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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

Snow--Finally!--and Snowshoeing

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Snow--Finally!--and Snowshoeing

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Despite the fact that several storms have now rocked the East Coast, we've narrowly missed being significantly hit by every last one of them. At least two of them dumped 12+ inches (30+ cm) just several dozen miles away from us, but we ended up with only a few inches, enough to cover the grass and look pretty and make the Golden Retrievers' feet wet when they come in from outside. My philosophy has always been that if I must put up with winter, I might as well get some snow out of it, and this was exacerbated this year by the fact that we received snowshoes for Christmas and wanted desperately to try them out. The paltry snows we had been receiving--while long-lasting (we've had snow on the ground up here on the hilltop since the end of December)--were inadequate for snowshoeing.

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!

  • All right, I must grudgingly admit that the two of you look so cute all decked out in (or is it on?) your snow shoes that it actually made me smile. My big thrill of the day was that an entire day of temperatures above freezing in NYC might have actually melted an inch or two of the approximately two feet of accumulated snow here which has been on the ground for over a month. (I cannot believe that it was only December 26 when we got our first serious snow of the season, which is still with us--whine, whine, whine. I know I am tiresome.)

    Lovely snow pictures though and I am glad for you that you got your walk through your winter wonderland. (Your winter wonderland unfortunately has turned into my worst nightmare of city living.)

    Edited at 2011-01-30 10:57 pm (UTC)
    • It was downright balmy here today too; I think it even cracked 40! ;)

      You could not pay me to put up with snow in the city. Last year, when we got 3 feet, some streets in Baltimore were not touched for weeks. I'd have no problem with snow all winter up here. But in the city? Where it clutters the streets and sidewalks and is pitch black within a day?? No thanks. Your "whining" is fully justified, imo!
  • Gorgeous! We don't normally get that much snow here, maybe once a decade. (Of course, there's a chance we may get an inch of ice on Tuesday/Wednesday. Rather have the snow.)

    I thought people weren't supposed to eat snow for water consumption?
    • Yeah, Bobby just came into the study all pie-eyed with dire predictions about the upcoming storm. We're also supposed to be getting ice, not snow like they were originally predicting. I may get a snow day before I even have a chance to meet my students!

      I've never heard about not eating snow--it sure worked for me! :) With air pollution, it's probably not a good idea to make a regular habit of it, I'd imagine.
      • Eee! Ours is only a chance-- it's likely going to be rain. *crosses fingers* I hope it isn't too bad for you!

        The way Dad explained it is a survival thing. It's better to scoop snow into a flask and let it melt against your body than eat it because it takes more energy to thaw and use it, and makes you colder internally.
        • Okay, that makes total sense! Snow amounts to so little water to start, it would take a lot of energy to get enough water, if you were really thirsty, I'd imagine. I think our 14 inches only consisted of 1.2 inches of liquid precipitation once Bobby melted it down. (He tracks our precipitation for a weather monitoring project.) I was mostly just hot, so the cooling effect worked quite nicely for me! :)
          • I'd always heard the inch of rain equals a foot of snow thing, but it's surprising to see that there may be some basis to that!

            Yeah, the cooling effect would be wonderful for that. (My sister in FL has half-jokingly asked for us to send her some snow.)
            • Indeed there is! :) I think it's called the liquid equivalency; if my husband happens by here, he can explain it better than me (he's the weather nerd, not me; I know mostly what I've absorbed from listening to him talk about it). It varies from storm to storm, but the 1-inch-to-1-foot rule is a pretty reasonable average.
  • For future reference (from someone in the snow belt) a shovel and kitty litter in the trunk or back of the car is a must when driving in 12"+ snow. Glad you got out all right. We have a lot of intersections and driveways that are ice fields right now and traction is questionable in many of them.

    Looked like the area for your hike was wonderful, so it was all worth it.

    - Erulisse (one L)
    • My friend who first told me about the kitty litter is also from the snow belt! :) She now lives not quite in the same town as me but the same zip code, so she educates we snow-inept Marylanders in winter survival each year. We plan to replace the landscaping pebbles with a fresh bag of kitty litter asap ... especially since we're due to get an ice storm this week. We usually stick a shovel in the back of the car but didn't even think of it this time, since we were only a mile from home. (The good news being that if we hadn't gotten the car out, we could have easily walked home and waited for the eventual thaw; this is still Maryland, so that wouldn't have been a terribly long wait! :)

      The walk was definitely wonderful--since I didn't have to push the car up the hill, I won't say it was worth the effort taken to get the car out of the parking lot but will leave that judgment to my poor husband! ;)
  • It looks like you had a great time *and* an adventure too. :)

    PS. Thank you for sharing the pics.
    • Thank you, Sam! :) We had an awesome time! And, yes, definitely an unexpected adventure too, but that keeps life interesting. :)
  • Beautiful post and beautiful pictures! :)
  • Get thee behind me, O Temptress! I have considered getting snowshoes for some time now. This account and the pictures do not help my honest appraisal of how often I would actually make use of them. Just...tempting. So tempting.

    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!

    Heh. You'll hear no yelling from this mother who at one time cross-country skiied and ran in very cold weather. Strenuous activity generates a lot of heat so the trick is to wick away that sweat or face becoming very chilly later.
    • Do it, do it, do it ...

      *ahem* You did not hear that from me.

      We had so much fun with it. It probably wouldn't have been a good investment for us if not for the fact that we have a place to use them right in town. We don't get enough snow here, otherwise (usually. This and last years have been exceptions to that! :)

      I'm glad that my choice of coats makes sense to someone with much more experience in these matters than I! My normal winter coat comes to mid-calf; not the best choice for outdoor activities. I have a shorter coat that I like to keep nice to wear to school. My getup turned out to be very comfortable.
  • Sonwshoeing looks like fun! I've given some thought to trying it; you may have just tipped me over the edge with your delightful picspam.
    • It was a blast! I highly recommend it. ;)

      We went back to the Nature Center today, sans snowshoes. Since it's been above freezing all week, we figured we wouldn't need them. We ended up wishing we'd brought them!

      P.S.--If airfare overseas remains prohibitively expensive, we will likely be taking our vacation at Yellowstone this summer, in a large part thanks to your postcard and picspam! :)
      • Guess I'm going to have to keep my eyes on the local sporting goods stores' sales!

        My photos didn't come close to doing Yellowstone justice; being the nature lover you are, you'll love the place if you go. Feel free to ask me questions if you need any trip advice! And now that you have snowshoes, you can consider a winter vacation to Yellowstone, too... :D
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