Now Is the Winter of Our Discount Tent
Copyright© 2015 by Stultus
Romantic Sex Story: Chapter 1 - A young and under-prepared geologist climbs a mountain in the winter and faces peril, but turns defeat into victory and alarums into merry meetings and some most delightful (and warm) measures. A long romantic tale of Christmas romance gifted and unwrapped in the most unlikely of places and circumstances with plenty of erotic thrills for enjoying in your own sleeping bag.
There are numerous physical laws of nature that a good geologist needs to not just know, but also thoroughly understand. That is one reason why we have to take three years each of calculus and physics. It's a real bitch when you've climbed forty-two feet up the nearly sheer slope of a hillside holding onto a Jacob's staff and a rock hammer and then suddenly get reintroduced to the laws of gravity. About forty-one feet up in the air I realized that the bit of rock I was standing on had broken loose and I was now falling, or rather, starting to roll back down the hill ... a whole heck of a lot faster than I had climbed it.
About three seconds later I was mostly safely back down on the ground at the bottom of the hill, my Jacob's Staff still in my right hand (both unbroken), but my other arm now bent at a rather odd and quite unnatural angle. I didn't quite notice right from the get-go that I'd broken my left arm because I'd also banged my head on a decent sized boulder right at the base of the hill and had pretty well had my bell rung silly. No skull fracture, but just enough of a concussion that they made me spend the night at the local rural county hospital for observation.
In the morning I got the bad news, due to insurance liability issues, my summer at Field Camp was over and done, and rather prematurely. A few hours later, just about kicking and screaming, I was unhappily put onto a plane that would eventually take me back home to Texas.
Now I wasn't going to be able to graduate before Christmas, and since my university only offered Geology Field Camp in the summer, I'd now have to wait an entire full year to complete my degree.
Sometimes just plain 'shit' doesn't even begin to cover it!
This was my experience at Summer Field Camp about ten years ago, and I'm still a bit annoyed about it to this very day!
Once I arrived back at the university, my faculty advisor wasn't particular sympathetic. I'd hoped that the cast on my arm would earn me a little bit of sympathy, but it wasn't forthcoming. She was a wry old bird of nearly seventy who had first bit her teeth into the earth sciences in the wilds of Maine, western Kansas and Colorado back in the hoary old days before women commonly became geologists. She became the first woman professor in the geosciences department of our big state run university over forty years ago. She was a brilliant mind who taught the Historical Geology classes and made them hard but interesting, but she somehow never learned any compassion for us poor undergraduates along the way. Most students avoided talking her classes if they could, but since I actually wanted to learn from one of the best (test scores be damned) I had taken all of her classes. Getting her as my academic advisor was just random poor luck, on the other hand.
"Jeff, see, that's what you get for procrastinating. I told you last year that you shouldn't put camp off until the very end. Now you see the difficulty that you've made for yourself!"
"Well I had it all planned out! I took both semesters of summer school last year so that when I did finish Field Camp this year I'd be done and ready for early graduation. You had to admit it all worked out beautifully, well on paper anyway."
"Your plan, such as it was, has now quite failed you. If you had followed my advice ... and your written degree plan that I made for you, you would have already completed Field Camp last year and could have been finishing up your final classes this summer. Let this be a lesson to you to never procrastinate and put off doing things that are important. When does the cast come off?"
"Hopefully by the middle of September. I wouldn't suppose you'd know of any other schools that are running a late summer Field Camp, or an early Fall semester session?"
"Hmfff..." She muttered and started to flip through a small guidebook that she pulled from her bookshelf. "Is tuition cost an issue? I believe that you're largely self paying, with a few small scholarships and grants?"
"Afraid so. Cost is very much an issue. If it's going to cost me out of pocket more than about a few thousand dollars or so, I can't afford to go, unless I sell my car."
