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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Well, got a phone call yesterday. Apparently when some of my friends were coming home from Churchill from the Northern Bison exercise (Northern Bison), one of them ran into a bunch of loose wire under the power lines with his snowmobile. He was talking to the Division Manager at work yesterday (who is ultimately responsible for those lines), and because the group that normally maintains the lines is busy with other problems, four of us were asked to go up and clean it up for salvage.

So, in about an hour, we are leaving by snowmobile to head up to Churchill, a little over 300 km through the northern edge of the forest to the treeline. We are heading up to a line maintenance work shack to spend the night, then heading up the rest of the way and cleaning everything up tomorrow. Work is picking up the cost of fuel, paying us rental on our machines, paying regular wages as well as any overtime required, and giving us bank time off for the weekend.

I haven't made it up to Churchill yet, and being so close (relative term, still 300 km), I was really hoping to make the snowmobile ride up. Now it turns out that work is picking up the tab! Hope to see some polar bears, if they haven't all gone onto the ice yet. I'm getting my SLR camera sent up on the train, and taking my little point and shoot for the ride.

Wish me luck!

Here's where we're going: Gillam to Churchill
 

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Snowmobile Road Trip, cool!!
 
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Good luck!

I used to own a small canvas shop, and some of my customers were mushers headed up that way. I made sled bags and other custom gear for them. I got schooled about the harsh conditions (in a good way!) when they'd come in and want certain things to help them on their journeys. I was always fascinated.

Hope you see some bears.
 

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what a great adventure - and it's on the job!! Hope your trip is wonderful and looking forward to hearing and seeing all about it!!
 
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Good luck , and be safe.
 
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Good luck and stay safe.
 
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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks everyone. So far so good, it's been cold and windy. The windchill temp (which I don't like to use) was around -52C this morning... pretty chilly coming across the barrens. No trees (well, very little sticks for as far as you could see for miles) to block the wind. I have a bunch of pictures, but no cord for the camera. I'm currently at the Aurora Inn in Churchill, nice place if you're ever in town.

Right after the hydro line (which we were following) met up with the railway tracks, by a siding called McClintock, we saw our first polar bear tracks, with a little [email protected]$%&@ wolverine by it's side. At that point, it was time to get the rifles out of the toboggan. Polar bears have absolutely no fear of humans, we look like snack food (not even a fullfilling meal) to them, and they will actively hunt us, not just curiously pursue people. Wolverines are just little bundles of angry mixed with a whole lot of mean. We saw bear tracks most of the way up, most disturbingly, about 300m away from where we had to work pulling up the cable. With the four guys we had, we had 2 rifles, so two groups of two, each group with a guy loaded and CONSTANTLY looking out for trouble.

As cute and cuddly as they look on TV, they are one of the world's most vicious man-killers (with wolverines high up on the list as well). We cleaned up the scrap without trouble and made our way into town here. Now we get to take the day off tomorrow and head back on Sunday. A good part of the day was spent trying to fix my friend's snowmobile. The tunnel, the part where the track sits (basically the frame of the entire vehicle) split in half, so we limped it to town and spent the better part of the day, 4:00pm till now (just about 2am) straightening it, welding and re-inforcing. A few more hours and some scrap steel bar to re-inforce and we should be good to go.

My first time up here, and it's really interesting. Hard land, very very demanding even to travel on it. Really glad I've made the trip (even though it's only half-way done and LOTS can still go wrong). Loving every minute of it.

Pictures and a full write-up to follow.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Well, the trip back was relatively uneventful. We had to do some field repairs on the toboggans, nothing major. The biggest problem we had was all mine. After 4 hours of bouncing across rock-hard snowdrifts in the barrens, we stopped at McClintock to check over our machines. I checked the gear in my toboggan to make sure nothing had broken, and found one of the gas cans had split open and dumped its contents all over my clothes, sleeping pads and my sleeping bag. Very very glad we weren't planning on spending the night anywhere, but now I have to find a way to get it cleaned up. It's an expensive -45 degree C sleeping bag, so I'd rather not have to replace it.

