Friday, January 13, 2017

The Icy Grasp Of Winter.

Although Winter got off to a slow start this year, we have certainly made up for it for the past month.
We've had several good dumps of snow, and continuing cold temperatures.

One day I'll get my tractor thawed-out enough to start and finish plowing the yard.

In for supplies to the big smoke.
Lillooet Lake, on the way to the city.

I came across one of the wandering horses there along the lake.

I stopped to chat and offered to bring a treat back for him on the return trip.
He stuck his big head in the window and blew out his nostrils, steaming-up my windows and glasses.
This freezing along the bluff at the head of Lillooet Lake is always interesting.

I should know better than to go to town on a Saturday, the traffic and parking was terrible.

As a person that generates his electricity from an already frigid creek, I could use a little less of this extended cold weather.
   But things have been going pretty good over there at the pelton-wheel shack all things considered.

 Usually if I'm going to have a problem with the system it will be up at the intake-pond, which is quite a ways up the steep mountain behind me. I had the open Winter screen on the end of the penstock and there had been no problems through out the first of the cold weather we had back the middle of December.
   There was one little event Christmas morning though when I awoke before dawn to a dark and rapidly cooling lodge. I leaped out of a warm bed, and it was awful cold when I reluctantly stepped out that door then took off with my foot-steps crunching on the frost. After some fiddling around over at the pelton-wheel it looked like an expedition to the intake-pond was in order. I didn't relish the thought of riding the quad and cranked up my stone cold pickup, the seats where hard and there was frost on both sides of the windshield when I got in, and it turned over rather slowly at first.
   As seems to happen more often than not, there had been pretty healthy dump of snow a few days beforehand, just to make my middle of the night Xmas excursion up the mountain even more interesting. I got going up the steep and narrow road and really had to put my foot into it to keep going in the deep snow. I hadn't gone very far off the main road when I come upon a tree across the road that had come down in the heavy snow.
Then had to back all the way the hell out of there and went back home for the axe. 
   I followed my ruts back to the fallen tree, got out and started chopping in the headlights. The tree was frozen solid, and I did warm-up considerably. I was only going to do one cut, and that section of tree that dropped into the snow was quite a handful to drag off out of the way. Glad the hard work was over with, I hopped back in the truck and started off once more, making it about 5 truck lengths before miring down in the deep snow for good.
   I'm a stubborn old cuss when it comes to getting the electrical power back on, and I backed all the way the hell out of there once more and went home, hoping the quad was going to fare a little better.
Well I had been damned cold riding in my pickup truck, and tearing down the road on the Honda quad was enlightening. Following the truck tracks, or as best I could, I passed the chopped out of the way tree to where the truck bogged down, and going like hell with the odd poof of snow coming over the front-rack into my face to keep me awake I managed to claw my way through the snow until it finally bogged-down to the axles and high-centered for good too. I dug it out with my hands and managed to get the pig drug around and pointed down-hill. I was hoping to get a lot further up that mountain I tell you, I knew I wouldn't make it all the way, but closer is always better. I untied the axe, sucked it up, and started the long uphill slug through the deep snow, in the dark, and at times feeling every month of my 62 years here on earth. But if a guy had to be out this time of day up a mountain-side in the pre-dawn cold, it was sure a glorious starlit night for it.
The road along the high ridge is often used by deer in the deep Winter snows, and also by the cougars that follow in their tracks. This fact is not entirely lost on me as I fight my way through the drifts, trying not to look like anything too far down the food chain.
   The problem at the intake turned out to be not too serious, with the aid of the axe once more I chopped a hole in the ice big enough to get at the screened water-intake, then holding the flashlight under my arm I fished around in there with a couple of hooked sticks and changed things out without falling in or anything.

 I climbed back out of the creek, which in the deep snow is a feat unto itself, and started off following my uphill trudge-tracks downhill. The sun had begun to come up and that frost-covered Honda looked pretty good when I finally reached it. I was glad I took the time to get it pointed in the right direction earlier, when I was warmer, and had far more ambition.