Ouch! I hadn't even considered that issue. My parents (divorced) didn't have any money between the two of them, and I'd paid my tuition the old fashioned way, by filing for every tiny scholarship that existed, getting a Pell Grant from the government, and then I worked as a waiter or bartender every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, when I could have been chasing pretty co-eds, or better yet, catching a few of them. Damn ... I'd probably now have to work all of this Fall and Winter to save the money to hopefully find a Field Camp that started in the spring. Otherwise, I'd have to do ours all over again next summer ... and waste nearly a full year!
"Well, there is one option that I know of that will work, and reasonably soon ... but you won't like it or enjoy it. The Universities of Ontario and Alberta are running a joint Winter Field Camp up in Canada. The course is about two months long. The Canadian Association of Science and the Geological Association of Canada are both also offering special scholarships for this course. It shouldn't cost you a penny out of pocket, other than plane fare and field equipment. You'll spend Christmas on a frozen mountain somewhere but when you get done you'll be all ready for graduation. This is what I would recommend that you do."
Winter Field Camp ... in Canada? In the snow and ice of unspeakable Canadian blizzards either up in the frozen Canadian Rockies or up in some godforsaken parts north of the Arctic Circle? No way. It made my scrotum shrink into the size of a marble just thinking about it! I muttered some vague non-committal comments and beat a hasty escape out of her office so that I could think about this some more. As luck would have it, I immediately found the source of a useful second opinion, the rather crazy, but well-liked Dr. Simpson.
Earl Simpson was an incorrigible product of the 1960's who still used 'cool' and 'far out' as everyday parts of his vocabulary. His specialty, lunar geophysics, just made him seem like even more of a spaceman to the rest of us still left on earth, but he was an acknowledged genius in his field and knew geologists everywhere. His advice was direct and imperative.
"Dude! Like you should sign up yesterday and make like a banana and split! That Canadian course is new and like real mondo on the edge. They want to field train a new generation of geosciences folks to be able to work in the ice and snow, to make future discoveries up there all year around. You pass that course and you get a job, probably even before you can get your snowshoes off ... guaran-freaking-teed. GeoCanada, CanExplore, DeBeers and every other geo-exploration firm are all frothing at the bit to hire these grads and they're paying out the grants to fund most of the program so they can cherry-pick the best students. Dress warm, pretend that your balls aren't freezing off, and never try to lick your frozen rock hammer or your tongue will get stuck, and get ready to start working the day after camp is over for a sweet six figure salary. Dude, why are you still here talking to me? Git going! Opportunity is knocking!"
Opportunity was knocking apparently. My main interest in geology was invertebrate paleontology, which was only slightly better than having a liberal arts degree for finding a geo-sciences job and it wasn't sexy like vertebrate paleo, where they make often made bad movies about ruggedly handsome dinosaur bone hunters. So what ... I still like trilobites, but there were definitely no fat six figure salaries there.
I figured that I'd prepare myself to go to work for oil and gas companies for the next twenty odd years, but my current resume didn't offer them anything special that said 'hire me!'. Geology was very down employment wise at the moment, with just about as many new kids entering the field as older geologists quit to do something else or retiring. The economy (and crude oil prices) were also depressed at the moment so many of the retiring geosciences slots weren't being replaced. The odds were better than 50/50 that I would spend the next year after graduation still waiting tables or else I'd have to take an unpaid internship just to get my feet into the door at some company.
The frozen godforsaken wastes of Canada were starting to look a little bit better. I made a few phone calls and checked the program out some more and resigned myself to enduring a very chilly autumn and winter. I sent in my application, which was soon accepted, and I began to locate the very long list of recommended supplies that I would need. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the gear I had purchased and packed to endure a scorching New Mexico summer wasn't going to help me much at all up in the permafrost. Buying all new gear was going to cost me every penny I could earn and save during the next few months.
Arctic survival was also apparently a very important and integral part of this academic program. It was obviously going to be the ten roughest and probably worst weeks of my life, but I was going to make every effort to be as ready as possible for the challenge.
