Monday, November 29, 2010

Ice water - A story of survival

Loyd and I were out filming a few days back and the weather had turned cold - about -20 or so and the ice was forming rapidly all along the river.

One of the beaver ponds looked pretty safe so I crossed out on it to get some different angles of a pond that one is usually restricted to the edges of. Now I would not recommend this type of action to the general public but as I like to point out - I am a trained professional. Okay, maybe not that trained and probably not that professional but I always assess any situation I am moving into with the follow factors to consider:

  • Risk: This is the probability that what you're about to attempt will turn out the way you want.
  • Uncertainty: This is what part of the equation that you don't know - if there is a large factor of uncertainty one needs to assess the other factors in the equation.
  • Payoff: What is the reward for taking the action - Being able to say that "I did it" is usually not enough of a payoff for me, but perhaps "getting that perfect shot" is.
  • Penalty: This is what happens when the risk doesn't pay out a reward but instead you fail - this to me is the biggest part of the equation.
In terms of me deciding to walk across the beaver pond I knew the risk was low for me falling through - about a 10% chance, the uncertainty was low as I was fairly confident in my assessment as I had been across a number of similar ponds under similar circumstances, the payoff wasn't that great but still held some benefit to me as a photographer, and the penalty if I'd fallen through would have been cold feet as I trudged the kilometer or so back to my vehicle. So I went out across the pond.

I made a similar calculation once up on the Graham river out in the middle of nowhere and I guess I'd forgotten to carry the zero or something but I'd decided to cross the river in an area that I thought was both frozen and shallow enough to make the crossing not that dangerous. I was wrong on both accounts.

I was by myself, about five kilometers from camp, it was minus 20 and I was just out exploring. This was during the time that I was building the lodge and I was living up there on my own so there was no chance of a rescue. I'd got about four steps out onto the ice when it just opened up and I fell through to my armpits in some incredibly cold water.

Cursing my bad judgment I tried to extricate myself from the river but my snowshoes kept getting stuck under the ice. I realized I was in a pretty bad jam - in that cold flowing water I had about 10 minutes before I'd succumb to the cold so I had to do something and something very quickly. I threw off my pack back towards the shore, reached into the water and grabbed the tip of one snowshoe and managed to get that shoe up on the ice. I was now pretty much completely soaked. I rolled, squirmed and kicked until the second shoe came free.

At that point I had to make a quick calculation and this time it had to be right: did I stop and try to build a fire and thaw out and then make the trip back to the lodge or did I just head out for the lodge and hope I'd make it before I froze. I chose the later and you are probably quick enough to surmise that I made it, but it was pretty close.

Dog trotting along the trail kept my body cranking out the heat, but my clothes, wet as they were, were very efficient at wicking away this warmth. By the time the cabin came into view my feet had gone numb and I was getting worried.

Ever since that day on the Graham River I have been pretty good about performing my risk vs. reward equation and I guess when you get older the risk has to be well worth the reward.

1 comment:

Please feel free to leave a comment. Ever since old Rebel rolled on me and I've been strapped to this old hospital bed I've enjoyed whatever posts come my way.