or never-resting time leads summer onTo hideous winter and confounds him there,Sap check'd with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,Beauty o'ersnow'd and bareness everywhere.
--William Shakespeare, Sonnet #5
YEAH, WELL, IT'S the winter of our discontent once again. Deal with it. As the
following writers testify, it isn't so hard. Jim Harrison writes of pleasuring himself--sorta--via the ever-dubious sport of ice fishing. Rick Bass savors the hibernating life. Nicholson Baker notes the vicious beauty of ice storms. John Haines discovers stories hidden in the snow. And film critic Rob Nelson offers some chilly movie picks. We've also collected tips on avoiding avalanches, frostbite, and snow-blindness, along with
a handy guide (for those especially desperate winter moments) to building a snow
shelter good enough to sleep in. As usual, you'll find listings of the season's more notable events as well--since we can all use a little help in dealing with it.
Ice Fishing, the Moronic Sport
We're not actually that far north. Yes, a small church in the Upper Peninsula had a Blessing of the Snowmobiles, and not a trace of irony was noticed. But the sense of the Arctic does pull on us; days shorten, men mumble, the euchre games at the tavern grow extended and violent. There is much talk in December and January of just when the bay will freeze over. It is the west arm of the Grand Traverse Bay they are talking about, a very grand bay indeed, containing some five by thirty miles of Lake Michigan's water. The east arm (they are separated by the forefinger of Old Mission Peninsula) usually freezes first, but the lake trout there, for unknown reasons, run smaller. Some years the bay doesn't freeze, but this is rare. And some years an oil tanker is brought in at an inopportune time, say if there is a steady offshore wind and a warming trend, and the ice breaks up and blows out of the bay. Until February 14, the date on which the ice is usually safe, sportsmen must be content to fish on smaller lakes for perch or crappies, or some of them take up the ancient art of pike spearing. But these activities locally are only considered as warm-ups. On inland lakes, many consider these forms of ice fishing adequate and cases are made for chugging bluegills with corn borers, a small obnoxious worm found in cornstalks. Houghton Lake, a resort area drawing much of its traffic from Hamtramck and other posh Detroit suburbs, throws a gala every winter known as Tip-Up Town, the "tip-up" referring, of course, to the crude rig positioned above the hole in the ice.
Years ago, when I was a temporary prisoner on Long Island and dreamed of a return to Trout Country, I thought of those hallowed winter nights that resemble Christmas cards, with large jeweled flakes of snow falling softly on humble farm animals and peasant faces upturned in wonderment and looking not a little bit like my relatives. But reality is a different pudding. Braaaoowill is what we have, my transcription of what is called a snowmobile "safari." Safari is when a dozen or so machines strike out in the night cross-country for another tavern. Let's have it once more: Braaaoowill, as if a dozen burly chain saws were mating under a single tympanum cowl.
Walking out on any large expanse of ice has always been dramatic to me. After not many steps I tend to stumble involuntarily, as if I were an exhausted survivor of the Byrd Expedition. I frankly expect seals or polar bears, perhaps a wolf loping along the farther shore. But if I fall and roll over I can maybe see a 1969 Camaro passing on the road or a guy and gal in his 'n' her purple satin overall suits just cattin' around on their throaty Ski-doo. This brings me swiftly back to reality. Here are a few reality facts from the Great North: our unemployment rate this year is sixteen percent, giving many some much unwanted time off; snowmobiles, mobile homes and motels each outnumber the total population in 1977; most of my friends are unemployed and if I did have any money they would try to borrow it! I am led, though, by many people I meet to believe that they are mainly worried about the Communist Threat and how the "radicals are tearing apart the country." They tell me that they "worked for what they got" and "nobody gave them nothing." In periods of high unemployment the Great Depression again becomes a ruling fact of life. Yet many people up here strike me as more populist than conservative, and there is the kind of generalized suspicion of Big Government that one finds in non-urban Arizona. They are angry at Nixon for selling them that 1952 Buick, but then they hated Johnson, who is still blamed for everything but the tight-money policy, which is especially hard on a resort area, the only other large local industry being a state insane asylum.