One problem with preparing for an Arctic expedition in central Texas is that the local sports and outdoors stores just don't carry the right sort of gear. My gear (along with myself) needed to be in Calgary no later than October 30th and by the time my cast came off on September 26th, none of the local sporting good stores had even received their winter stock of ski gear yet. I wouldn't actually need to ski, I didn't think, but I was counting on buying the warm ski clothing. Fortunately, I lucked into some belated good luck. Just when I was about to give up and decide to buy all of my gear at the very last second up in Calgary, a savvy store clerk suggested that I pay a visit to Colonel Blimp.
Colonel Blimp, who was neither a real Colonel nor particularly plump or fat, ran an odd sort of military surplus store near La Grange, Texas. He prided himself on being able to obtain virtually anything and I soon put him to the test. In actuality, his store did offer about half of the recommended items that were on my buy list, but the real reward was obtaining his time and invaluable advice. While the good Colonel had never actually set foot on any frozen tundra or snow covered mountain, he knew people that did this for a living ... or rather, he knew the supplier that sold those sorts of people their gear.
Ten minutes later Colonel Blimp had his buddy Frank of Extreme Expeditions on the telephone and we had a very long and comprehensive conference call during which Frank pooh-poohed most of my 'recommended' list items and he suggested products that he considered more appropriate and superior.
What the hell did I know about any of this sort of stuff? I said 'Ok' a lot and let Frank tell me what I was going to really need ... and how much it was going to cost me. Holy crap, this 'good stuff' was expensive!
In the end, I ordered the sleeping bag and Arctic boots and all of my clothing from Extreme Expeditions. Cost be damned ... these were my dangly bits, toes and fingers that I wanted to keep full use of, and I most definitely didn't want them frozen off. It was all Military Specification stuff that was top rated for survival and capable of keeping the wearer alive, and at least somewhat warm even in deepest coldest parts of Antarctica or on top of Everest. That took an unhealthy chuck of my remaining savings account, but Frank agreed to directly drop-ship my stuff for me c/o the senior Camp faculty advisor in Calgary, which was fortunately permitted and even encouraged. This saved me a bit of money also with airline baggage charges.
The Colonel apparently received a 15% 'finders fee', so he made plenty of money for his time and effort. I didn't care. His time and advice were well worth it.
For the rest of the more mundane gear, I 'made do' with surplus gear that the Colonel had available. I procured a large and heavy but sturdy backpack. Gear is heavy and rocks are even heavier. I was a fairly big and strong guy and could tough out bearing a full pack for weeks in the frozen wilderness. I hoped. We even did a test packing to make sure that cookware, burners, an ungodly amount of sterno, flashlight and radio batteries, and a couple of weeks worth of MRE's and other field survival rations would all fit inside. They did. I must admit that the Colonel was amused by this all far too easily. Best of all, I could put all of this stuff on credit card, saving the rest of my dwindling cash for food and other miscellaneous expenses up in Canada.
There was just one remaining problem; the tent. Namely I still didn't have one. While this item was technically an 'optional item', but I had a gut feeling that having one would be a real life-saver.
For my last remaining week before my flight, I went nuts driving around everywhere trying to find an Arctic suitable tent ... at a price I could afford. Certainly Extreme Expeditions had them, but not in my price range. Most of the Colonel's military surplus stuff was way too big and too heavy, or summer weight, unsuited to arctic weather. The tent would have to be light and compactable enough that it could be tied to my backpack and hauled up a mountain, or two. Nothing I was finding would meet these requirements ... until I went into a local S-Mart.
If there is any store chain more disreputable than S-Mart, I'm not sure what it would be. I've seen Dollar stores with better merchandise and customer service, but they don't sell tents. I checked. This particular S-Mart did, but the quality left much to be desired. Their goods are cheap ... and usually appallingly shoddy, but even their large selection of tents in the sporting goods department still didn't quite meet my needs. Everything was either still too expensive for my budget, or else the tent fabric was way too thin or inexpertly stitched for me to even consider risking my life by buying and attempting to use it.
