to Kapikik.
We finally came through the narrows on Kapikik Lake. It didn’t take long to find the cabin and oh, what a feeling when we did! It was 11:00 p.m. and we had been travelling on snowmobiles since 4:00 p.m. We got all of the heat sources going in the cabin, the generator started, and the lights on. We took off our soaking wet and frozen clothing and hung it up around the cabin to thaw out and dry. Despite the way our suits looked, everyone had kept extremely warm – probably from working so hard! We sat around the fire and talked about our crazy adventure over a couple of well-deserved drinks. What a day we had had! Everyone was so happy to be at the cabin after traveling for 18 hours.
We Finally Made It!
After a very short sleep, the guys regrouped and took off to get some more supplies from the trucks and pick up the sleighs and the snowmobile that we had left behind. After our experience the night before, I expected that they would be gone pretty well all day. I blasted some Johnny Cash and began my day. I cleaned the cabin from top to bottom, prepared some food for when the guys returned, and then I started to put pine on the walls. I only had a small amount (as the rest was still on the trailers), but it was enough to finish off a couple of small walls.
Putting Pine on the Walls
Around 7:00 p.m. I heard the sleds coming across the lake. I stepped outside and counted 4 headlights coming towards me so that was a good sign. As they got closer, I realized that none of them were pulling a sleigh. Obviously they had had another day/night like the one before. Apparently they had got stuck in the slush so many times and decided that getting to the cabin was priority once again.
It turned out that they had actually had a productive day over all. They had spent most of their day at the mine, fixing one of the trailer hitches and also unloading their things from the trucks. Since they weren't going to be able to haul it all to the cabin as planned, my Dad asked the miners if they could leave their lumber and material there for a couple of weeks rather than bringing it all back home. My Dad was so grateful when they said yes. My parents will hire a plane in the next couple of weeks to fly everything from the mine to the cabin. The miners were beyond friendly and helpful to the guys. They even offered them tea, coffee, and snacks.
We enjoyed a delicious steak dinner that night and laughed and talked about the last couple of days. The plan was to get a good sleep and then retrieve the sleighs in the morning, and then we would head home.
It only took a couple of hours in the morning for the guys to retrieve the sleighs. I stayed behind and packed up our things and prepared for the long journey home. It would only take a couple of hours by snowmobile now that we had a trail, but the winter road could easily take us another 9 hours.
Finally Got a Couple of Sleighs to the Cabin!
The snowmobile ride was great. It only took us an hour and a half. The wind had changed overnight and flattened out those huge snowdrifts. The wind however, didn’t do the ice road any favours. We loaded up our sleds and started down the ice road in the trucks, which was at least two feet deep in snow! The trucks barely made it through. We were imagining these huge drifts on the bush road as well, which would not be good news for us. BUT, to our surprise, the road had JUST been plowed. Talk about a miracle! It took us only about 4 hours to get to Ear Falls and we were home safe and sound before dark.
The Bush Road... Plowed... What a Beautiful Thing.
What a weekend! At times we were in a little over our heads (quite literally, in snow), but we made it there and back safely! Although our bodies were a little “broken-down”, not one of the sleds or trucks broke down on us, which was a bonus. We didn’t exactly get the work done that we had anticipated, but everything is within a short flying distance from the cabin, which is a big help.
It was a once in a lifetime experience for some of us. For my Dad and Chris… it was just another day at the office!