While we were up in Churchill, we were talking to one of the conservation officers up there. We told her about the polar bear tracks that we were seeing and how we thought it was odd that there were so many still on land when they should be out on the Bay. She told us that this is the time when the females are just coming out of the dens after having cubs, and that the little tracks we saw were almost definitely not wolverine, but cubs. That made us a little more nervous heading back as this would be the absolute worst time to run across a VERY hungry, VERY VERY protective mother. It would have been nice to see them from a safe distance though. As it turned out, we didn't see any wildlife other than ptarmigan, but we saw thousands of caribou tracks, many moose tracks and tons of wolf and fox tracks.

This is Churchill's "off-season" now so the town was pretty quiet. Most of the gift shops, hotels and restaurants are completely dependent on tourists during the bear season, beluga whale season or migratory bird season, and since it was none of these, most places are shut down. It is very easy to tell that the town survives on tourists, as everyone we met was extremely friendly and outgoing. Everyone asks where you're from and will talk with you like an old friend. Very hospitable.

The weather was very cold and windy, with severe windchill warnings the entire time we were there. Coming back, I got a touch of frostbite on my nose, despite being very well dressed. I was definitely nice to get back into the trees and out of the winds and rough, open tundra. I didn't take too many pictures coming back as we all just wanted to get home, and digging the camera out of my pocket and taking pictures required bare hands, and exposed skin freezes in under a minute at those temperatures. The ones I did take are still on my camera, I will get them up later today.

Despite the few minor problems, it was a great weekend and I'm happy I got to make the trip. I think next time I go, I'll take the train though ;)

Good luck!

I used to own a small canvas shop, and some of my customers were mushers headed up that way. I made sled bags and other custom gear for them. I got schooled about the harsh conditions (in a good way!) when they'd come in and want certain things to help them on their journeys. I was always fascinated.

Hope you see some bears.
They're a pretty resourceful and hearty bunch up there. With the landscape they survive in, they have to be. As a member of the Canadian Rangers, we get to spend a lot of time with guys from the patrol groups further up into the barrens, and it never ceases to amaze me how they can live up there, and how ingenious they are with repairing and modifying their equipment with the little that they have.

Have a good trip! We had a bunch of friends up there with Northern Bison. I think most of them are home safe now.
Take lots of pictures!
There were a few military personnel still up in Churchill when we got there, they were supposed to be heading back down today. They were all supply guys, making sure everything was accounted for. The guys on the trip to Arviat got weathered in there for a few days. The planes wouldn't land in the blizzard. I think they've all made it back now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Ok, here goes, got a lot of pictures.

Just before Sky Pilot creek, the big hill. Just a few miles north of Gillam, past Kettle Generating Station.



Looking down Sky Pilot Creek valley.



Somewhere around the Weir River I think, just stopping to check the machines.



Along between the Weir Lake shack and the Owl River shack.



Just following the line to Owl River.



Our home for the night.



Warming up the machines in the morning, getting ready to leave for Churchill.



Before we run out of trees at McClintock, another equipment check.



McClintock Siding. Two trapper shacks/hunting cabins on the Dog River, with an old J5.



Old cabin on the Dog River (I think, or Deer River)



Looking south down the tracks at McClintock.



Me at McClintock. Notice there's no rifle.



Saw these tracks just north of McClintock, maybe 5 miles. On the right you'll see what look like big polar bear only smaller. Momma with cub. Not very old.



Still see the fine drag marks on the footprints, she's not far from here, and she's going to be protecting her cub.



Not many of these little things that look like miniature trees around.



Real one-sided trees, from the strong winds that constantly blow and the northern latitude.



Now there's a rifle.



Stop to look at the machines after getting into the barrens. Wind's really blowing here. Following Giles' komatik put me in a good mood, always smiling at me.