I think I checked and rechecked each of the seventeen tent brands and models in turn for hours. Eventually taking pity on me, the sporting goods manager who had been ignoring my gestures for assistance the last two hours, finally decided that I wasn't going to go away on my own, and he (very grudgingly) came to help me. Actually, the otherwise useless departmental manager had a bit of hopeful news for me.
"You need a good but dirty cheap tent? Well, I've got one other tent in the backroom. It was a return and I don't even know what was wrong with it. No box or carrying bag for it either. I was just going to throw it into the dumpster, so I'll let you have it... 'as-is', for the grand total of $1."
One buck? Hell yeah! He really did want me gone and out of his hair! By this point I was desperate enough that I didn't care if the sides were made out of tissue paper! It looked like a complete jumbled mess of fabric, but I took it! Taking my new acquisition back to Colonel Blimps, the two of us spent a long evening trying to reassemble the tent, complete with two six-packs of beer to pay for the Colonel's labor and to staunch our growing thirst.
Well ... it was definitely 'as-is'. It was decent sized and could hold a couple of people inside, but it missing every single one of the metal support shafts, vertical and horizontal. The bottom supports were 'optional' anyway, the good Colonel conjectured and he tossed me four plain vanilla metal hooked tent stakes to replace those missing ones, but we did need a vertical support post and he had just the right item! From out of his junk pile, he pulled out an old piece of military hardware that was surplus from god only knows what. It was a 9-foot telescoping rod that compacted down into a reasonable three-foot long section. The material was not the usual cheap aluminum either but something MilSpec, like maybe a titanium alloy. It was extremely light and so strong that you couldn't even dent it with a hammer. Since my $1 discount tent only stood about five and half feet high, this meant that I could hammer this new support pole nearly four feet down into the permafrost. Not even an Arctic gale was going to budge it.
Once all of the beer was all gone, the Colonel pulled out a rather dubious and dusty bottle of old Cutty Sark from under the sink and we decided, for reasons that now escape me, that we still had a bit of thirst left for just a thimbleful or two of scotch. A few hours later, and much the worse for wear, the Colonel took it into his head that he had a leftover can of sealant paint that was allegedly originally used as a primer coat for the skin of the F-117 stealth fighter, and he took this paint and the tent outside where he proceeded to give the entire tent, inside and out a complete sealant spray job.
I was having a bit of trouble walking, let alone talking by that time, and I had shut my eyes to rest them for just a moment and instead woke up on a sofa in the morning with a pounding head. I then discovered that my tent was now thoroughly coated with a bright red and vaguely rubberized lining on both sides of the formerly light and rather flimsy lining. The sealant paint, or stealth aircraft fuselage primer, was quite dry now and didn't add much to the weight of the tent, for which I was quite grateful. The twice-coated fabric was now much thicker and undoubtedly at least now fully waterproof and probably quite wind-proof as well. I just hoped that it wouldn't decide someday to either self-ignite or else catch the wind and flutter off like a kite to join its military aircraft brethren in flight.
Considering the new color, it wasn't bad. My tent might now be invisible to radar but the bright red would make it stand out in the snow quite nicely, I thought. It would do!
I thanked the Colonel, who had a disgustingly clear head on this early morning, and packed up my upgraded but still a $1 discount tent and headed back home. My flight to Calgary wasn't until tomorrow, but I still needed to get the last of my gear packed and organized into my backpack. Which I eventually did, after a very long nap - and no more beer (or Cutty Sark), for the remainder of my time home.
At this point in the story, I ought to provide a decent explanation of exactly what a Geologic Field Camp is, and why it is so important. My school defined it something like this:
Field camp is an educational tradition for a geologist. It is an intensive course that applies classroom and laboratory training for solving geological problems in the field including: collection of geologic data, constructing a measured section, interpreting geologic structures and geologic mapping.
