Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Into the Back Country

Our guide, Mike, was waiting for us at the trail head, horses (10) saddled, mule (1) packed, ready for the trail. Riding out that sunny morning, we were one cowboy, born and bred (Mike), 3 keen riders from Indiana, a Danish family of 3 of mixed experience, and, finally, C and myself (riding dilettantes).

The first few yards of the trail took us through a shuttered ski resort (Mount Norquay). Then, tall pines closed in around the narrow track, and we said goodbye to "civilisation". Already, the deep quiet of the back country was upon us, the drone of the infernal combustion engine replaced by the by the steady clip-clop rhythm of strolling hooves. In that close forest, the mountains around us were only glimpsed, their presence mostly inferred by the steepness of the ground to either side of the trail, and by the sound of hidden torrents, still swollen with snow-melt.

We stopped for lunch in a clearing at the edge of a meadow, and turned our horses loose (except Mikes, for purposes of rounding-up). Gophers popped out of burrows to watch as Mike removed a grill from the back of his mule and set about splitting firewood to cook our burgers. From the edge of the meadow, we could see across the valley to the forest on the opposite slopes. Looking higher, the scars of fire and avalanche were easily found; above those, a crest of the slate that gives these young mountains their rugged good looks.

Lee and Shrynn, keen riders from Indiana

Post-lunch, the forest closed in again, but the ground around us leveled out - a fortunate circumstance, as it turned out. Up ahead, the guide's horse came to an abrupt stop; I was close enough behind to see the problem, which was an uprooted tree stump sitting on the trail. This was a "grizzly stump" - the ant-ridden remains of a rotting tree, dug up and ripped apart by a protein-hungry grizzly bear. Mike's horse shook its head and stamped its feet, and tried to go anywhere but straight ahead; he put his spurs in, forced its head around to face the stump, and soon enough, got safely past.

Well, the spare horse, Ricky, passed by without incident, and so did Rocket the lunch mule, and Kris from Indiana; but Ajax, my mount, lacked their confidence in Mike's judgement. Having been neck-reining him all day, I neglected to shorten my reins at the crucial moment, and Ajax shied, before heading straight off the trail and into the forest, removing his rider (me) with the help of the first pine he passed. Having separated rider, hat and even the port-side stirrup (replaced with the help of Lee from Indiana), he moved me, on recapturing him, to offer him a new career inside a sausage skin, should he ever repeat that little performance. Having led him past that sinister stump, I re-mounted in a state of mild embarrassment, and our party rode on.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sorex minutus

Sorex minutus is a predator with a particularly high metabolic rate; so high, in fact, that going more than 2 hours without eating could be fatal. Over the course of 24 hours, this efficient hunter will devour prey equal to two thirds of its own weight. Teeth that do that much biting need to be tough - and they are, containing so much iron that the tips are red. Sorex is also extremely territorial, and the males defend their territories with ferocious violence.

I encountered my first specimen this morning - the corpse of the unfortunate creature was making small circuits in our garden, its tiny body(just 4 grams or so) propelled into the air by batting paws.

The hunter become the hunted

Our little assassin was having the time of his life. Well, somebody's life.

Friday, July 06, 2007


With a small-craft advisory and a gale warning out, I did the only sensible thing – drove as quickly as possible to the cove where we keep Briongloid. The row out was brutal – a squall hit, and actually kicked my dinghy sideways over the water; a vicious chop even managed to slap a little water over the bows.

My row out told me all I needed to know about sail choice; I cast off with a single-reefed main and a hurriedly-hoisted storm jib. One very conservatively managed jibe took me to the entrance of the cove, becalmed for a few minutes in the narrows, and sorely tempted to shake that reef back out.

Glad I didn’t do that! Speed over ground ticked up, up, up on the GPS, and suddenly I was far too busy to be looking at numbers. The burble-burble of our wake built to a hiss; a faint vibration developed in the tiller. Briongloid rose into a swell of some substance; the next was bigger, and the third was bigger again. A wave broke awkwardly on the bow just as we plunged down the back the swell, and spray burst into the cabin around three sides of the fore-hatch. That did get my attention: must get that seal replaced, and take a second look at those latches.

The open sea was a lively place; force 6, gusting to 8, a south-westerly swell combining with a healthy westerly chop – I clipped my harness to a strong-point on the cockpit floor after one well-timed wave nearly lifted me from my seat. A pretty considerable heel developed in the gusts, but Briongloid handled well – steering remained responsive, and I had no fear of a broach. Behind me, the backs of passing swells were already high enough to conceal the entrance to the cove.

Being an evening sail, it wasn’t long before I had to tack for home; bore off on to a real screamer of a reach; GPS says we topped off at 8.3 knots - presumably sliding down a swell with the gale driving us - and staying in the vicinity of hull speed the rest of the way home.

Back on the mooring, I slid back the main hatch to be confronted by utter chaos: a landlubber might have assumed that the boat had been picked up and shaken by a giant (which would be within hailing distance of the truth, I suppose) - tools, sail bags and yet-to-be-installed parts had made an obstacle course of the cabin floor, while a small puddle remained beneath the fore-hatch. An inspection of the rigging also proved educational – the flapping of an imperfectly reefed main and slackly hoisted jib had shaken one bottle neck screw apart, leaving the attached stay to hang slackly by the mast. A job for some tightly-wrapped electrical tape, I think.

Conclusions: a Pandora will handle well in heavier weather, but check your rigging - and your fore-hatch.