Tag Archive 'winter hiking'

Jan 07 2020

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Solitary Ascent

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I strap on crampons at the trailhead then set forth on the Long Trail, north to Prospect Rock. In my office there’s a plaque that says: “The mountains are calling and I must go.” I felt that urge while working this morning, so here I am this afternoon.

A light snow is falling, obscuring the tracks of hikers passing this way on previous days. It also clings to tree trunks and weighs down the boughs of surrounding conifers. Beautiful to behold.

Layered in synthetics and wools, I sweat during the ascent despite the winter chill. White blazes show the way. I have a headlamp, a compass, and a few other essential items in my pockets just in case I get turned around. It isn’t smart for a sixty-something like me to be hiking alone in January, but sometimes a woods walk is a much-needed meditation. I leave behind the world’s troubles, left only with a creeping sense of my own mortality.

My thighs burn as the trail steepens. An easy hike in the summer, the six inches of snow underfoot make this climb a little harder. No matter. The forest silence makes it all worthwhile.

Near the top, a couple signs tell hikers to stay away March 15 to August 1st because peregrine falcons nest in the cliffs here. I wonder why there isn’t another sign at the trailhead. I trudge past the signs, reaching the summit lookout just as a squall partially obscures the view.

I linger at the lookout long enough to catch my breath, then head back down the trail. Good thing I’m wearing crampons. The icy crust beneath the newly fallen snow makes the descent a bit dicey. But the wintry woods aren’t nearly as dangerous as the slick road back home. And nothing is as dangerous as ignoring the soul-crushing effects of modern living – electronics, consumerism, bureaucracy, and all that. Glad I ventured out.

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Dec 21 2019

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Winter Solstice Hike

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Midmorning. With temps still in the single digits, I strap crampons onto my boots and head into the woods. Just a short hike today – enough to celebrate the shortest day of the year. Today is the Winter Solstice. That means the days will only be getting longer during the next six months. That’s music to my ears.

Technically, this is the beginning of winter, but it has been winter-like here in northern Vermont for well over a month. And it’ll stay that way for another three months. I can’t complain though. I do my best writing this time of year. If I lived in a place that’s warm year round, my literary output would be cut in half.

I tramp a well-beaten path up Aldis Hill. I like this pocket of woods because it’s close by, albeit right on the edge of town. On a cold morning like this, I have the place to myself for the most part. A few people and their dogs are out, that’s all.

A hairy woodpecker pecks away at a dead tree, but no other forest creatures are stirring. No tracks in the snow, either. Whenever it’s this cold, there’s not a whole lot happening in the woods.

I walk with memories flooding into my head – what has happened during the past year as well as those who are no longer with us. Bittersweet thoughts for the most part. I’ve become rather sentimental in my later years. But 2020 is right around the corner, so memories morph into hopes, dreams and big plans for the year ahead.

The hike goes by quickly. Then I head home to attend to my book biz. There’s a cup of hot chocolate in my future, I think. That and a long winter nap.

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Jan 08 2017

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A Good Winter Bushwhack

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A few days ago, I drove to a nearby state park for a short walk at dusk after a full day’s work. My dog Matika enjoyed it, but it wasn’t nearly enough for me. So the next day I did only as much work as necessary before stuffing a few essentials in an old rucksack and heading for the mountains. Time for a taste of wild country. Actually, it was long overdue.

The inch of fresh snow covering the icy woods road provided sufficient traction so the Microspikes stayed in my pack. A mile up the road I turned onto a trail hidden beneath a couple inches of crusty snow. I crunched my way down to the brook, which was still open surprisingly enough. Yeah, it has been a squirrelly winter so far: freeze and thaw then freeze again.

The trail petered out beyond a downed tree. Suddenly I was bushwhacking the familiar route to a favorite spot along the brook. There I once buried the ashes of my first German shepherd dog, Jessie. Matika romped through the woods like a pup despite her eleven years. I was happy to see it. Looks like she’ll be hiking with me a while longer.

Just above the campsite, recent storms had ravaged the banks of the brook, creating mudslides and thickets of downed trees. It was rough getting through there, but it felt good to be in the trackless woods again. I took cover from a chilling breeze coming down the mountain then ate a quick lunch with Matika. My wife Judy had given me an energy bar that’s good for both dogs and people, so Matika and I shared that after our respective meals. People food or dog food? – hard to say.

With temps hovering around 20 degrees, I didn’t linger at the lunch spot. I tagged the trace of an old skidder trail leaving the brook then slowly made my way back to the woods road. Matika negotiated the slippery slope with no difficulty. I dropped to all fours once to do the same.

