Tag Archive 'winter walking'

Nov 18 2019

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Early Winter Hike

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Last week a big storm dumped 8 inches of snow on northern Vermont, and temps haven’t warmed up enough since then to melt it off. Not unusual for this time of year, but it caught me off guard all the same. I still haven’t put winter tires on my car.

Snow or no, I had to get into a pocket of woods and stretch my legs yesterday. Too much time staring at a computer screen makes me cranky. So I grabbed my boots, pulled the a set of crampons called Microspikes out of my closet, and headed for Niquette Bay State Park. I went into Burlington to meet a friend for breakfast, actually, and stopped by the park on the way home.

By the time I reached Niquette Bay, it was late morning and temps had already reached into the twenties. The sun was shining brightly, as well. Without a doubt, it was going to be a pleasant walk.

I pulled the Microspikes over my boots and voila! Excellent traction despite packed snow and ice. I hiked along the trail effortlessly and shot up the icy ledges as if walking across bare ground. The air was crisp and clean, and the climb just rigorous enough to get my blood up. Descending the ledges on the other side, I came upon three people struggling on all fours to negotiate the treacherous, icy slope. Their crampons were still in storage.

Upon reaching the beach, I was surprised to see nothing but open water in the bay. The lake hasn’t even begun to freeze over yet. Then again it’s only November. A few ducks floated close to shore. Why are they still here? Evidently, they haven’t received the memo yet: winter has arrived.

I could have kept going, but a couple miles was enough. I looped back on a shorter trail and reached the parking lot about fifteen minutes later. I’m not a big fan of winter but crampons sure make it a lot more tolerable. With them I can stretch my legs just about any time the snow isn’t deep enough for snowshoes. So I think I’ll keep them in my car until spring.

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Mar 09 2019

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A Taste of the Wild

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All week long I worked on my book about wildness and being human, effectively scratching the itch of wildness. Come Friday, with temps reaching into the 20s and the sun shining, I dropped everything and headed for the woods.

The big question these days is whether or not to take my old dog, Matika. She can barely get around now so any walk with her is bound to be a short one. But she’s been cooped up for days as I have. I decided take her. No need for a big outing, I told myself. Just a taste of the wild would do.

I headed for a favorite mountain brook that runs parallel to an unimproved dirt road that’s closed for the season. A beaten path made walking on the snow-covered road easy, especially with Microspikes on my feet. Matika crept along – her legs, weakened by a debilitating disease, giving out every once in a while. I stopped and waited for her every fifty yards or so.

While Matika was catching up to me, I left the path just long enough to post-hole down to the brook for a look. The stream was covered over. There were a few open leads of water but mostly snow piled on ice. All the same, I grooved on the sound of water gurgling softly over the rocks below.

Back on the beaten path, I continued forging uphill, past a beautiful gorge nestled in hemlocks. Then the tracks of previous walkers came to an end. I went a bit farther but Matika was having a hard time of it so I turned around. No matter. The blue sky, mild temps and fresh air lifted my spirits. It was good to get out, if only for a little while.



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Jan 29 2019

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A Good Grip

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Late last week temps crept up above freezing for a day, giving those of us here in the North Country a break from the subzero cold. As a result some of the snow covering the ground turned to water. But when the cold returned, that water hardened into ice.

I went for a short hike in the woods with my dog Matika yesterday despite afternoon highs in the single digits. Matika has a thick coat of fur so she didn’t mind it at all. But I had neglected to put on my thermals. More importantly, I had neglected to put on my Microspikes even though I now keep a pair in my car at all times. That made for some rough going.

The trail beneath the thin veneer of snow was solid ice. I did not enjoy the walk. Nothing ruins an outing so effectively as constant slipping and the fear of falling down. Not long ago I hiked Aldis Hill with the Microspikes over my boots and the icy trail was as easy to negotiate as bare ground. You’d think I’d learn.

Well, from now until the spring thaw, I’ll make sure to have this highly effective piece of equipment on my person whenever I venture into the woods – in my pocket if not on my feet. I’m not gear-obsessed like some outdoors people are, but Microspikes are something that no hiker living in this frigid clime should be without. They are as important as snowshoes.



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Feb 12 2018

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The Long February Sun

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Over ten hours of daylight now. With the sun shining throughout the day, it was really noticeable. No matter how big the snow piles are, they shrink fast before the long February sun. Soon the sap will be running, and not long after that will come the first signs of spring.

