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Big #70 @Big Island #1

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Due to the storm last weekend which cancelled my trip, I was able to sneak away for a quick overnight. I opted for Big Island lean-to on Raquette Lake. This was the lean-to I helped move slightly inland not long ago. This would also ,make the 70th lean-to I have slept in. When I arrived at the boat launch there were dozens of snowmobiles. Not much of a surprise. What I did not expect was the community ice-cutting and fishing derby. The entire complex was over-run by all these different groups. Coupled with the giant snow piles, parking was at a premium. Solely by luck, a lady pulled away from her spot just as I rounded the corner. This section was marked no parking but I was next to the fire chief. I hoped for more good luck.

With my pulk loaded with firewood (knowing the island would be picked clean) I headed out onto the ice. To my right was the ice cutting operation. They were sawing and removing blocks at least 2ft in all dimensions. Ahead of me was the island and a few ice-shanties. The bulk of the snow-mobilers were to the left, following the western shore. As I approached the island I could see a series of tip-ups and 2 fisherman tending to them. I said hi, and we talked briefly. They were in the lean-to and told me about the derby. I asked if would be ok if I crashed in the lean-to. They were very obliging, even offered me a beer. I added my pile of wood to their diminishing store.

Tom, Dave and I chatted for a few hours. I cooked up some dogs. The temp was in the teens with an ever so slight breeze. Tom and Dave said the wind made the lean-to cold last night. I imagine it would have been worse in its previous location. The guys would check on their lines every once in a while with no luck. One flag had its line cut/broken. The assumtion was a pike. That was the closest these two had for a fish. We joked that is why it's called fishing not catching. As the time approached 5, and no fish Tom and Dave decided to pull out and head in to the "party" at weigh in. We shook hands and they departed. The sun was getting lower, but I still had some good light.

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I set up my sleeping gear in the lean-to and enjoyed the waning daylight. I stoked the fire periodically and watched the sun drop below the horizon. I stood on the ice and watched the snowmobilers race back and forth. By now their headlamps and taillights were all I could see. As usual, I would be in bed shortly.

Tom and Dave said the riders were out past 11pm friday night. They went quiet much earlier tonight. I was quite warm in my bag and slept soundly until the winds in the morning awoke me. Something shifted as the winds were blowing hard from the SouthEast. Not a good direction; often a storm system. Looking out over the lake there was zero visibility and with the wind I would want to keep my head down. After packing up I took a bearing and would navigate across the frozen lake by compass only. This is the backcountry version of the "bird box challenge". The wind was fierce. I kept my hood clutched over my face with one hand and my compass in the other. It was a short crossing and soon the launch came into view as did my snow covered car. The driving conditions were almost as bad as the hiking. I was traveling 20mph in the 55 zone with my flashers. I saw 5 other vehicles between Raquette and Old Forge... which took an hour to drive. Roads were mostly clear when I left O.F. after a bite at Walts Diner.

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