As I tap out this column, on the first day of January 2014, it is -33 Celsius in Thunder Bay. The wind chill is in the area of -46 C. For my American friends, -40 C and -40 F are the same thing. In other words, extremely stinking cold.
It’s been that kind of winter in Northwestern Ontario. It started to get cold in early November, and slowly slipped into a full-blown December deep freeze. The last two days of the month were record breakers, with Dec. 30 registering a delightful -51 C wind chill in T Bay. That broke a record first set back in 1967. It’s difficult to explain what that wind chill feels like, but your skin is so cold it actually feels like it’s burning. A couple good loads of snow have added to the overall wintery feel. This sharp weather made late season deer hunting a challenge and early winter angling a chore. Normally, I get one first ice walleye trip in between the end of big game hunting and the start of a New Year. However, when my auger would only start inside the house, I knew it was too cold for fishing. So it goes.
Yet, it’s now a new year, and my friends at Environment Canada say this cold will be the norm through February. So do I just camp out in the basement throwing wood in the stove and watching Storage Wars Texas? Or do I suck it up? Personal history has shown that at some point, I’ll do the latter. The cabin fever just becomes unbearable.
There is no doubt my hesitation to tangle with the cold has increased with the passage of time. I see it in my long-time fishing buddies as well. The reasons not to go are becoming more complex and the list is getting longer.
It was not always the case.
There was one trip many moons ago when a friend and I decided to fish a lake that required a 14-mile snowmobile ride in the wilderness. This trip was done on a single lung Polaris snow machine, with two medium large men on board and a sled in tow. We broke trail all the way in at a temperature of -26 C. Luckily, there was no wind, but I do recall having a small spot of frostbite on my face.
Then, once there, we had some walking to do. The lake was at the top of a height of land. This required, quite literally, ice climbing a frozen creek for about 75 feet, and then traversing a steep, snow-covered hill another 250 yards. The fact that we were carrying packs, rods and an auger while wearing snowshoes, made the whole enterprise very difficult. On the lake, the slush was incredible, and we had to carefully pick our way along the edge, often in waist deep snow. By the time we got to fishing, it was nearly noon, and we knew that it was two hours out.
If one of us had got hurt, or wet, or the sled refused to run, we would have been in a serious pickle. It never happened, and we got back without incident. Even got a couple speckled trout. But these days I tend to see the potential problems more than the potential rewards. In retrospect, there are a few times I think maybe someone was watching out for us out there.
The reality is, except for the most bitter temperatures, you can get along outside pretty well if you are properly dressed and prepared. The clothing for cold weather activity is impressive, and very functional. These days, there is almost no excuse for cold feet. You can get boots good to -75 F, and, realistically, that is not going to happen unless you take a wrong turn at Baffin Island. Sure, you need to be careful, especially about wind chill, because it can be deadly. Just cover that skin, layer well and suck it up. It truly is amazing just how good it feels to get outdoors in the winter, even if it means some tingling fingers and a snotty moustache. Don’t let Old Man Winter get the best of you. I’ll see you out there.
This story was originally published in the February 2014 issue of Northern Wilds Magazine.
By Gord Ellis