Text and photos by Scott Parent.
There is no question. The great lakes are frozen with fast ice, thick and thin. Graham Thomas and I set out yesterday for an ice tour in Fathom Five National Marine Park.
We checked the Canadian Ice Service prior to setting out, wore drysuits and hauled a sled with safety and travel gear including PFDs, knowing we wanted to hit the back section of the park between Flowerpot Island and Echo Island.
There is something outlandish about walking on ice. It is alive with sound and activity. We take care to greet it politely with each step, and hope not to direct any of its Cetacean moans our way. We steadily make observations and read our way forward.
The black ice gives us the naked truth. We see stress lines from tension and compression, and can judge the thickness by the cracks. We can also read the stills of how things froze up in various locations. Not to mention, the black. It is the eye of the fathom itself staring, wide awake, back at you.
The depths of Lake Huron are right there, through the looking glass. The white pack on the surface conceals the image, but enables us to tour on foot, snowshoes, or skis. At times it is like cloud hopping, and we run to build up a glide across the orca-black abyss.
From the bird’s-eye view, the ice would appear as continental floes – aqua firma, sutured with pressure ridges. These ridges are where one floe slips under the other much like tectonic plates. Warmer water from below elevates to the surface. With the help of the sun, wind, and water currents, the steadfast carapaces of surface ice can weaken at the seams, even at cold temps. Even though we are touring over thick ice, we demand continuous confirmation through our observations, at each step, and take extra caution crossing over the sails of the ridges.
We aren’t the only ones using the freeze to access the remote islands. Observing the tracks of animals crossing out to Flowerpot and Echo, one has to wonder how they handle a wild winter like this. We do as they do, navigating ahead one investigation at a time.
Rounding Echo, we see more pressure ridges, only these are active, and upwelling water. The main ridge could be a stamukha. Stamukhi are formed when the keel of a pressure ridge touches bottom, and the pack floe compresses into the fast ice.
When ice is white and doesn’t want to give you a reading, it is best to stay off it. After crossing over a couple of foreboding carpet groans, we elect to skirt Echo and around to where the ridge meets the island, and cross back over onto thick cold ice. Touring from island to island on foot is extraordinary. It won’t be too long before we are out paddling those lines again, and it could be another 30 years before it freezes in as thick as this.
A handful of images may have to remind us of the year the Fathom Five fastened over.