I would like to share a fairly scary situation in which I found myself in yesterday evening, as a cautionary tale and in the hope that none of you do a similarly stupid thing. This adventure has given me a whole new respect for our local winter environment.
Last evening I decided to leave my vehicle at home and walk the kilometer and a half to an indoor soccer game at Pretty River Academy. When I left my house, the weather was a bit windy with a light snow falling, nothing I hadn’t walked or ran in a hundred times before. By the time I got to the end of my road the wind had really picked up and the snow had turned into blizzard like conditions. My route to Pretty River Academy took me along the Vacation Inn trail that winds through some bush next to the recently completed MacPherson condo project. As I trudged along, the visibility got less and less, until I could barely see a couple of feet ahead of myself. There are a couple of side trails off the main trail which eventually leads to Highway 26. I ended up losing my bearings and inadvertently walking along a trail that runs behind the school. I could see the faint glow of the gymnasium lights in the distance. So instead of backtracking I decided to get to the school through the bush behind the school.
I’m not sure if many of you realize this but Pretty River Academy is built on part of Silver Creek Wetlands. I struggled my way through some fairly heavy bush then my route to the school looked like a clear walk across a field directly to the rear of the school. I took maybe six steps then broke through ice into about eighteen inches of freezing cold swamp water and mud, so with the snow and ice covering I was in this mess half way up my thigh and actually quite stuck, in the middle of a blizzard with the temperature around minus 20. I eventually managed to maneuver my right foot out of the muck and water to lift it high enough to take a small step forward with a lot of difficulty, that foot again broke through the ice, then the left and I inched my way forward, after around 10 similar steps and quite a lot of effort I was free and in shallower water, then on solid ground, I was sweating quite profusely which was now contributing to my deep chill and I was probably in the first stages of hypothermia. When I finally walked into the school I was covered from head to toe in snow, my feet and hands were completely numb, my jeans were frozen solid up to my thighs. 10 more minutes outside and I would have been in serious trouble.
I am fairly fit and I had a fully functioning phone so the above scenario was never life threatening for me, but in hindsight if I had no phone or signal and the water was maybe just 6 inches deeper, this could very easily have been quite a different story. When I first broke through the ice I had a split second panic that maybe I was falling into a pond and some really deep water. No one knew that I had walked to the soccer game that evening, I live alone but my son was staying with me that night, he was at work and getting a ride from a buddy to my place. I usually go for a few beers after soccer so he would not have missed me until the following morning. No one at soccer would have given my absence a second thought (if you saw me play soccer you would understand why).
What did I do wrong? Firstly I ventured out into the coldest evening of the year telling no one, under dressed, in jeans, regular Bluntstone boots and not enough layers of clothing on. I had taken a short cut across unfamiliar terrain with no proper trail and I had no idea what was under the snow that I was walking on. Lastly I had not given this place and the environment we live in the respect that it deserves.