It was going to be a great day…by Mary Franzel

Posted on Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

It was going to be a great day. I was headed up to re-bait my 2 wolverine stations with 2 entertaining women & one outstanding young man. The weather was perfect, we had a plan & it was going to be FUN! Well, 2 outta 3 ain’t bad. My biggest mistake was the statement, “it should take us less than 5 hours.” After all, Sandii & I were going to the Banff Film Festival – Sandii was scheduled to man the FSPW table at 6 pm. We began our adventure at 9 am. No problem.

It began as planned – everyone showed up at the designated location on time, raring to go. Andrew had generously volunteered his snowmobile to pull the 3 of us up about 12 miles to the first station. The snow was a little crusty to begin with – and having 3 people hanging onto 2 waterski tow ropes behind one machine was a little iffy now & then, but was working well. Only one crash about 100 yards after starting & then everyone pretty much got the hang of it. Poor Andrew did have temporary thumb paralysis & numbness due to his talent of keeping the speed darn constant – no way to relieve the localized pressure. He is one talented driver on a trip which must have been rather dull going between 10 & 15 mph. The biggest challenge was worrying if the front person fell, the back 2 didn’t run over them.

As we progressed upward towards the station, all was going as planned.  Andrew began turning the sled around to point downhill & it plopped into a rather deep drift of powder. The 4 of us easily dug & lifted the snowmobile out. I think we only dropped the sled once on Andrew in the process. We packed up our first beaver, needed supplies & headed off the trail to the station. Andrew happily snow shoed along. We were thrilled to see over 2000 pictures on the memory card! Our bait was a bone wired to a tree. Yeah!! Something definitely located it. After checking the pictures & seeing several animals but probably not a wolverine, we moved on to hang new bait & replace the batteries and gun brushes. Sandii had a slight issue with the camera batteries – she dropped one & was frustrated when no one couldn’t find it. Litter & leaving a ‘trace’ is not okay! Eventually we gave up & set off to the second station.

Upon returning to the snowmobile, we were about a half mile or so up a bit of a hill so we decided to ski down instead of being pulled. Sandii & Celeste started off. For some reason I was waiting for Andrew to go. He pulled the starter & almost fell over backwards as the cord came right out in his hand. Uh oh. Called Sandii & Celeste back. Now here was Andrew 12 miles from civilization……alone with 3 cougars. Yikes.

We all worked well together & managed to get the recoil open after removing part of the exhaust system. Celeste thought of taking pictures of engine BEFORE dismantlement in case we had extra pieces when we were done. Excellent. Sandii’s previous work experience proved vital in carefully taking apart the spring & not have it “springing” all over. Celeste had smartly brought several useful tools including a vice grip, a hemostat (assumedly in case someone needed stitches…..?!!) and tape.

We were just to where we had to wind up the cord & weren’t 100% sure (okay, more like 2% sure) of just how to do it….when – HARK – is that a snowmobile we hear? We discussed the direction of the sound. Yes, it was above us & our trail was the only way down – they had to go past us!!

Enter Jim & John. Two of the nicest guys out there (and probably the only 2 out there….) .They worked on Andrew’s snowmobile for a couple hours. They knew how to wind the cord so the spring worked properly. We only had one extra piece & no one was sure why it was in where the cord wound up in the first place. We were thrilled. It worked & the sled started. Then it died. Started. Died. Repeat. Only, the last thing it did was die. They replaced spark plugs, burned off possibly excess gas. Nothing worked.

Eventually Celeste’s common sense came through & she suggested that some of us start skiing towards the second bait station. It was on the way back anyway & I definitely did not want to haul another beaver all the way up the next day to do that station! XC ski boots are not made for standing around outside for 2+ hours so the 3 of us headed off after loading up the bait. I think the beaver gained weight on the trip up. He seemed awfully heavy but he had to come with us. Jim & John said they would tow Andrew & his snowmobile if they couldn’t get it started.

Down the hill we headed. When we arrived at the main trail – an amazing development had occurred – the rather crusty trail had been groomed!! It was now lovely virgin corduroy. Since we had almost 12 miles to ski this was a real plus. We whooped & hollered like little kids on a scavenger hunt. We had found the big prize! About half way to my second station we heard snowmobiles. Our first reaction was one of excitement – they got Andrew’s sled running! Even seeing them approaching it looked good. Unfortunately the long rope between Andrew & John’s sled told the true story. They generously offered to pull us as well, but Jim & John were already going in completely the opposite direction they needed to & we would have slowed them down immensely. John & Jim still had a long trek back to their starting point. We watched them drive off & settled into a peaceful ski.

I was happy to arrive at the second station as Ms./Mr. Beaver appeared to be gaining weight with every mile. (how did that happen?)  The 3 of us made quick work of the station.

Less photos on this card – only about 300. The bait was not completely a skeleton as the first station was, but definitely something more than squirrels & ermine were enjoying it.  Up went a hearty new Beaver Buffet. Sandii was not allowed near the batteries on this station. Our step stool of a broken tree was covered in snow. The gusto sponge was almost buried. New batteries, gusto & beaver. All was good in the wolverine bait station world. It was already 4 pm & we still had about 8 miles of skiing ahead of us.

While we were working, heard John & Jim return up the trail. Off they went as they had a good 30+ miles to go & it was about 4:30. We hoped they were able to help Andrew get his snowmobile up on his trailer and remembered to leave my tow ropes.

After a couple miles it was headlight time. It was below freezing & we couldn’t see the icy chunks, although the trail was in excellent shape. There was a beautiful sliver of a moon. The light reflected off ice on a creek. It was a lovely ski out.

We arrived unscathed at the vehicles. Dark, yes, but mission accomplished. Andrew’s truck, trailer & snowmobile were gone. My tow ropes were under my car. We all marveled at the kindness of our snowmobile saviors. It was about 7:15 pm. Sandii would miss manning the table at the film festival, but her husband gallantly took care of the table alone. We did get to see half of the Banff films….meanwhile we’re hoping Wally & Wilma Wolverine discover our beaver buffet.

Other than sore ribs/face on one of our skiers (iintentiionally not mentiioning names here) the only casualty was Andrew’s snowmobile. Hopefully it’s feeling better now….

It may have not gone exactly as planned, but it was a great day! My thanks to Andrew, Sandii & Celeste……and to Jim & John!

Update: Critters captured on film were Fisher (several, one rather fat!), Marten, Ermine, Northern Flying Squirrel, Moose & Deer. Sandii located the dropped battery in her camera case. Now our only ‘trace’ will be happy critters in winter!

2 Responses

  1. Sandy Compton says:

    Andrew’s snow machine was fixed the next day, carrying him and a couple of friends to the Star Peak trailhead. The rescuers each got a FSPW hat and t-shirt and Celeste was healthy enough to attend Brian Baxter’s winter ecology class the next day.

    All’s well that ends well.

  2. Karen Momany says:

    Great story and since I attended the Winter Ecology class I now know who Celeste is. Just got done watching the PBS documentary on wolverines and I am very excited about your project!! Hope you catch those energetic fellas on film.

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