Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Day 4: First Contact

"We've been having fun," said Harold. These are the first cheery, welcomed words heard from the team in 4 days. Harold continued, "That's meant to be sarcastic by the way."

Hoping to hear that Harold and Derek were calling from Ollallie Meadow or Lemiti Butte, moving swiftly over the snow with their newly modified sleds coated with Line-X, spray-on truck bed liner, the report was disappointing.

"We're turning back," Harold's voice came through over a scratchy connection. He continued to explain.

On Day 1, the deep heavy snow on Hwy 46 from Detroit Lake up to the Breitenbush trail head prevented the 4wheel drive club from coming even remotely close to the drop point. With 7 miles added to the trek, all to be made up with just two extra days, Derek and Harold began hiking. Starting at 3000 ft elevation, the crew had a steep climb to the summit at 6000 ft.

Slogging through over 3 feet of snow, the duo quickly found that although the Line-X added to the bottom of the sleds was durable, the added friction made the sleds feel like they were coated in Velcro.

"The Line-X was not such a hot idea," admits Harold, "We were prepared for the extra 7lbs the Line-X would add, but the surface is not dead smooth, which makes it feel like we're pulling a brick." The added friction, deep snow, and steep elevation all worked against the boys limiting their first day's total mileage to a mere 1.5 miles.

Starting at the lower elevation brought a few more challenges. The thick woods affected the teams GPS and satellite instruments making precise position, direction, mileage, and time immeasurable as well as preventing Harold from making check-in phone calls.

The first night was spent just off the road in the woods.

The second day brought them only 2.4 miles further up the mountain. With less than four miles logged and 3.25 miles still standing between them and the trail head, they knew that on day three they would need to travel 5 miles the next day to stay within the time table.

With the pressure of being behind weighing on their minds, the team turned in on the second night hoping for a restful night. That's when the cold set in. Weather stations a good 1,000 to 1500 ft below where they camped on night two were registering as low as -9 degrees, which means it's a good possiblility it was colder at their elevation.

"The extra water bottles in our packs froze solid. The water next to our bodies in our tents froze solid. It got so cold, it was snowing inside our tents," said Harold with a slight chuckle, "Our breath rose, condensated, froze, and came right back down on us like snow."

Still the team kept on. Making slow progress again that third day, Harold and Derek began worrying about their food supply. In order to make the food drop, they had to break over the summit in three days - an impossible feat considering the problems with the sleds, current weather conditions and 6ft of snow.

The third day was the point of no return. Without making it over the top it would be impossible to make the food drop at Warm Springs cabin. The choice take a chance that the food drop team could be contacted or that the team could locate them much farther south than expected, travel on half rations or turn around. After a mile traveled on the third day and after about 45mins to an hour of discussion, and the big question could they or should they take the chance? 

The decision was made and the team began to hike back down 4220 to 46 toward Detroit Lake. Today, Harold was finally able to make a satellite connection and call out from the small clearing where they had stopped to discuss the situation.

"We'll try to make it down to Detroit Lake," said Harold knowing that travel up the snow covered highway would be tricky for the support team coming to pick them up. Before hanging up to send out a help message from his SPOT II transmitter, Harold added, "We're exhausted right now, tired and ready for dinner, but for now we're just racing to the bottom."


  1. WOW! Glad to hear they're ok! Bummer that it's not going to work out this time... I couldn't believe we got them as far as we did in the incredibly deep snow. Was the planned drop point originally going to be Breitenbush Lake? Well, I hope there will be a 3rd Attempt at this! I'm sure our Offroad Club would be up for another challenge to get them deep into the woods! :)

  2. That snow must have been super deep cause I saw those tough Samari's y'all had. And yes, the trailhead is past the hot spring and closer to Breitenbush Lake. They had about 7 miles to make up and the climb is steep. Tough going!

  3. As Derek's sister, I can attest to his disappointment at not being able to complete this trek. He is always up for this kind of challenge, so anytime the opportunity comes around, he will be ready, willing, and able. Also as Derek's sister, I am very relieved to hear that he and Harold are ok and as disappointed as I am for him, I will be glad when he's home safe and sound!

  4. Thanks Susan,
    I hadn't known who 'Susan' was, so its cool to learn that.
    Yes, Derek... and Harold... are quote the gladiators. I couldn't think of doing anything like this ever. I was getting a bit stressed as well, but still knowing that they are very capable and prepared. It will be good to have them home. I should video an interview with them both while its fresh in the their minds. I'm thinking its not only 'fresh', but refrigerated for good 'keeping'. Brrrrrr.

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  6. Sorry for the confusion here trying to get set up and post at the same time.

    If the pick up works out to be Thursday or Friday evening or Saturday I would be willing to run as far up Road 46 as possible. With the snow level rising and the rain coming I don't think I could get as far as we did on Sunday. I'm sure if you asked there would be a few volunteers from the crew who dropped them off.

  7. Thanks Ed, but my husband is picking them up in Detroit Lake at noon today. I'm sure Derek will be happy to tell his tales to anyone who will listen (or, if you know Derek, even if you don't want to listen - love you D :)