Soak them toes.
 I stopped at home long enough to get the pelton-wheel cranked-up to speed and all the heaters going then grabbed a towel and continued right on down to the hot spring for a Xmas morning warm-up, and quite proud of my old self for getting the electricity back up and running so quickly.

   A week or so later it got even colder, and once again I was awoken from my dreams in the middle of the night to an obvious lack of electricity happening. 
I got to go do something, or matters will only get worse.
"Oh Bastard" I muttered to myself, pulling on my outside gear. 
For some perverse reason, it had briefly warmed up a few days before enough to dump another big load of snow, completely obliterating my previous tracks up there. 
Some to my dismay, the frost-covered fuel-injected Honda fired right up in the pre-dawn... dark. 
They say the coldest part of the night is right before the dawn. 
And they are absolutely right. 
   Again, I knew I wasn't going to make it all the way, but it was a matter of as few trudge-steps as possible, and after many tries where I got impossibly stuck, got un-stuck and moving again, only to get stuck again, and backing up and taking runs at the unbroken trail I managed to claw and spin and swear the quad up the mountain. Not all the way of course, but with a bit of a frozen crust underneath got further up there than I did before, which I was quite happy about, even tough there was still a bit of a walk ahead of me. Before I left I managed to get the pelton-wheel running on reduced water flow, and I've been up the mountain at night many times over the years, but never when the plant was running, and on one section of the death march it was possible to look out over the cliff and see the yard-lights way down there. 
A lit-up oasis out in the middle of almost no-where, that I was keen to get back to.
   Skidding down the bank the creek to my nemesis the intake-pond, it turns out the creek flow had lowered in the cold, or some bloody thing and the intake was cavitating, or sucking air into the line and loosing head, and it dosn't take much to bugger things down at the pelton-wheel shed. The pond does freeze over, except for the whirly-pool part. I got a large section of ice chopped free and moved it over in place floating above the intake which put an end to the slurping whirlpool going on. Feeling rather proud of myself once more, I trudged my way back to my waiting machine, which even just being a little bit closer this time was a big improvement.

Several nights later...
   "Oh Bastard" I grumbled several nights later, when it got really really cold and the place was in the dark once more. 
I got out of bed and ran over and fiddled with the pelton-wheel, but there was not enough water coming down the penstock to bring it up to speed. In this cold I knew it was going to be a big problem and we were going to be down for an indefinite period. I went back over and drained the hot tub and all the water lines as best I could, those that hadn't frozen already. 
   One thing I've learned over the years, well theres been quite a few things, but one important thing I've picked-up is if there is any amount of water running down the penstock in extreme cold, don't turn it off. There was still maybe 60 gallons a minute coming down and thru the nozzle, less than a third of what it needs.
I decided there was not much I could do up the mountain, and figured I would see how far I could make it up there in the days light, fired-up the wood-stove and went back to bed for the remainder of the night. 

First on the list that morning was firing up the propane generator, it doesn't run the baseboard heaters, but it lights the place up and runs the fridge, Internet satellite, and CBC Radio.

A hole was chopped in the ice out front and water bucketed up for the kitchen and bathroom.