Oh boy! I have been invited to go ice fishing by two of my friends, Richard Plamondon, who is a bartender, and Pat Paton, a carpenter and machinist and block layer. As I dress before dawn, I feel somehow patriotic wearing Air Force surplus arctic balloon boots and bib overalls over other trousers and thermal underwear and various sweaters and a goosedown vest and an outsized quilted coat from when I weighed 225 pounds. Eighteen articles of clothing in all, and when I got out of my car I found I could scarcely walk. I fell on the slippery ice with padded impunity, a big helpless doll of a trout slayer. The early morning air was bluish with cold, and as I waddled along I thought of the promised steak to come in the afternoon and the whiskey I would use to wash it down. But there I was being asked to spud some holes in the ice. One cannot refuse. Chores are shared. Pat and Richard were organizing the chuggers and tip-ups. Everyone spuds their own holes, a rule of the Big Ice. I felt the spud was too heavy after only a few chops. I wanted the ice to be very thick for my safety but thin for the spudding. It became apparent that we could have fished from the security of a railroad car. Over a foot thick, and I was wheezing and steaming and my shoulder ached. I knew then why construction workers liked the sport: they were able to spud the holes. Anyway, Richard tested the depth: 170 feet. A lot of dark down there. I peered in the hole and saw the reflection of a moon face, my own. Richard set a tip-up for me and told me to spud another hole to chug in. I couldn't believe it. I thought, whatever happened to the tradition of the gun bearer who in this case might be put to work, or some sallow, nasty teenager might be brought along for a pittance. But I spudded on. Finally I attached a Swedish pimple (surely the most elegant name for a bait) to a line, dropped it to the bottom, raised it five feet as instructed by Pat and Richard, who watched my motions critically, and began chugging. Sort of ghastly. No question about it. I had become a Chugger! A brutish act, and it was so cold except for my toasty feet in their big white warmonger boots.
Within an hour I had eaten both my sandwiches, roast beef with thick slices of onion. I had also begun drinking my apple wine. After the second bottle I felt quite happy. I was probably cold but I couldn't feel it. The ice had become a mattress against which I snuggled prone, still chugging. No nibbles. Then Richard's tip-up flag went up and we ran over to the hole. He let the spool run freely for a minute to make sure the fish swallowed the minnow, somewhat similar to the way you hook a sail or a marlin. But not too similar. Pat contended that the fish was large, as only a large fish made a long run. I watched the red plastic spool steadily unwind until Richard picked it up and lightly reefed the line. Then he began to slowly draw it in had over hand as if he were retrieving an anchor or a used kite. I was jealous. Why didn't my flag go up? Perhaps I wasn't "living right," as they say. Richard was gaining steadily on the fish. He announced laconically that it wasn't large. We stood peering down the twelve-inch hole until, shockingly, a trout popped out with the tail of a minnow sticking out of its mouth. Then, horrors! It flopped on the ice and gave off a prolonged Belch!, a sort of berserk flatulence. I was deeply shocked.
"That pressure sure gets to them," said Pat sagely.
"You're not just a ---," replied Richard.
The point was that the fish had been pulled up precipitously from 170 feet and the variance in pressure was explosive in a minor sense, somewhat like the gas released by a semi-impacted bucking bronco at a rodeo. The trout weighed about three pounds, a good eating size. His eyes bulged and quivered in utter defeat, the ultimate tummyache and bends. I went back to my chugging hole after breaking up the thin ice that had gathered in the cold around my tip-up. I wanted to catch a fish and bring it home so that my daughter wouldn't peer over the top of her Wonder Woman comic and say, "You didn't catch any!" and my wife wouldn't ponder, "Did he go to a bar and play pool or did he really go fishing?" To no avail did I chug until I got tennis elbow. I grew bored and cold and began playfully throwing chunks of ice at Pat and Richard. They were not amused.
We finally quit by mid-afternoon and drove to a restaurant where the waitress giggled extravagantly over my balloon boots.
"Are your feet that big?" she asked.
"I'm an American Ice Fisherman, bring me a drink," I shouted wittily. The jukebox was playing a merry polka.
When she brought the drinks she rolled her eyes again at my feet. I told here then that I was a veteran of many polar expeditions and had tracked the wily seal to his air-conditioned lair. She asked if seal meat was good and I said yes if they take the ball off their noses har har har. Richard and Pat were sullen as the pretty waitress wasn't interested in them but in my feet. Tuff, I said. So it goes, this sport of the north, fit mostly for the hardy unemployed, those who dare thin ice with their snowmobiles and often plunge (eight last year) to a gurgly death amidst the very fishes they sought with pimples and corn borers, red worms and dead smelt (two for a quarter).