Out came the Microspikes as I descended the woods road. That made the walk easy enough where I could lose myself in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. In the distance the mountain summits looked cold and forbidding. No matter. Here in a heavily forested hollow, I was having no trouble. In fact, I got back to my car a bit sooner than I would have liked.

A good winter bushwhack. Won’t wait so long before getting out again. There’s more to life than work, work, work.

 

 

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Feb 07 2016

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Midwinter Hike

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Feb LT with MatikaMy dog Matika was all excited when I pulled out my daypack the other day. She knew what it meant. I’ve been so busy working lately that I haven’t gotten outside much. She has been feeling as cooped up as I have.

I drove to Johnson, parked my car along a logging road, and hiked up the frozen mud track until it became a skidder trail. Then patches of ice transformed into a few inches of hard-packed snow. I passed one fellow checking maple sugar lines and another eating lunch in a pickup truck parked next to a skidder. Aside from them, I had the forest all to myself.

The rush of open streams and a solitary chickadee were the only sounds that broke the silence. Not until later, on the way out, did I hear a chainsaw in the distance. The running water and thin snowpack gave the surrounding landscape the look of early spring. A bone-chilling wind blowing through the woods told me otherwise.  A mild winter this year but, at 1800 feet, winter all the same.

When I left the skidder trail, following Long Trail blazes across the crusty snow, mine became the only human tracks. Matika found plenty of animal tracks, though. As empty as the woods seemed, we were not alone.

Reaching French Hill Brook, I stopped long enough to feed Matika lunch and scratch a few lines in my field journal. When I started to chill in my own sweat, I turned around and hiked out. No rush. The expression on my dog’s face mirrored my own mood: happy to be tramping through snowy woods and thinking about nothing but the elements and wildness for a while. The beautiful simplicity of these quiet, forested mountains keeps me coming back to them time and time again.

 

 

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Feb 24 2015

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Frigid Temps and Cabin Fever

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Feb tramp AHLate morning. Having just finished a long writing session, I’m bundled up and out the door for a short hike up Aldis Hill. Temps are supposed to get up into the teens this afternoon but I can’t wait that long. I have to get out of the house now. Single digits will have to do. Better than the subzero temps that greeted us at daybreak, yet again.

At the trailhead I slip a pair of Microspikes over my boots for traction. The snow on the trail has been packed by the many snowshoes and boots that have come before me so traction is all I need. Looks like I’m not the only one who has cabin fever.

Naked trees cast blue shadows across the snow. They also creak in a frigid breeze. Rime quickly gathers in my beard. Walking in the snow takes considerable effort even with good traction, making me wonder if coming out here was such a good idea. My dog Matika races up and down the trail, happy to be out of the house regardless of the temps. Yeah, so am I – for a while, anyhow.

Chickadees keep me company. They are boreal birds to be sure. I look up every once in a while at the dark, grey-brown trees all around me. Otherwise there isn’t much to see on this snowy canvas. Then I look down, surrendering to the kind of daydreams that come so quickly and easily on the trail.

I’m not the kind of guy who tends towards optimism. Usually I see the glass as half empty, not half full. But one thing is for certain no matter how one looks at things: the harder the winter, the better spring will be when it finally arrives. This year it’s going to be a great spring.

 

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Jan 05 2015

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First Hike of the Year

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NiqBayJanAMLike most everyone else, I was busy through the holidays so I didn’t get outdoors much. It can be put off a long while. But there comes a time when nothing else is that important, when I have to push away from my writing desk, don several thermals and layers of wool and get out there. That time came this morning around 9.

My dog Matika and I went to Niquette Bay State Park. No other cars were in the parking lot when we arrived, which suited me just fine. I pulled the Microspikes over my boots and away we went down the icy trail. Temps were in the teens and falling as an arctic high blew into the region.

The sun played peekaboo through the fast-moving clouds overhead, occasionally illuminating the snowy forest floor. Trees creaked. The wind roared through the canopy. Granular snow crunched loudly underfoot. Not the best day to be outdoors, yet I found it strangely exhilarating.

The frigid air stung my cheeks. I broke a sweat while cresting the hill. Hot and cold. Between the two I kept tramping, one carefully placed footstep after another. My long-haired German shepherd looked wolfish as she ran through the woods, leaving paw tracks in the snow. The arctic did not feel far away.

Times like these, I live up to my blog handle: woods wanderer. My thoughts go places that they simply cannot go when I’m comfortable indoors, walking through town, or in someone else’s good company. I wonder what it is about this elemental world that is so alluring. Regardless of the season or what the weather is doing, it feels right to tramp through the forest, entertaining whatever image, idea or memory that leaps to mind. Sometimes it seems like every tenth step liberates some taboo thought. I wander, I wonder, then later go home to write about it.

Wildness, I’m convinced, isn’t a behavior. It’s a state of mind.

 

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