   That day I made it quite aways up the mountain, a bit of a crust had formed, not much of one but enough to get me up to within a couple hundred meters of the intake pond. I walked in the last grueling stretch and down to the intake-pond where it turns out a large flexible pipe that makes the bend out of the dam to the penstock has frozen from the outside in. The water in the creek is only 33 degrees, so it don't take much for ice to form. There wasn't much to be done, but as long as there was still some amount of water flowing there was hope, then returned home for breakfast.
   Later that day, I figured I better go back up there for another look, and seeing I had a trail beaten on top of the snow almost as far as the intake, it would be a quick late afternoon ride up and back.
I was a determined lad, and with no small amount of taking runs and wheel-spinning and abusing my poor machine I managed to crest the last little hill and ride along the last flat stretch and park above the intake, this was all getting too easy.
   I had the gas on full charging along sort of up on the crust a bit, pretty happy with myself, but you sure didn't want to stop or try to turn around. When I arrived at the creek crossing I got to thinking it was going to be a hell of a long ways to back the machine out of here, and got the sudden less than bright idea to charge on across the bridge and do a large circle around and come back and park.
It didn't take me long to realize I had just made one of my biggest mistakes of the week, which is saying quite a lot. I had a pretty good head of steam built-up but the machine gradually bogs down in the fine granulated snow, and despite my loud urging, the Honda mires down high-centered with all four wheels spinning freely in the snow.
"Oh Stupid Bastard!" I hollered a bunch of times while my Honda sat there steaming.
   So much for a quick trip up and back. I should have packed a lunch, and a shovel wouldn't have hurt either. My initial observation indicated that it was going to be a long walk home, and pondered the pros and cons of taking the long switch-backy road down, or simply skidding down the hillside alongside the penstock, which would be shorter, but I would sure be a snowy pissed-off mess when I got home.
   My memory isn't quite what it use to be, but I did eventually recall bogging my machine down once before within a few feet of my present location under very similar circumstances. That was a few years back now, it was such a bad day I wrote a post about it, all that sweating and stomping down  a trail. Yes that was quite a day.
I wish I had of thought of that about two minutes before, and compared to now, I was hardly even stuck then.

    The big problem is once you go through the crust, the wheels don't touch anywhere near the ground with the machine sitting on it's belly. So I start right in stomping down a trail out, which is hard work and breaking the crust just exposes more sugar-like snow.  I remembered the axe down at the intake, and scrambled down the hillside to get it, and I thought to grab the handsaw I keep there for cutting pipe or sawing a hole in the ice. The axe helped considerably in getting the crusty snow from out under the machine, and I ended up using the handsaw to chop-up the center crust. Theres no traction in that granulated snow, and I gave up at one point, figuring my best bet would be to get going for home as it was getting late in the day. But I'd start in again and move a foot or so. I tried driving ahead to get a run in reverse but I'd just get stuck up there, then have to re-dig and swear my way back to where I was.
    It seemed a hopeless situation, but they say if you can move an inch, your not stuck, and I kept at it, with the cooling-fan running and snow steaming off the engine I ground my way down to the ground eventually and so very slowly, inch by inch, I found myself out of the dip and back on the level. Somehow, after much sweating, swearing, digging and sawing I got back up on my tracks and very thankfully backed it all the way the hell out of there. After a couple days the water running down the penstock melted out enough ice from the inside of the intake to run the pelton-wheel generator and civilized living was once again established at the Hotspring Lodge. So you can imagine how pleased with myself I was to get things up and running after only 3 days down.

    It is still very cold out as I work on this post, things are working great, but when I go to bed at night, I got to wonder if my dreams will be interrupted by a power interuptus.
I sure hope not, theres been another big dump of snow a awhile back, totally obliterating any trace that I was ever up there under another foot of snow, making access to the intake-screen this time something I don't even like to think about. 
Most guys my age I know go someplace warm in the Winter.
But such is my lot in life. After almost 25 years of taking on the Bastard hill in Winter, I think I might just have to give some thought to keeping an eye out for an old snowmobile or dog-team or something next summer.
But that would kind of take all the fun out of it.
One of these days I'll get that driveway plowed...


  1. Wondered why we hadn't heard from you for so long? But I should know by now all the challenge's snow and ice bring you. How cold has it been there? Glad to see that horse still around. Casey

  2. Hi Case, yup things were going too good around here for awhile, I had nothing to write about. Its been so cold all brass monkeys are well advised to stay inside.
    See you on your Spring camp-out.

  3. thank you so much for the hats Robin ,hopefully we will be up there sometime in march again