A few days later I got a call from Richard saying that a group of locals were going out the next morning and I could meet them on Route 22 about 300 yards south of Chervenko's Rung & Bung Works (coopers to the fruit-orchard trade). I was several hours late due to sloth and invented errands. I spotted them with my binoculars a mile or so out on the ice. But farther up the bay a Coast Guard icebreaker was leading in a tanker with a rather eerie succession of resounding crashes, like hearing a battle from a distance. The ships were well beyond the fishermen, but I decided that the ice looked a trifle soft. Definitely unsafe. Perhaps I would go home and treat myself to an extended nap.
I began to think of ice fishing in the old days. It is, after all, no modern invention. I have a Currier and Ives print of some pilgrim types hauling shad from the ice. In the 1930s great cities of ice shanties were erected on large northern lakes. Even electricity was available. Recently I was in Minnesota, a state that along with Wisconsin can readily be confused with Michigan, chauvinists notwithstanding. In St. Paul an old-timer told me many yarns. He said that entire cottages especially built for the purpose on skids are pulled onto the ice by diesel tractors. From the comfort of kitchen, bedroom and the living room the fabled walleye is fished for. Imagine your own living room with a big hole in the floor. You're lolling in an easy chair fishing through the hole, with a couple of lunker walleyes on the floor beside you. Maybe you have the TV on, and Jack Nicklaus is grinning his Ohio grin on the eighteenth green somewhere. You will cook the walleyes for dinner. They taste better than any fish I've eaten, better than mountain cutthroat, Dover sole, swordfish, lake trout or pompano or lungfish. Perhaps Myrna in her tattersal negligee is bringing you a cold one or just plain Mom is across the room knitting. It is imperative for obvious reasons to have your cottage dragged off the ice before it thaws. I might add that the "walleye" got its name from its particularly weird stare, but then you don't have to eat the eyes.
In my own "old days" we knew none of these sybaritic pleasures. I suspect my father thought if comfort were involved it wasn't sporting. So we would get up before dawn, drive out through the snowdrifts along a logging road and fish all day long in the bitterest cold for a mess of bluegills and perch. Nothing sentimental here. It appeared fun because it was supposed to be fun. Kids are doggish, and if you say, "Come kids, let's pick the dump," they will jump at the chance.
Earlier in January I sat with Richard for three days in his shanty on Lake Leelanau looking down through a hole at a foot-long live sucker minnow dangling from a line. The shanty is kept totally dark. The hole in the ice for spearing is usually about three feet square. The visibility is amazing--a window on the freshwater netherworld, which, though the life doesn't compete with the multitudinous saltwater variety, is nonetheless a lot better than staying home and waiting for winter to go away. Anyway, the sucker minnow was supposed to attract the great northern pike, or Mister Big Teeth as he is known in some quarters. When the imaginary pike drifted into our rectangle of vision for a sucker supper, the spear would be thrown at him. The spear was somewhat larger and certainly more cumbersome than the tuna harpoons used off Gloucester and Block Island. Poor pike. But only one appeared in the three days and we were caught unawares, and when Richard lunged with the spear the pike was driven against the bottom and squiggled out between the spear tines. So much for pike spearing, which is in danger of being outlawed. But it was pleasant sitting there in the dark shanty, warm with a propane stove and copious supplies of food and drink.
We would occasionally chug for perch with small minnows while we watched our decoy. In addition to the meat of the fish, perch roe lightly fried in butter is delicious. I suspect that it is healthy, too, though I have no evidence. But some I know who eat it are huge, a trifle fat, in fact, and can drink fifty glasses of draft beer in an evening. It's never boring in an ice shanty. You talk idly while your head sweats and your feet freeze. There is all the husky camaraderie of the locker room. A sample:
"Do you know that girl in Sutton's Bay? You know the one I mean."
"Well I would ---- ---- -----."
"She's built like a rain barrel."
"Pass the wine."