Sounds simple? Not even remotely.
Imagine that you are a plain vanilla English major and having spent your four years of college toiling along with the likes of Byron, Chaucer and Shakespeare you now discover that you have a new mandatory class to take during the summer. This is a mandatory field class where every day from sun-up to sundown for at least a full month you are forced to stand up on a stage where you must recite and defend from memory, the works of every single author you have read (or you were to have supposed to have read) during the last five years. Non-stop under a 110 degree burning sun. No shade and no mercy ... and no beer either.
Geologic Field Camp is actually probably worse. Much worse. While you're mapping a large section of rock in the middle of the desert under that 110 degree sun with no beer, you're also watching out for scorpions and rattlesnakes, who have a Pass/Fail agenda all of their own. You're also a very, very long way away from the nearest Dairy Queen.
But this is the place where everything that you learned in a book or in a nice air-conditioned lecture hall all comes into focus. You really do learn by doing.
For this Winter Field Camp, on the other hand, just one quick look at the planned program convinced me that they were utterly insane, and intending to feed the lot of us thirty-two tender young geologic science undergrads to a bunch of ill-tempered (and underfed) polar bears.
Here was my schedule:
Week 1: Orientation/Overview of Canadian Geology - Classroom
Week 2: Introduction to Arctic Wilderness Survival – Classroom (with minor field excursions)
Week 3: Practical Arctic Wilderness Survival - Gjoa Haven and Somerset, Prince of Wales, King William Islands & Boothia Peninsula (Nunavut)
Week 4: Field Problems – Field Exercise 1: Innuitian Mountains
Week 5: Introduction to the Geology of the Canadian Cordillera, Shield and Western Plain Regions
Week 6: Practical Wilderness Survival - Yellowknife & Coppermine River areas, Northwest Territories
Week 7: Intermediate Field Problems – Field Exercise 2: Bathurst Inlet, Great Bear Lake & Great Slave Lake Geologic Locations
Week 8: Practical Mountain Survival – Mt. Field, BC and environs (Burgess Shale)
Week 9: Advanced Field Problems – Field Exercise 3: Yoho National Park, BC
Week 10: Laboratory study of samples/Final oral presentation/Course Evaluation - Classroom
'Brrrr' didn't even begin to cover it. This was going to be the worst two and half months of my life! No 'snow day' vacations either! The weather was going to be my enemy from nearly day one. At least they scheduled the sites furthest north for an early November scheduling, so there was still a little bit of sun up above the Arctic Circle, for a day or two perhaps anyway. Still, the thought of spending Christmas in the wilds of Yoho National Park was a sobering one. It was going to be nice and cold outside by then!
My gear that had been shipped ahead by Extreme Expeditions was already in my room. For the very first week of orientation and mundane classroom lecture that we would be in Calgary we had been assigned an unused floor in a student dorm building and as our last afternoon of freedom progressed we all had the chance to meet and greet each other as the last arrivals appeared.
The optimists started up a nice drinking party in the day room. The pessimists (like me) packed and repacked our backpacks and tried desperately to remember anything that we might have forgotten. The really clever folks tried to get to bed very early to store up sleep for the next two months.
I wished I'd been one of them!
This year's class was composed of thirty-two members, the same as last year. Last year's inaugural class had suffered one fatality (due to stupidity) and the survival instructors had washed out another five due to their probable terminal survival stupidity as well. The geology field instructors had washed out another six due to inadequate field work and another five students just plain up and quit. This left last year's final graduation rate of just less than 50%, with only fifteen 'surviving' the course. Their projections for this year, if anything, were even less optimistic. The course was going to be tougher and harder this time around, and it was expected to be colder this year during November and December.
On the other hand, all of those chosen frozen survivors of last year did have nice well paying jobs, and I was determined to join their ranks. I listened, took good notes and put on my war-face to endure anything and everything ... and we nearly did!
