A few days ago my nearest permanent neighbour (about a mile away as the crow flies, but a 6-mile drive because of a river in between) called to tell me that Doug Schuk, a local hunting guide and enthusiast, had spotted cougar tracks across the river from my place and had tried to drive up my road to see if he could see any sign on my side. I was still waiting to get the road ploughed; anyone attempting to drive on it would pack the snow down and make the job of the plough ten times harder. Fortunately, Interior Roads, the outfit that keeps Highway 20 functioning, had a new operator. Where my bush road joins the highway is where the snowploughs from both east and west turn. They keep a small section at the end of my road open so they have room to turn the machines. Usually, they are pretty good at not blocking my 3-mile driveway, but the new guy obviously had no idea anyone lived there and he had left a huge wall across it. This was already frozen like concrete and I certainly did not want to have to pay for anyone I hired to dig it out; nor was snowshoeing through all that loose snow carrying a splitting mall (to break the wall) and a shovel really an option. So I phoned Interior Roads, and a day or two later they dug it out with their machines.
That’s when I called Les Rolston, who had ploughed me out the first time, and found that his 50 by 30 foot shop had collapsed on all his heavy machinery and he would be weeks dismantling the building and digging all that out. I started phoning round for other ploughers, but most of these guys work long hours (and there are no cell phone frequencies here) so all I was getting was answering machines.
Search and Rescue
That evening I got another call, around 8.30pm. It was the wife if the man who coordinates the local search and rescue volunteers, asking me if I had heard snowmobiles at the back of my place. The wind had been coming from the opposite direction and I had not. It seemed that the Doug Schuk, Paul Lowry, and Ed Gano, all three of them experienced local guides, were overdue. No one would have been concerned about them by themselves, but they had left some clients near the end of my road. The clients waited 10 hours. After dark, they gave up and returned to their lodging. Search and Rescue was alerted; if the guides had not turned up by daylight, a team would follow their tracks. White Saddle Air would also dispatch a helicopter. At least it was a comparatively mild night (it dropped to minus 18 C at daylight, which is not unusual here) and there was a bright moon so a night out would not have been too onerous.
About an hour later, however, I got another call to say that the guides had indeed turned up and all were safe. I still have not found out what the trouble was – some say they broke down; others say they simply got carried away and in their excitement went a lot further than they expected. Some say they had left their radio in their truck; others said the guides had radios but the clients had not turned theirs on. The guides had also failed to try and reach White Saddle’s radio beacon, which is manned 24 hours a day. Whatever: they all turned up safe and sound which was the main thing; no doubt they refunded their clients – and it seemed as though the cougar got away.
Packing down my road.
Their single-minded enthusiasm (for want of a better word) had direct consequences for me, however. To reach their area they must have snowmobiled on my road. I snowshoed through the bush to reach the nearest part (sinking knee deep in places, even with snowshoes on) and sure enough; there was the deep trough of packed frozen snow. As soon as I told this to all the people with ploughing machinery they immediately said their tractor/truck/blade/snowblower/cat/bobcat would not be able to handle it. I would have to get a grader. The nearest privately owned grader was 2 hour’s drive away. I would be paying for 4 hours’ road time even before my driveway was started. At around $150 an hour this was no joke.
Finally, I was advised to contact Interior Roads. Seems as though they will plough people out as long as they don’t have a lot of other work to do. They won’t make a special trip, but as graders from both sides get to my road end periodically, this might work. The last snow was a week ago and everyone else is driving freely. The grader from the east has started in my direction, and he expects to reach the end of my driveway on Monday, which is in three days’ time. The cost will be $159 per hour (plus taxes) and he estimated 2 hours’ work: but I don’t have to pay road time so that the total cost will in fact be quite reasonable. The grader will also do a much better job.