I would like to make an elementary contention here about expediency and sport. In this locale, winter begins in October and runs unremittingly until the end of March. My friends in warmer climes won't believe we had sixteen and a half feet of snow this year. After a while you no longer believe there's any earth left under the snow. The ground is a fib. It was still possible to fish on the part of the bay nearest Traverse City in early April. In fact, a large school of young coho salmon running between two and three pounds were discovered in the shoal water near the power plant. A healthy adult with an interest in the outdoors has to do something during these five months. The snow is almost immediately too deep for rabbit hunting--the beagles flounder on their short legs. Even an instinctively arch and lazy whiner like myself doesn't want to spend the entire wither looking out the window dreaming of Cozumel, Cabeza de Vaca, Belize. And you worry too much: a night when it is below zero and the wind off Lake Michigan is at forty knots and the car is buried in snow, and you count and time the weird thunks and squealings from the furnace, which inevitably breaks down. The weather seems to lose its threat when you spend time out in it and if you're not geared temperamentally to skiing or snowmobiling, you're left with nothing to do but fish.
The true force behind ice fishing is that it is better than no fishing at all. In extremes, an addictive fisherman will shoot carp with bow and arrow, set up trotlines for carp and suckers, spear dogfish on Pig Trotter Creek, chum nurse sharks within rifle range. He will surround the crudest equipment with a mystique and will maintain to the uninitiated that there's no sport quite like fishing rainbows with bobber and marshmallows.
And ice fishing has its strenuous converts. Pat told me that a year ago in April, just before the ice broke up, he was chugging out on the bay when a Coast Guard helicopter came over low and motioned him off the ice. He stayed until he got three fish and the helicopter returned. Then he noticed that the ice beneath his feet was sinking a bit. He grabbed his fish and ran and the ice for a mile around began wavering and rippling and heaving. The groans made in this situation convince one that there are prehistoric monsters under the ice trying to get out. It is chilling.
One day I drove up along the water through Pshwabetown, a small enclave of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians who are much the worse for wear. Naturally at one time they owned all the land around here. Now there is little or no running water, few indoor toilets, a ghetto shabbiness if it weren't for the fact that there is space to roam. Most of them are kept busy in the winter cutting wood for their stoves. An uninsulated shack can use an astounding amount of wood. I glassed a small cluster of fishermen about a mile out. In the tavern the night before someone anonymous (I must protect my sources) had claimed he had taken seventeen lake trout with a combined weight of over 100 pounds in just a few hours. This is well over the legal limit, but there is simply too much ice for the game warden, Reino Narva, to cover adequately. Concern is minimal, however, as the lake trout population is approaching the vastness of earlier in the century through concerted plantings, lamprey control and stringent but perhaps unfair regulation of commercial fishing.
I cut across the peninsula to Leland, a beautiful little harbor town. People here are upset over the government's acquiring 70,000 acres of local land for a National Seashore. Of only slightly less concern is Bill Carlson's attempt to regain some of the commercial fishing waters taken away by the Department of Natural Resources. An additional severe irritant is the state and federal DDT regulation: most varieties of Great Lakes fish have close to ten parts to the million, which is above the legal allowable limit for shipping. I eat all the fish anyway because I am young and fat and reckless and love the forms of danger connected with eating. I feel sad, though, when I watch the magnificent steelhead leaping against the dam in Leland: all subtly poisoned, though expensive equipment is needed to determine the fact. They still look like steelhead. The breakwater is mountainously covered with ice, but still some waves break over the ice, pushed by our third gale of the season.
Bill Carlson is a fourth-generation fisherman. The nets around his shack remind me of Cape Ann. But far out beyond Cape Ann the swordfish are gobbling mercury below waves dotted, according to Heyerdahl, with eraser-sized gobbets of oil. And then above them a storm petrel or sooty shearwater or plain old herring gull wheels in ordinary gyres carrying a special freight of poison. There is a certain boredom in anger.
I was down on Good Harbor Bay when the ice was breaking up. The bay is about five miles wide and the equal of any tourist-photo bay I know of, though ungraced by Noel Coward and suchlike who go to Montego. A few days before I had walked out two miles on the ice to see Richard and his father Dick and Bruce Price. I followed Bruce's footprints as he weighs nearly 300 and I wanted to feel safe. I stepped over a two-foot-wide crack and peeked for a moment down into the dark clear water. They hadn't had any luck. And Richard was angry. He had dropped a twelve-dollar augur while spudding a hole, and there it would rest permanently 100 feet below us. I said that I had stepped over a crack and they said the crack hadn't been there in the morning. But there was no offshore wind that would drive the ice out toward South Manitou Island. I felt edgy and got the creeps as if Lon Chaney were under the bed, turning into a man-wolf hybrid. I neatly tiptoed back to the car, listening for any rumbles or giant sighs that would announce my death by cold water. Poet Drowns, the local paper would read. Or probably Man Drowns, as there is a prevalent notion in the upper Midwest that poets are invariably "dead people."