If I thought for the slightest moment that the first week was going to be an easy-squeasy cake-walk, that notion was dispelled after the first five minutes of our first day of class when we discovered that we would not be hearing lectures in a nicely warmed lecture school lecture hall. Oh, no ... the instructors had a much more diabolical location for us – the college indoor hockey arena ... right on top of the ice! Chairs and all!
Despite it being late October, it was a rather warmish Indian Summer outdoors in Calgary this week, at least for the start of our ordeal, but I can assure you that the school hockey arena was nicely chilled to just about freezing ... and stayed that way all week. The smart kids skipped lunch that first Monday to run back to the dorm to grab their winter boots and coats. The even smarter (or more paranoid) kids took this as an omen that our instructors would make sure that we'd never again have another warm moment for the rest of the Camp and we dressed accordingly for the rest of the week. They were spot-on accurate!
We spent those first few days in the frozen hockey arena listening to mundane enough geological history lectures with overviews of what we could be expected to encounter, both for physical and historical geology. This first week might have been normal enough, with hot meals at the school cafeteria and even beer calls most evenings after class, but by the end of our last lecture that Friday things began to sudden change and get much more serious. We had instructions to pack up our gear from the dorm and get ready to move out immediately and we hiked five miles out from the college into some nearby woods where we made a new camp for the next week of wilderness survival instruction.
Out in the 'near-wild' for our second week, it was still mostly spend on basic lectures, films and slide shows about Arctic survival taught by several veteran RCMP and Canadian Army survival experts who knew exactly what they were warning us about. This was going to be the real thing and we had damned well better be ready for it or else. We also had a lot of hands-on basic camping instruction, where we'd move our tents a few hundred yards every day and make a new fresh campsite from scratch. Even our few resident former Boy and Girl Scouts were challenged, but eventually most of us started to figure at least the minimal skills we'd need to perfect later on.
I think I mentioned earlier that our instructors were all sadists. Well, let me make this point perfectly clear and emphasize the salient highlights a little bit.
No more college classrooms for us, Mother Nature was now our main instructor. If our cold frozen bottoms were tired after a long day of sitting outside on rocky ground and listening to endless lectures about the million possible bad and terrible things that can happen to a tenderfoot out in the snow, the evenings ... and often late nights of 'practical exhibitions' were even worse.
We still had hot breakfasts, but there were no more trips to the campus cafeteria because nearly all of our lunches and dinners were eaten cold out on the road!
After a morning of moving and relocating our campsite and a few hours of lecture, we'd take a five or ten mile hike to where a bus would be waiting to take us somewhere even colder to play and work in the real ice and snow. There was plenty of snow in the nearby mountains, mountains of it, and we started to take our first baby steps out into the frozen wild without quite risking actual frostbite yet.
"Don't worry." We were told. We'd see the real thing soon enough.
First we learned to walk in it in just our boots, to try and learn the differences with our feet between solid packed and loose snows. They even created some fake crevasses that we practiced passing over in groups of two or more, all roped together. After a few bouts of one person falling and then dragging the rest of us in as well to our simulated icy deaths, most of us started to get the right idea about how to safely walk over treacherous ground.
From there, we learned in succeeding days and evenings how to wear and use snowshoes and there was even a pair of sessions covering basic ski instruction. Then we learned how to conduct long cross-country snowshoe and ski marches late into the evening while towing behind us a snow sleigh packed with two hundred pounds of gear, not to mention also the full backpacks on our back. No sled dogs for us! This was pure man-hauling in the spirit of the Antarctic explorers Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott.
The next night we survived (well most of us) a ten-mile hike with full packs. The strong ones finished at about three o'clock in the morning and the stragglers didn't make it to the finish line until nearly dawn.
