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 with Rob Miskosky

Trapline Travel

I could feel the sled starting to swing out to the right behind me as I focused on the steep hill in front of me. My son Dakota was riding the sled’s musher and I feared he was going to be part of a wreck—Ski-doo, sled, Dakota, and me. I envisioned a rolled Ski-doo with the sled and its contents spread all over the downslope of the hill. Looking back would only add to the possibility of a crash, so I stayed focused on keeping the Ski-doo straight. Suddenly, just as I thought for sure we were going to wreck, the Ski-doo straightened out and I felt the sled fall in line behind me. Looking back, I could see Dakota still hanging on with a big smile on his face. What was probably a fun ride for him had been a knot in the pit of my stomach, at least for a few moments.

The Trapper Sled has ample cargo space.

Trapline travel can be hazardous, requiring the full attention of the trapper. Especially when your trapline resides in the mountains or foothills of Alberta’s eastern slopes where a foot of snow can fall overnight, making well-packed trails disappear, hiding stumps, holes and a variety of other dangers.

A wreck, especially one where an injury takes place, could prove to be a disaster. Trappers are often many miles from the comforts of their cabin and consideration has to be given to a long, cold night in the bush.

Trappers also require a large amount of equipment with them while traveling their trapline. From an assortment of tools to traps, bait and safety equipment, there is often a shortage of space available, especially when the trapper’s mode of transportation is a snowmobile. While the preferred method of transportation because of the speed in which a trapper can travel, snowmobiles are less than desirable for hauling equipment. Because of this, most trappers pull behind them a sled full of gear.

Dakota riding on the musher.
In my case, my sled is a Koender’s manufactured sled called the “Trapper Sled” that has an attachable musher. The musher allows me to carry an extra person along of moderate weight, saving me the cost of a second snowmobile. The inside of the sled is large with 25 cubic feet of space available for supplies and gear. The sled also has a top that keeps the elements out and can be removed and used as a second smaller sled if so desired. I’m not sure what the sled weighs, but I can move it around quite easily by myself, so I’d guess at best it would weigh about 80 pounds with the hitch attached. With the sled full of gear and my 140-pound son on the musher, I’m coming in at around 300 pounds.

On my trapline, my route is just over 65 kilometres, or 40 miles. Over this distance, I have two very steep hills that I must travel down. I planned my route this way as going up these hills would be impossible given the way they are designed; both hills have large berms on them that must be navigated properly. If you hit one too fast, a wreck is guaranteed.

Therefore, care must be taken and braking can only be done in pumping motions. Using a full brake puts the sled into an out-of-control slide and speed begins to pick up, increasing your chance for a wreck. To compensate for the sled inertia, the musher rider drags a foot, helping in control of the sled down the steep hills. However, I have twice lost riders who have been pulled from the sled by their dragging feet. Both times, my dad and my son, managed to hang onto the sled and regain their footing. And both times, I never knew my riders were hanging on for dear life.

Trappers across Alberta are at or nearing full trapline operations. During this busy time, it is easy to get caught up in a rush when traveling from set to set, especially when several different circumstances, such as refreshing, remaking or adding another set, can delay that process.

The days are also extremely short, so oftentimes the trapper doesn’t finish his day until the dark of night has settled in. Nighttime travel also adds to the danger factor and trappers need to pay extra attention to their chosen routes during this time.

If you are running a trapline this trapping season, remember to slow down and make safety your number one consideration. ■

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