Back on shore a man was whistling hopelessly at his Labrador, who was busy sniffling around the juniper bushes that abut the shore. Dogs. I had recently apologized to a neighbor about my male Airedale Hud "covering" his own dog, but he said it was okay because his dog was male, too. Nature! Then the Labrador came over and sniffed my leg, smelling my penned bitch Justine. He looked at me soulfully and I quickly removed my leg to the safety of the car.
I drove to the tavern in the evening, and Richard said he had called the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce and asked about a petition that would attempt to keep the oil freighters out of the harbor during the prime fishing months of February and March. An unnamed party suggested that the malcontents should be out looking for work. Bumpkin vigilante action has been talked about--say a string of snowmobiles in a freighter's path. Count me out. The ice fisherman is low on the economic totem ratings for logical reasons. One can equip oneself for five bucks. And ice fishermen aren't big spenders in the tourist operations. A five-dollar frozen steak is for Detroiters.
I got up at 5:00 A.M. to go steelhead fishing, but when I got there my rod guides kept icing up and the line wouldn't move freely. But a week before I had stood on the discouragingly thick ice and cast my fly, a mylar dace, and lost it to a floating iceberg. Oh well. Last year I had broken a rod trying to cast strongly in the bitter cold. Will real spring never come? I said to myself, echoing the poets of yore. I meditated on the difference between a fly rod and chugging paddle, which resembles a fraternity (or sorority) paddle with no initials carved on it. Pulling a fish in hand over hand has an atavistic glee to it; the fish imparts directly to the senses his electric struggle far below. Meat on the table! The provider! The "little woman" will be right proud of her jolly though indigent hubby. Pull that lunker out on the ice and cover him with snow to prevent the effects of dehydration and fish sunburn. I wandered around the creek estuary until I tore a foot-long hole in my waders. The water pouring in was horribly cold. I walked up the shore to an empty cabin, and a thermometer on the porch read twenty-four degrees. How stupid. I built a small fire out of driftwood and warmed my foot, watching some buffleheads circle above. From out in the bay, the birds were barely visible. I could hear the tremulous cry of two mating loons. I was frankly tired of cold weather and I imagined that the loons were also tired of running into icebergs, and the steelhead were tired of dozing in the cold water with their brains asleep to the spawning run.
Now the ice is gone and the snowdrift on the hill across the road shrinks daily. I have had two fair weeks of steelhead fishing and am gathering my equipment for a trip to Key West. Fantasies of a record tarpon are rife, though as unlikely as a record starlet. I feel somewhat benign about the preposterous winter I have endured. A crocus has appeared in vulgar purple glory. I will avoid hammerheads and moray eels and rattlesnakes and other imagined dangers, and go through more winters not unlike this one, where the depleted imagination narrows to a singular point. Fish. Anywhere and almost anytime. Even when trees split open from cold and the target is a bowling-ball-sized hole in a lid of ice. CP
What to look out for!
The main winter hazards include hypothermia, frostbite, falling through the ice, blizzards, carbon monoxide poisoning, snow blindness, and avalanches.
Hypothermia, which is lower-than-normal body temperature, is usually called "exposure" by the news media. Your body loses heat faster than you can produce it. You can get hypothermia at temperatures well above freezing if your body is wet or subjected to wind. Hypothermia saps your strength and inhibits your reflexes. Several symptoms arise as your body temperature drops from a normal of about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the first is uncontrollable shivering. With a further drop, you might experience difficulty in speaking, poor muscle coordination and thinking, and drowsiness. Unconsciousness may follow. Below 78 degrees, death is likely, although some people have survived with a body temperature of less than 78 degrees.
Prevent hypothermia with adequate clothing, but don't overinsulate, which leads to unwanted perspiration. Keep fortified with food and water. Seek shelter well before you actually need it. And avoid falling through the ice.
For treatment, get out of the wind, shed wet clothing, and restore body heat quickly. A good remedy is to crawl into a prewarmed sleeping bag with another person. Hot drinks and fast, energy-producing foods, such as chocolate, help, but avoid alcohol, which tricks the brain into thinking the body is warm and can release cold, near-surface blood to your body core. If you later have access to a modern dwelling, immerse yourself in warm (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit) water. It may take six to eight hours or longer for you to rewarm.