Much warmer, can't go fast here anyway because of the constant, rock-hard drifts. And I couldn't easily get the rifle off my head if I needed it in a hurry. A lady at Gypsy's told us it was -52 with the windchill, temp was -30.



About 500 meters, maybe at most, from where we had to stop and clean up the wire and cable, which happened to come from the old railway telegraph line, originally from the other side of the tracks.



There's a few more, but I'll have to get them up later.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Alright, carrying on...

And there happened to be trees all along the creek that ran beside us about 50 ft away. Rifle at the ready and constant looking around.



The loop of wire that popped out of the snow when the rider ahead of Darren ran over it. Darren's ski caught it and flipped him over. That's why we went back up. Big dogsled race will be running this exact same trail next week. Hudson Bay Quest Dog Sled Race - 220 Miles by Dog Team Through Polar Bear Country; Gillam to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada



More of the wire.



More of the wire, there was about a 1/2 mile of it buried in the snow, pulled out with the snowmobiles and bundled up. Probably between 300-400 lbs. It was a twisted, knarled mess frozen into the muskeg, had to dig lots out to get to big rat's nests that kept the sleds from pulling it out.



Didn't take too many more pictures in the barrens, or back in the sparse short trees around Churchill. Lots more VERY fresh polar bear tracks, mothers and cubs. This was just reaching Churchill.



Seaport



Hotel room at the Aurora Inn, where we stayed. Much nicer than the shack we stayed in the first night.



Upper loft.



After leaving the Owl River shack in the morning, Walker's sled took a crap. Probably due to hitting the cable 4 days before, then bouncing down the trail.







Ended up jacking it up from the back and blocking it, then using a jack-all and a 2-by-4 off the roof to bend it back into place, and using a mallet, hammers and punches to straighten everything. Welded and grinded flat, and sandwiched both sides with stainless steel sheeting. Held up perfectly all the way home.



Arena in Churchill, there were a few Gillam teams and a Thompson team up for a tournament. Lots of familiar faces in town at Gypsy's for supper.



Little boat stuck in the rocks looking out towards the bay.



Looking out to the bay, you can see some open water and steam.



Interesting "tracheostomy" bear in the Town building. Had the town hall, arena, library, hospital, movie theatre, gym, drop in center... huge building, really nice set-up



Looking down the hall towards the movie theater.



Two Canadian Eskimo Dog pups outsideThe Arctic Trading Company store in Churchill.



Most of the places in Churchill depend on tourists, and it's not one of the "tourist seasons" right now, so most places were closed. Seemed like an awesome place and all the locals were super friendly and very outgoing.



All in all, a great trip, and I would do it again.
 

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Wow, thanks for sharing, it's almost like we all were there for the adventure. Hope you can figure out how to clean your gas soaked gear.
 
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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Thanks Darlene. Yeah, me too. So far, I've read that letting it evaporate in the air for quite a while (so everything's hanging in the garage with the heater on and the door cracked a little). Then, after most of the smell's gone, I've read either to use a lot of Vodka (really), vinegar, or baby oil in the washer, allowing to air dry, then repeating as many times as necessary. I think I'll use one of the washing machines at work though, don't want to chance getting gas all over ours.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Got a bunch more Northern Lights pictures last night as well. They were the best I've seen them this year so far, you couldn't see all of them at once with the naked eye, let alone the camera lens. The sky was filled. I happened to be walking the dog at the time, and happened to bring the camera along, so it wasn't maybe the best location, but I tried to get some of the town lights in frame to try something different.

Wish I would have been a little further out of town, though.

Here's one, I might start a new thread for the others.
 

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Those are some great pictures! But, holy cow!! The idea of being that close to a polar bear is way scary!

I would try the vinegar. When my husband works on the cars and his clothes are stinky from the oil and grease and gas, I wash them by themselves with double the soap and I dump in a buttload of vinegar in.
 
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