Winter Closes in on Gonzos at Keji 2000

Breaking with tradition, eight Gonzos met at Sunnyside at 7:00am on Sunday, January 16/00 for the fifth annual hike into Keji, the first one held at Masons Cabin (a 7k hike beyond the ranger cabin). The previous four journies were to the ranger cabin. After putting away light breakfast specials and chasing it down with lots of hot coffee, we split up into two vehicles for the drive to Keji. Malcolm Pain drove his Taurus Station-wagon and took Bruce Duffy (Sungod), Gordon Warnica (Viking) and Greg Vail (Fireball). Mark Stein in his Subaru Outback took the other threesome made up of Bruce Murphy (Dipper), Norm Stein (Stalker) and me (Pack It In - Pack It Out). Four Gonzos and four backpacks completely filled each car. Next stop, Kejimkujik National Park parking lot entrance of the trail head.

The Painman's vehicle drove on ahead and registered us all at the administration center. The registrar's first question was - where we all planned to sleep in the four person cabin? Answer was - outside. Her next question - did we realize that 20 cm of snow was forecasted overnight? Well, being Halligonians we really have not seen 20cm of snow all at one time! The boys assured her that we were all seasoned hikers, so she checked us in. With cars now parked at the trail head, each Gonzo searched for his pack, all arranged hap-hazardly in the back of each car. Within a blink of an eye the first group was off, Viking, Dipper and Fireball. They were followed shortly by the Stalker and Sungod who hollered back to Malcolm - not to forget the paper. By the time me and the two drivers were ready to set off the first two groups were already out of our sight. We left the vehicles at 10:00am, under sunny skies and a cool -14c, on our 20K venture to the Ranger Fire Tower. The Painman kept marking the trail by unintentionally dropping his gloves every 200 feet. Soon we caught up to Sungod and Stalker making us five strong for the first 8K. Reaching the shelter at the 8K point, the first group already had the fire going for us stragglers. Fumbling around in our packs searching for our lunch goodies, the sky outside was changing rapidly. Stepping outside to complete the final 12K, we saw the sun had disappeared, sky was covered with a gray blanket of westerly clouds hurrying eastward. I hiked the final 12K with Viking and Sungod as we brought up the sweep. Conversation moved back and forth among us along the way as it started to snow. We climbed the final mile and half to reach the fire tower at 2:15pm. A 4 1/4 hour hike. The other Gonzos were already scurrying around in the light snow securing their tarps for the coming night's sleep. Inside the cabin, Fireball had a pot of apple cider heating up on the stove for everyone. The first thing that Stalker and I did was climb the 90 ft Fire Tower which stood guard over the little cabin below. Reaching the top, we got the full effect of the snow storm moving in. The wind blew the snow flakes hard against our bodies as we hung tight to the rungs of the steel ladder. Feeling fortunate that we would be spending the night below these strong storm winds, we headed back down. With the tarps all secured and the tent up, we all gathered inside to enjoy the first annual mug-up of hot apple cider. We picked a time of 4:30pm to have supper, before darkness fell. Without being told the time, it seemed everyone at once started their own meal preparations. A barrage of supper items appeared from the packs, KD and sausages, shake and bake chicken with rice, Hungarian Goulash, campers pre-packaged meals, macaroni and hamburger. Being a little over anxious for a hot meal, I upset my supper over the floor, the same floor that everyone had tramped in snow, water, leaves and dirt from the woodshed. The toppings didn't bother me, it was the method that I'd use to get it picked up, back in the pot, without anyone noticing me that bothered me. In a room, 10x10ft with 8 people inside, that turned out to be impossible. In the short evening the followed, the boys kept shinning a light outside at Norm's tarp to see if it was still standing. They used Norm's tarp as a benchmark to see if theirs was holding up. At 8:pm Bruce D., Norm, Bruce M & Mark headed outside in the snow to get under their tarps, while Gordon & Malcolm turned right for their tent. Greg and I, with the cabin to ourselves, climbed into our sleeping bags for a good winter's night sleep.

At 6:00am (Monday) Greg and I climbed out of our bunks, got dressed and started our breakfast. Soon Bruce D. joined us, being the first tarp sleeper in. Norm joined us after climbing out from under his tarp through a wall of snow that had fallen around him during the night. Soon after the two tenters (Gordon and Malcolm) arrived inside and now breakfast was in full force along with packing up gear for the trip out.

Stopping only for a couple of pictures outside the cabin, the first group headed off through 20in of snow. I stayed back with Bruce M to sweep out and close up the cabin. We left at sharp 9:00am. The others had about a 10 min head start. It only took us 50 min to catch the lead group who were all standing still in the middle of the trail. I was bewildered as to why they had all stopped, until we reached them. One of the Gonzos spoke up and said, OK, you guys can take the lead. I stepped in front of the lead into knee deep snow and forcibly moved my feet forward like a slow motion replay. This was hard work after enjoying the luxury of of being the seventh or eighth hiker. Bruce M. followed in my footsteps along with the Stein brothers. The others regrouped and settled in to follow us, a short distance behind.

The 20in (not 20cm) of snow gave the trail a totally different look. Snow clung to every branch of the evergreens, even bending over the weaker ones right across our path. It was like walking through a maze of snow covered objects. The wind constantly blowing above us, sent flying snow down into our faces, limiting the visibility to not more than 10ft ahead of us. I slugged out 20 min of breaking trail and easily gave up my spot to Bruce M, as I fell in line behind Mark. The four of us agreed to break trail for 20 min each until we reached the shelter which would only leave us 8K left to go. When Bruce and I had been catching up from the start at the cabin we averaged 15 min per K, we were now lucky if we made 20 min per K. This pace would put us at the vehicles around 5:00pm, but before dark.

As we reached the Mersey River, Norm and I were alone up front. The roaring wind rushed over the bridge as we started to cross.

Soon the 8 of us were together again at the shelter with fire ablaze. Gonzos were busy cooking lunch, changing into dry clothes and rearranging their packs.

We were all amazed to hear the roar of a snowmobile pulling up outside. In walked Ranger Rick, who advised us he was on his way to Mason's Cabin to check on a group of young people from Halifax.

Now that we had the snowmobile track to follow, the remaining 8K was just made simpler.

With lunch over, dry clothes on, we headed our march out the door and to the cars. Norm and I cracked off the first K in 12 minutes," now this was progress". In the distance ahead we caught in the corner of our eye the glimpse of a mother deer and a young fawn crossing the trail. With a flick of their tails they effortlessly bounced off through the woods, as if to say "what's all the fuss about a little snow?"

We arrived at the cars at 4:00pm with the others only a few minutes behind. We packed up the cars and headed for Foodland in Caledonia for a well deserved coke.

The 103 highway was a mask of snow and tracks, delaying my home arrival to 8:00pm. Thanks to our drivers, Mark and Malcolm, for the safe trip home.

This had to have been the most incredible and toughest hike of all in my early hiking career. I guess outside of Halifax the rest of Nova Scotia really does have winter.

Hikes are like busses, if you miss one, another will come along, and the next one comes along this Saturday, January 22/00 - Full Moon Hike- at Long Lake. See you at Tim's, Bayers Lake near the 103 highway, 6:30pm