Frostbite is the freezing of skin and underlying tissue, usually on the face, hands, and toes. It happens when you are underinsulated, experience severe wind chill or water chill, or touch cold objects that conduct your body heat away.
Near-surface frostbite shows up as numb, gray or white waxy skin; it is stiff on the surface but soft and resilient below. Deep, more serious frostbite is similar but causes stiffness below the skin's surface as well.
A number of steps can prevent frostbite. If your face is threatened, grimace or make faces. You can also warm your face briefly with a bare hand. Wear several insulative layers on your hands and feet, and keep your fingers and toes moving when they feel cold. If truly surviving, stuff dry cattail down in your boots and mittens. Avoid touching cold objects and liquids.
Treat frostbite by getting out of the wind, covering the frozen part with extra clothing, and warming it with your body or someone else's. Place a warm hand over your frostbitten face or toes. Warm your toes against the stomach of a companion. Hold frostbitten fingers under an armpit or in your crotch. Don't rub the frostbitten parts: Ice crystals in the frozen tissue may further damage the tissue. If possible, sip hot drinks. Don't let frozen parts refreeze once they've been thawed. If you have access to a modern dwelling, soak the frostbitten parts in warm (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit) water.
Depending on the severity of the frostbite, aftereffects include tingling, stinging, itching, blistering, swelling, and darkening or mottling of the skin. Frostbitten parts become more susceptible to cold. Don't take frostbite lightly: In extreme cases fingers, toes, and larger parts of hands and feet must be amputated if gangrene sets in.
One precaution to avoid falling through the ice is knowing safe ice thicknesses for various loads. Lake ice should be at least four inches thick for walking on it, five inches for snowmobiling, twelve inches for driving a car, and fifteen inches for driving a pickup truck. For added safety, apply even greater ice thicknesses.
Ice strength depends on more than thickness. Lake ice is stronger than stream ice. Clear ice of midwinter is strong than slushy ice of early winter or dark ice of late winter. Clear ice is stronger than white ice with trapped air bubbles formed under windy conditions. And ice near shore tends to be weaker.
Realize that ice can vary on the same water body, and avoid the thinner places. Snow, by its insulating effect, slows down the ice-forming process, so ice under snow is thinner. Ice is thinner where warmer-water springs seep in. On streams, ice is thinner in turbulent places near snags and boulders, and on the outside of stream bends.
Besides watching for weak and thin ice, you can take other precautions. Ski or snowshoe on ice to better distribute your weight. Carry a heavy-duty ice awl in each hand to help pull yourself from the water should you break through the ice. Mine are made from short lengths of thick, hardwood doweling that fit comfortably in my hand. I've force-fitted thick nails in the ends of the dowels, cut off their heads, and ground the cut ends to sharp points. I keep the awls, analogous to single polar bear claws, fastened to my wrists with stout cord.
In spite of precautions, you may fall through the ice. You must free yourself quickly: At a water temperature of less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit the body remains completely functional less than ten minutes. If on foot, pull yourself free with your awls. Lacking awls, keep your body flat and attempt to crawl out, first kicking with your feet. When free, roll away from the break, and stand only after you are on solid ice. Now, roll in the snow to blot up the water, and brush off the water-laden snow.
Head for a protected place and build a fire immediately. (Always carry matches in a waterproof case, a candle, and tinder for a quick fire when traversing ice.) Once the fire is burning well, build a second fire. After both fires are going well, stand between them, shed and dry some of your clothing, and make a hot drink. If you don't warm yourself quickly, you are a prime candidate for hypothermia or frostbite.
If your vehicle breaks through the ice, your best chance of escaping it is while it is still afloat. Your vehicle will float from a few seconds to maybe two or three minutes. Water pressure will prevent you from opening the doors, so open the windows and crawl through them. After the vehicle begins to sink, you have little chance of escaping from it. It will descend steeply, the end with the engine first, and may settle into the bottom upside down.
Although hazards in themselves, blizzards--a combination of a strong wind, low temperature, and blinding, falling, or blowing snow--result in a combination of winter hazards. In a blizzard you could suffer from hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning, and snow blindness.
The best way to deal with blizzards is not to travel in them. Even in the remotest chance that a blizzard is on its way, stay put. Except for an emergency, traveling in a blizzard is simply not worth the risk.
