However, to return to my pack : after caching the Caribou, I loaded up and continued homeward. On the way I encountered three more lots of Caribou but did not molest them. It is noteworthy that the wind was from the north this day, and the Caribou seen were all travelling north, up-wind, though it meant that they were going opposite to the direction they had been travelling on the previous day. The big lake (Reindeer Lake), which strong winds keep in motion after smaller lakes are ice-bound, was not yet completely and solidly frozen up, and the Caribou appeared to be feeding around the northeastern shores, possibly waiting to get out to the extensive surface and reach the rich feeding grounds on the countless islands. On the other hand the direction of the wind seemed to have strong influence on their movements.
Regarding pack-carrying, which I am reminded of by the burden this day carried, I kept the meat load intact that I brought in, which I had packed for five hours-possibly, in that time covering a distance of some twelve miles-over hill and muskeg, and through snow; and next day had it weighed at the Hudson Bay Post. It was 65 lbs. This is a fair load-a load that strained me to carry it the prolonged distance.
I am not physically a strong man, but I had been all summer on the canoe trail and was hardened and inured to the toil of portaging overland at bad rapids or inland to lakes. Judging things by the weight of the above pack I would say an able Indian could comfortably burden himself with 80 to 100 lbs. for a long distance. To expect him to carry more, if he was in your service, would be unjust, though I have found good Indians will attempt carrying excessive weights rather than admit the smallest sign of weakness to a white man.
A pack load is a bundle bound firmly together after the shape of a flour sack, and a half-circle of cord, or leather thong, is formed into a carrying strap, so that when the pack is hoisted high on one's back between the shoulders, this cord is slipped over to the forehead, and rests there, and thus sustains the load in position, leaving the hands free to carry your rifle and assist in easing the pressure of the load from time to time. The chief strain you will feel, if you are unused to the pack trail, will be on the back of the neck, for the weight of the load is heavily on your forehead and tends to strain your head backward. Of course if your strap, or " tump-line," is of rope, a pad of cloth or grass will be placed between the rope and your forehead to prevent its cutting into the flesh. A made leather tump-line has a broad web where it passes across the forehead.
Those experiences I have recorded are similar to many that followed during the winter, too numerous to describe in detail.
In time I had secured, for museum purposes, handsome specimens of the Barren-ground Caribou in winter coat-an adult male, an adult female, and a yearling fawn (male).
To give an idea of the size of these animals, the male measured forty-eight inches from hoofs to the highest part of back (the haunch), the female forty-two inches, and the fawn thirty-seven inches. In colour the winter coat of the male is: Back, sides, legs, and head, medium dark umber-brown; fore-shoulders, and entire neck, above and below, dull white; tail shows white when erected, as it most often is (it is, however, brown on the upper side) ; breast and belly are brown like upper parts, but turning to white toward rear, between hind legs. A grey strip (a mingling of the white and the brown hairs) runs horizontally along the middle sides from the white of the shoulders to within eight inches of the hind-quarters; ears and upper forehead, grey. The adult female is, generally, much lighter in colour than the male; rear of back, legs, and nose were in this specimen the only parts brown; middle sides, hind-quarters, lower limbs, forehead, and ears, greyish; remainder, white. The fawn was very similar in colour to the female. Both male and female have antlers, the males having a great backward, outward-curving length ; the females short and symmetrical like those of a young buck. In early winter some of the bucks still carry antlers, but the greater number of animals have cast them at that time.
They are graceful animals, particularly graceful when they are in alert motion, and carry fine suggestion of indomitable pride. They trot with easy, swinging, far-reaching strides, with movement lithe and muscular. The forefeet are flung high with sharp-angled knee action (like a well-broken hackney), while the hindlegs stretch well back before they thrust the body forward. Caribou sometimes start off, if frightened suddenly, by rearing in the air with a powerful spring of the hindlegs.
The track of Caribou on snow is a line of single hoof-prints running out one point directly in front of the other-not any two hoofs together- not any hoof-print on the left side or right side. A typical measurement of the span between hoof-prints is twenty-five inches, from front of one hoof to rear of the next in front; an ordinary hoof-mark measures four-and-a-half inches by seven-and-a-quarter inches. The above of course refers to the track of a single animal. Caribou are much given to follow in Indian-file one after the other, and soon tread down a regular path of footprints in the snow.
During the next two months I travelled through regions that were wrapped in resolute Arctic winter, vast regions formidably hushed, incalculably desolate; more completely impoverished of life and activity than any words can depict. One moved in a soundless land, a land that was deaf and dumb and had no organ of expression ; and one could understand, while living in this place of dead, why men go mad under the awful shadow of utter loneliness, and under the unspoken, fanciful questioning which unmitigated space will prompt and throw back unanswered, touched with a sense of discouraging mockery. In many places there are not even Caribou; not one single moving object in a day's trail over dreary snowfields. In such regions, in deep winter when the thermometer is anything from ten to sixty degrees below zero, one's salvation is companionship. At such a time I have learned that it is folly to go beyond the last outpost without a comrade, even if that comrade only be an Indian-and there is no finer, more unselfish comrade on a hard trail than just an Indian. Starvation, sickness, frostbite, madness : any of those might carry one " across the line " in but an hour or two if one was stricken when out alone in the all-forsaken land of merciless cold.