The night after that we did it all over again, except this time the hiking route was closer to twenty miles in an even rougher and more remote area that already had received some light snow. In addition we had to draw an accurate geographic terrain map (without a GPS) of the area we had crossed. This did take us all night long and the last straggler staggered in at almost noon. We then had a half-day lecture on hunting and game trapping techniques that Friday, with a surprise hot dinner of fresh venison (which we had to skin and process the freshly killed deer entirely ourselves) and then the surprise 'final exam' for this 'easy' part of the course.
At midnight we were rudely awakened and in full gear we were mushed out to hike to the waiting bus that drove us for hours through the darkness somewhere to the north of Edmonton. The bus stopped and dropped us off somewhere deep in the icy wilderness right about dawn and we learned what the day's expedition and unscheduled field exercise would cover.
This was going to be a forty-mile hike that would cover snow, ice, hills, rocks, rivers and dales. Oh, and more rocks. We had to cover this course in forty-eight hours or risk being dropped from the Camp. The weather was cold but clear with no storms or even any significant snowfall expected over the next 24-48 hours. We were each provided with a compass and a good Ordinance map of the surrounding area, and even a special small GPS that could be turned on and used only for a total of five times. If you turned it on a sixth time it would beep and give you an error message that only an instructor could override. We also had a radio and we could use it to report our GPS position twice a day, at dawn and sunset. If we used it for any other reason, or to call for an evacuation ... we would be done – out of the course.
We were instructed to use the buddy system and stay in groups of two at all times and not leave our buddy even in the event of an injury or accident. Our partners were randomly assigned by drawing lots. I drew the Brachiopod card and my matching partner was one of the gals I slightly knew, a geophysics major from the Colorado School of Mines with a career interest in gold mining.
Estelle was nice enough, but a rather intense and focused individual who treated anything past 'hello' or 'good morning' as an unwelcome attempt to chat her up. Like me, she was here at Camp to work rocks and not indulge her hormones, and that being clearly established we got along well enough. She was also a 'runner' and was in better than good physical shape than me and she didn't slow me down in the slightest. I was taller and took much longer strides, but I tired a bit more easily than she did. My only regular exercise before Camp was hefting twelve ounce curls with my wrists, or in other words, lifting and emptying beer cans. I was getting into firmer physical shape by the day, but I wasn't totally buff yet.
If this wasn't bad enough, we were instructed to collect sample rocks along the way. Rocks that were unambiguous and explicit enough to clearly identify a specific formation or geologic member. A minimum of twenty-five pounds, to be specific, by weight, for each of us was expected.
To make it even worse, we also had to complete another geographic map of our hike, noting our collection stops, and making such geologic observations as we could along the way. This trip simulated very nicely what would be expected from a pair of eager and enthusiastic young geoscientists dropped off in the wilderness to ground survey a bit of virgin territory. It wasn't remotely fun, but I really could see the point of this exercise.
Actually this hike wasn't as bad in my opinion as our previous shorter hikes with the heavier burdened sleds. We established a good hiking strategy of walking fast for fifty minutes, and then taking a ten-minute rest, followed by a slower hiking speed for another fifty minutes and then another ten-minute rest. Repeat nearly endlessly. We alternated pulling, with the other out in front breaking trail, which actually could be more tiring, depending upon how much snow we were travelling over. This allowed us to cover a lot of ground in daylight and didn't exhaust us as much as if we just hauled ass home as fast as we could until we got seriously tired.
Between the two of us, we made a fairly accurate guess at where the bus had started us off early that morning, so that we could save our limited number of GPS checks for our collection sites. In geology, nothing is more important than properly labeling your rock samples. There is an old joke about two young starving geologists finding the skeleton of another geologist in the wilderness and the first thing they check out is the identification tags on the rock sample bags rather than the food.
The area was interesting geologically, despite being mostly glacial deposits and we found a little of nearly everything, from bits of granite uplift to volcanic matrix soil. Most of the sites we collected from were non-marine sandstone or volcanic deposits, but we found two shale outcrops with some nice Lower Cretaceous fish fossils, poorly preserved and often little better than collections of shed loose scales ... but it was my specialty, fossils, even if fish weren't actually my beloved invertebrates.
