Well, we finally got our wish for snow this past week. It snowed off and on all day Monday, putting just enough on the ground to close schools and give Bobby a day home with me, but it really didn't kick up till Wednesday night into Thursday. Bobby's measurements for CoCoRaHS showed that we got 14 inches (35 cm) on top of the 4 inches (10 cm) already on the ground for a decent foot and a half of snow. Or, more than enough for snowshoeing.
So after Bobby cleared the driveway (it was still a workday for me, so I was pounding away on my articles for the day), we headed into town to Charlotte's Quest, the town's nature center. Last May, we made a resolution to go walking there at least once per week (unless we went on a more ambitious hike elsewhere), no matter the weather. We've done pretty well with that and have only missed about three weeks. Other weeks, we've gone more than once per week, so it balances out.
Before we left, I had to try out my snowshoes in the yard. I have nearly no mechanical intelligence, and this applies to working snaps and buckles. (I have trouble telling left from right and, even if I tell myself "Righty tighty, lefty loosey," still usually turn things the wrong way because ... well, I have trouble tell left from right.) I didn't want to get bundled up and down to CQ, only to discover that I couldn't even put my shoeshoes on. They weren't difficult to figure out, though, so I stomped around the front yard a bit in my thermal shirt before getting cold and popping them off again. Snowshoeing is really interesting. You do sink a few inches into the snow, but not much. It doesn't feel like walking on 18 inches of snow. It's also not as awkward as I thought it would be.
As soon as we got out of the car at Charlotte's Quest, we heard a high, wheezing whistle overhead and looked up to see a gorgeous red-tailed hawk soaring overhead. It called again, a shiver-inducing sound that seems to embody barren rock peaks. (Which we don't really have out here. Our mountains are old and tired.) It soared off over a nearby field and was joined by two others that tilted and dove for several minutes before flying out of sight.
We were the only people there. We could also tell that we were the first people to go walking since the snow fell. Charlotte's Quest is lightly used, especially in the winter. We rarely encounter other people other than the guy who owns the house next to the pond and walks his greyhounds through the park. While getting our snowshoes on, Bobby slipped and fell twice on the ice on the parking lot. This is important for later.
But, at last, we had our snowshoes on and were off. I had heard people say that snowshoeing is hard. I'd say yes and no to that. In any given moment, it doesn't feel that much different from regular walking in a shallow snow. Over the long-term, it is more fatiguing than regular walking. It is, however, much less fatiguing than regular walking through 18+ inches of snow. It resulted, for me, in what I can best describe as contented tiredness: not sore or exhausted, but I know I've definitely been exerting myself above and beyond what I usually do. I find that to be a very pleasant feeling.
The park was gorgeous. The snow had been mixed with some ice, so it clung to the branches and the sides of the trees. It was so deep that the trail was completely obscured in places, leaving us to rely on our memories of dozens of walks along those trails before. The woods after a snow is a really different experience than the woods at any other time. When we made our promise to go walking once per week, I wasn't sure how I'd like winter hiking. Despite having more than 10 years of hiking under my belt, I'd never really gone between when the leaves fell and when the spring thaw began. Aside from the discomfort of the cold, I wondered what there'd be to look at. Plenty, as it turns out, especially after the snow. The forest gives up some of its secrets then; you can see not only who has hiked before you (and whether they had a dog and what size) but what animals have passed before you, where they live, and where they pee; it turns out that the foxes and deer pretty much use the same trails that we do, which seemed fascinating at first but, thinking deeper, does make sense: They share the same motive of getting from place to place with minimal effort and bramble scratches as we do.
Going up and down hills was easier than I expected in the snowshoes. The one steep part of the trail--a switchback of about 100 paces that ascends a steep hill to continue along the top ridge of the park--wasn't much harder than walking in plain hiking boots.
Down at the pond, birds tend to gather, I suspect because of the nearby water sources (a pond and stream) and the proximity to a meadow where there are lots of wildflower seeds waiting for lunch. One of our hawks returned to perch atop one of the trees at the top of the gravel road, so of course, we had to hike up the gravel road to get a closer look; he flew off right as we drew up to his tree. We saw lots of little songbirds flitting in and out of the brush that borders on the stream. Bluebirds and cardinals gather there by the dozen. And I was worried there'd be nothing to look at in the winter!
Returning to the parking lot, we were both pleasantly tired and very warm. We removed our snowshoes and packed up the car with no idea that the adventure had just begun.
Charlotte's Quest has a parking lot at the end of a gravel road off of one of the main roads in town. The road is pretty flat but slopes downward at the end and into the parking lot. The town keeps it clear of snow but, because it's a gravel road, they didn't plow it clear but left an inch or two of snow.
Remember how Bobby slipped and fell twice while unpacking the car? The weight of the vehicles that cleared the parking lot basically pressed the snow down into a sheet of ice which, of course, we did not realize when we parked there. It just looked like snow. Bobby managed to back up the car enough that it slid around on the ice, pointed somewhat at the road. From there, it wouldn't move. He tried; I tried. He tried pushing while I gently accelerated, but he couldn't get enough traction on the ice to get us up the hill.
Luckily (and I can hear khatun now!), we had a bag of landscaping pebbles in the back of the car. Having heard khatun's winter survival advice about how to use kitty litter to get off of ice, I suggested putting a layer of stones in front of the tires to help us gain traction. First, we put them down in front of the back tires only to discover that we have front-wheel drive! (I told you that I am not mechanically minded, and Bobby is only slightly better!) Putting them down in front of the front tires worked, however ... sort of. We would move forward a couple of feet, then start sliding backward. I'd jam on the brakes and wait while Bobby laid down another foot or so of stones. He get behind the car and start rocking it forward and, gently on the accelerator, I'd get us forward three or four feet before the wheels resumed spinning, and so on. It took close to an hour and almost the whole bag of landscape stones to get to the top of the hill, where it was smooth sailing from there. Bobby--who did most of the hard work--was exhausted and more than happy to let me drive home, even though I didn't have my license on me. One of the people who lives on the gravel road saw us and loaned us a snow shovel. She said people get stuck down there all the time in the winter.
Needless to say, we are going to park at the fire hall or the town office and walk down to the park next time we go!
Of course, I have pictures! Not of the car escapade but of the hike.
Me in my snowshoes! Mothering types, do not yell at me for my lack of a proper jacket. I was wearing a thermal shirt, heavy sweater, and my Ravens fleece--I was sweating!
Bobby in his snowshoes and lookin' like a badass in his mask. Behind him, you can see a set of deer tracks.
Crossing the field to the start of the trail through the woods.
The start of the trail into the woods.
The first loop through the woods.
Midway up the switchback, looking down the hill. It's a gorgeous view at the worst of times! You can see our snowshoe prints at the bottom of the hill leading into the switchback
Along the ridge after the switchback is primarily Norway spruce trees. I suppose because they grow so densely, they only produce a tuft of foliage at the top and the lower branches are all broken off like rungs on a ladder. With the snow clinging to their branches, it made for a pretty impressive sight.
Looking across the meadow at a red barn in the distance.
Looking down the gravel road at the pond.
More fools in snowshoes, at the pond, after schlepping after the hawk.
The good thing about hiking after a fresh snow? You don't have to lug around a water bottle!
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!