If you are caught in a blizzard, you must wait it out. If in a vehicle, stay with it. This requires a lot of willpower, but remaining with the vehicle is almost always your safest course. Prepare for a long wait and assemble all your supplies and clothing. Keep the exhaust pipe free of snow. Idle the engine for warmth, but only about fifteen minutes every hour to conserve fuel. Crack a window on the downwind side for ventilation. Move your arms and legs from time to time for muscular-generated heat.
On foot, seek shelter immediately and build a fire. You might have to construct one of the shelters described later. If you cannot find or build a shelter, you have a final option: Burrow into a snowbank and crawl into the burrow. Many animals rely on this tactic for survival and you can too.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that results from incomplete burning because of insufficient oxygen. This gas can build up from a vehicle idling in a closed garage, from exhaust seeping into an ice-fishing house or closed vehicle--such as when waiting out a blizzard--or from a camp stove or candles burning in a closed vehicle or snow shelter.
You can die from carbon monoxide poisoning. At high concentrations, carbon monoxide can kill you in a minute. It cuts off oxygen to your brain.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, headache, nausea, and blurred vision. Detect it also by a yellow, rather than a blue, flame from candles or camp stoves.
To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, keep closed places well ventilated. This means idling a vehicle only in an open garage, keeping a window open while waiting out a blizzard, and puncturing a ventilation hole in a snow shelter.
Snow blindness is an affliction of your eyes upon exposure to ultraviolet rays reflected from snow and ice. It's similar but more severe than the pain from not wearing sunglasses in summer. Your eyes become red, burn, water, and take on a sandy feeling. You may
experience poor vision and a headache. Strangely, you may become afflicted hours after exposure to the intense light rays.
Prevent snow blindness by wearing dark glasses or goggles whenever you are exposed to the bright, reflected light of winter; wraparound sunglasses or those with side shields offer the most protection. If you are caught without dark glasses or goggles, cut eye shades from birch bark or cardboard and add thin, horizontal slits for your eyes.
If you become snow blinded, cover your eyes from the light and wait it out. Expect a wait of a few to many hours for recovery.
Avalanches are snow and ice slides in mountainous country that happen when unstable surface snow and ice slip on an unstable base. There are two kinds: loose-snow avalanches and slab avalanches. Loose-snow avalanches begin in a small area or at a point, and grow as they descend; they leave a V-shaped path with the tip of the V at the source. The sliding mass has little form or internal cohesion. Slab avalanches begin with a large mass of snow and ice moving at once, and a wall forms where the large mass or slab separated. The mass has more of a tendency to stick together, but, of course, breaks up. Most persons are killed or injured by slab avalanches.
Imagine an avalanche in motion. It gains momentum as it moves down the slope and may speed along at 200 miles per hour. Clouds of snow dust may roll into the sky hundreds of feet. The avalanche may rise and ride on a cushion of air. Frequently an air blast, great enough to collapse buildings, precedes an avalanche.
Avalanches result from the overloading of snow and ice and unstable conditions at depth. Most avalanches happen during or shortly after heavy snowstorms, especially when snow falls at a rate of one inch per hour or more and thick snow buildup occurs. Compounding this buildup is wind-blown snow accumulating on leeward slopes, perhaps to the extent of forming snow cornices, which may break loose and set off an avalanche. Unstable layers, on which a snow-ice mass can slide, include those with surface hoar, sun crusts (a refrozen snowmelt), and depth hoar, whose crystals act like tiny ball bearings
If you can't avoid avalanche country, take several precautions. After a heavy snowfall, let the snow consolidate before setting out on a trip. Avoid avalanche paths, indicated by a lack of trees or where trees lean in the same direction. Your safest routes are on the windward sides of high ridges away from the bottoms of slopes. If you must cross an avalanche path, use clumps of trees and prominent rock masses for protection. Listen for snow settling beneath you and watch for rolling snowballs; they often foretell unstable slopes above you. Tie a red, hundred-foot avalanche cord to your waist; it has metal pieces attached to it that indicate the distance and direction to you should you become buried. Consider carrying a small, pocket avalanche transceiver, turned on. Possible rescuers can home in on your signal.
If caught in an avalanche, your actions can help you survive it. Get rid of any encumbering equipment if you have time, such as skis, snowshoes, ski poles, and pack. Try to stay on top of the sliding mass by a kind of backstroke swimming with your head directed up slope. As the avalanche comes to a stop, raise your arms above your face to trap an air space in the congealing snow.
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