Estelle and I worked well as a team and we soon learned to work along with each other's specialties. For non-fossil strata, I was happy to let her do the digging with her rock hammer while I tried to write down as fast as possible what she was describing to me. For the fossil outcrops, we reversed roles. She was far more 'independent' than I was and she begrudged any mundane sort of help climbing up obstacles in our path or even simple assistance when we camped. Despite her tendency towards quiet solitude, together we were a fast and rather efficient team.
Our one and only night camped together didn't created any problems between us either. We quit walking when we lost the moon at about 9 p.m. and we found a good campsite in a clearing near a small stream. An earlier GPS check a few hours back at a rather nice rock outcrop had revealed that we had already travelled about 24 miles that first day, so we likely only had about sixteen miles to go tomorrow. She gathered moss while I pitched my tent out in on a mostly flat clearing near a small stream. We barely warmed our cans of pork and beans and ate them nearly cold. We were too hungry to care. I reported in on the radio that we were doing fine, hearty and hale and well-loaded down with rocks and anticipated that we would reach our final destination by early or mid afternoon tomorrow, at the latest. After that we went straight to bed and ignored the slight hints of fresh snow in the wind. We each had our own sleeping bag in my tent and we were way too tired for any 'sexual tension'. She snored, but in a cute feminine way and I was way too tired to care or politely object anyway.
I thought about trying to catch one of the visible trout in the icy stream early the next morning right after sun-up, but we were both itching to get back on the road, figuratively speaking before anything other than a light dusting of snow occurred or the wind picked up. The powered eggs weren't at all bad and even packaged bacon is a delicacy out in the woods. It was going to be snack food (mostly power bar stuff) until we made it to our final objective before it was too dark. The sooner we made it there, the sooner we'd get a real bed and real hot food ... hopefully.
We made it to our destination, a small town on the north shore of Great Fish Lake at about noontime, in plenty of time and not too exhausted. In fact we were by comparison almost early, being just the second group to arrive, a mere half hour behind the first team. We had more than our share of rocks and our hand-sketched map squared up fairly nicely with the instructors. Everything in this course was Pass/Fail so getting our 'passes' seemed a bit anti-climactic. Then the bastards told us that this particular exercise wasn't 'really' being graded at all, for most of the students at least anyway.
It took about another full day for the last stragglers to make it in. One group over-extended their time and decided that they were sort of lost when they radioed in at noontime on Sunday, already several hours past the deadline. The instructors gave them an override code to unlock their GPS unit and they then found that they were only about eight miles away from town, further up the Great Fish River. The instructors then gave them two hours to make it here or else they'd fail. They had to jog the entire way with their heavy packs and the sled, but they made it just barely in time and after their fieldwork was examined they grudgingly received pass marks to continue with the course...
Two other folks were either 'dropped' by the instructors or else quit. I heard both versions of the story. All of the other four women in our course besides Estelle made it. They were all tough birds that knew that they were going to have to make their own way in a tough physical 'man's profession' and didn't expect an ounce of masculine assistance or political correctness to ease their way. I think one gal did blubber a bit to an instructor about how difficult everything was for a woman, but he snapped back that wilderness survival, if anything, was even easier for a woman than for a man. They have higher body fat densities, survive cold better and women structurally have better lower body strength than men do. Our muscles are all in our chests and shoulders and aren't quite as helpful for sled hauling, which uses more leg and hip muscles.
Estelle was by far the toughest and most determinedly independent of the lot. Despite that, I hoped I'd get the chance to work with her again.
I slept until our charter plane came to get us right before three o'clock. No hot lunch for us. The thirty of us students, now feeling like veterans of the wilderness, were off to our next destination, the Inuit town of Gjoa Haven, well above the Arctic Circle.
No hot late dinner was waiting for us when we got there either, alas.