29 March 2007

SnowSTAR did a little bit of difficult trailbreaking today--an overland shortcut to reach the Mackenzie River that nobody had traveled on yet this winter. There is a road from Fort MacPherson to Tsiigehtchick (Arctic Red River), but the road is plowed down to bare gravel and could not be used by snowmobiles so they tried the overland trail. Total distance traveled today was about 30 miles (50K) and Camp 14 tonight is at the Mackenzie River settlement of Tsiigehtchick. Matthews soundclip below talks about the difficulty they had in breaking out this trail. Tonights dispatch talks about the importance of trail markers and the clever ways people mark trails in the Northland.

Click here for tonight's soundclip from Matthew

CHUGIAK STUDENTS Click here for Weather Report in Espanol


Dispatch for March 29 2007
Camp 14 Location: Tsiigehtchick (Arctic Red River) 67 27'N 133 45'W
Weather: Overnight -31C (-28F). Afternoon -10C (+13F)

Trail Markers
When you are traveling, it is important to be able to find your way. If you live where there are roads, you can see that they are marked with street signs and other information to tell you where you are or how to get to different places. When you are traveling in a place without roads, it can be even more important to find the right trail. For example, in the taiga, without a trail, you might not be able to fit between the trees!

Fortunately for us, we have had excellent trails to follow much of the way so far. In some places, we can just follow the snowmachine tracks. That is, if we know which tracks to follow. Remember that our hardest navigation is often getting out of a community, because there are so many tracks nearby.

The people who made the snowmachine tracks had to know where to go, too. Some people know the land very well, and can find their way by relying on their experience and memory, using natural landmarks like peaks and rivers.  But they often use trail markers, too, to help them find the right turning place. Trail markers are especially important in places like high mountain passes where visibility may be poor due to blowing snow. As long as you can see a trail marker, you know you are on a path. If you can’t see any trail markers, you know to stop and look before you get any more lost.

These photos show some of the wide range of markers we’ve seen. A reflector on a pole or a tree is useful even if you are traveling in the dark, so long as you have a headlamp or headlight. The tripod is unlikely to blow over and can be seen from a long way away. Note that it has a reflector, too. The mark on the tree is made with an axe, chopping away a little bark. This is known as a blaze (as in “blazing a trail”).

We have also seen markers made with surveyor’s tape or ribbon tied to a branch or tree, a tin can placed over a broken-off tree, sticks stuck in the snow, and other bright or obviously man-made things tied or placed where you can see them from a long way away.

We have yet to see a lob tree, but these used to be common.  They are a tree from which all branches have been stripped except those at the top. They can be seen from a long way off. When we reach the land of No Trees (tundra), the inuksuk (see elsewhere) serves as a trail marker and is made of stones. 



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