Eventually I reached a narrows of the lake and decided to turn around.
There were boggy areas on both sides of the lake here. I had been
following the tracks of a red fox as it too explored along the shoreline
of the lake, also heading north.
And here I had a misadventure with
the lake! I was heading back south, and decided to step down from the
bog area onto the snow-covered lake surface. The channel running through
the narrows of the lake was a good 50 feet away, and was open. So, I
thought, no problem, I can walk along the lake surface here by the edge
of the boggy area. The fox tracks had stayed on top of the boggy area,
and I wondered if I too should do the same. But I stepped down and ...
suddenly I plunged into the zero-degree water to my waist!!
I found that there was no bottom to push against, and I was slowly
sinking farther into the water. After some moments of panic - after all,
here I was out all by myself at least a mile from the road and my truck
- reason set in and I started to think about what to do.
First of all, I seemed to have stabilized at waist level, although my
actions to try to get out were sinking me in deeper. So I undid my camera
bag, which was at waist level and not yet wet, and threw it up onto higher snow. At
least then if I sank further I wouldn't lose that (expensive).
My next task was to get my snowshoes off, as they were preventing me
from getting free and get up out of the water. Also I somehow had to get
leverage to get myself up out of the water, so I needed something to
grab onto, or step onto.
Fortunately, all the books I've read and all the training I've
had in survival kicked in and I knew what to do.
I removed my gloves and threw them up onto the snow, so I would be
able to better use my fingers. I then reached down into the water and
managed to undo my left snowshoe and remove it. I pulled it up and
placed it onto a firmer part of the snow. I could then place my left
knee onto this platform, from which I could then undo my right snowshoe
and do the same. By using the snowshoes as platforms I was able to get
up out of the water onto firmer snow/ground.
Now, being wet right up to my waist, I was faced with the issue of
how to deal with my soaked clothing and possibly hypothermia.
Fortunately, it was only about -1C out. I had to decide on one of two
courses of action: 1. Build a fire and dry out and get warm, or 2. Wring
the water out of my wettest clothing and hike back to my truck. I
decided on #2 because it wasn't all that cold out and I wasn't feeling
cold at all from my dunking, except for my feet. Remember that it was
only about -1C (pretty warm), and I only went in to my waist.
I put my snowshoes back on, grabbed my gloves and camera bag and
hightailed it to the shore, to find a large tree to shelter under where
I could wring out my soaked clothing. I knew where there was some bare
ground but it was too far away and I had to act quickly. So, balancing
on one foot on my snowshoe and then the other I removed my boots and
socks, wrung out all the water I could from my socks and boot liners,
and put them back on. I carefully felt my feet and judged that they
would get warm after a period of energetic hiking.
So off I went at a very brisk pace, thankful that I had had a very
good breakfast that morning, that I hadn't hiked all that far and so
wasn't tired, and that my cold hadn't worsened over the past couple of
I followed my route back across the lake the same way I had come, but
made a few shortcuts. I monitored my toes to ensure they were ok, and
once I had been moving for a little while they were not getting any
colder. I soon got back out to the highway and back to my truck.
Since I was just parked alongside the highway, I needed to drive to a
place where I could get my cold wet boots and clothing off and change
into dry gear and get warmed up. Interestingly, I still wasn't cold,
except for my toes. And also interestingly, my toes got the coldest
during the seven-minute drive to where I could pull off the highway and
warm up and change.
After getting warm and changing clothes, I went on to another
stopping place where I ate lunch before heading home.
And that was the end of my Algonquin experience this year!
Lessons from today's experience:
1. There was no indication at all that it was unsafe to step down upon
the lake surface where I went in. It was covered with a thick layer of
snow just like everywhere else.
2. I had a hint from the red fox tracks sticking to the bog and I had an
impulse to do likewise, but I dismissed my feeling. I should've
listened. Intuitive hunches are very important to listen to out in the
3. Carry a long thin pole with you when crossing lakes in the winter,
with which to test the ice, whether it is exposed ice or hidden (as in
this case). If I had tested the lake surface (by stabbing it through the
snow) before stepping down, I would've found that it was unsafe.
Another reason to carry a long pole while travelling across frozen lakes
is if the ice breaks and you fall in, you have something to keep your
head above the water, and also something with which to leverage yourself
out. Although that may not have been helpful in this case.