My dog Matika and I went for a walk late this afternoon. Even though I’d put in a full day’s work, there was still enough light left for us to head out. We followed the Rail Trail, groomed for snowmobiles, far enough away from the road to escape the sound of passing cars. Then the simple beauty of late winter took over: blue sky, leafless trees, pristine snow, and that blazing sun.

When I was younger, I didn’t much care for this time of year. That’s because I focused on the cold. But the clean, clear sky – so often on full display here in New England during the winter – has gradually won me over. And while I will always prefer the green world to the white one, this season no longer feels like something I must simply endure.

The long February sun. Over four decades ago I was deeply depressed, and it was this sun that reignited the spark of hope in me. Shortly after that, I was back with the living again, and have been ever since. The sun can work miracles.

Now back indoors, with the last bit of light gone, I go about my business with renewed strength. That’s because the sun still burns deep within me. I am alive and well in an elemental world, and that’s no small thing. I have seen the light.



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Jan 12 2015

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The Depths of Winter

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rock.iceWhen the holidays are in the rear view mirror and it’s too soon to dream about spring, a walk through the woods is just an excuse to get out of the house and blow off those stinky thoughts. I try to do it at least once a week despite whatever’s luring me to my writing desk. It’s simply a matter of good health.

A snowstorm is coming but I can’t wait for it to turn this grey of mine world into a wonderland. I have to get out now. So off I go with my dog Matika to commune with frigid nature.

Entering the woods, I am surprised to find not one or two but three downy woodpeckers hard at work, trying to extract whatever sustenance they can from dead trees. They telegraph survival through the quiet woods. I wish I could direct them somehow to the fatty suet that’s dangling outside my kitchen window.

There is a stark beauty to the winter forest, even when hardly any snow covers the ground. It is the same kind of beauty one finds in the desert or at sea year round. Not all beauty is lush and vibrant.

The rivulets that spring from the rocks are suspended in time. They won’t run again until temps get above freezing again. God only knows when that will be. But the dangling icicles are magnificent all the same. I revel in it because, well, that’s all I have right now – that, the woodpeckers, and the creaky trunks of leafless trees all around me.

Not all the trees are naked. A copse of young beeches still sport hundreds of dry, ochre leaves that rattle in the wind. They sound like the ghosts of last summer. “This too shall pass,” they say to me. Yes, I am listening. And with each icy step I take, I move closer to the next warm season.

I am accustomed to winter now, expecting the cold to sting my cheeks and the rime to gather on my beard as I finish my walk. I return home soon enough. A day later, while writing this, I sip tea while watching the snow fall outside. Strangely enough, I prefer this to living in Florida. Go figure.


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Dec 23 2014

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December Tramping

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SnowyTrailThe cold, the snow, the darkness. Some people are so preoccupied by the holidays that they hardly notice it. Others live strictly indoor lives. What’s going on outdoors matters little to them. Skiers are eternal optimists. All they see is an opportunity to glide down mountains in wintry glee. Then there are those of us who consider this time of year an ordeal.

The Microspikes that I pull over my boots make it easy to negotiate the snow-packed trail. It’s almost as good as summer hiking. I skirt the few barren patches to keep from bending the spikes. Scrambling over ice is kind of fun. The spikes work well.

The cold is tolerable as long as I’m moving. Having a good base layer of clothing is key. My dog Matika has a heavy fur coat so she actually enjoys these frosty temps.

The darkness – ah, there’s the rub. Around the Winter Solstice, it’s pretty hard to take. But getting outdoors helps, even when the sky is endlessly overcast.

One thing is for certain: a December tramp is better than sitting around the house brooding.



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Mar 16 2014

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Chasing the Light

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MarchLakeChampWinter persists. A Nor’easter dumped over a foot of snow on northern New England this week, followed by an all-too-familiar cold snap. But the March sun melts the ice with ease at midday, and lingers into early evening. There is hope for us yet. The equinox, after all, is only four days away.

My dog Matika was so restless this morning that I had no choice but to take her out for a run. She was my excuse, anyhow. Where to go? Usually I gravitate to the woods, but today I went to the lake. If I can’t have warmth and greenery, then give me blue sky and sunlight.

A wicked north wind greeted me as I stepped out of my car and walked to the edge of Lake Champlain. It was iced over as far as the eye could see. I tossed a ball for Matika while trudging across the icy ground between snowdrifts. Judy had warned me about this bitter, lakeshore cold. But I ventured into it anyway, chasing the light.

The many tracks in the snow assured me that Matika and I weren’t alone in our restlessness. A few hardy ice fishermen stood motionless on the bay ice despite the cold. For a moment I imagined lake water lapping gently to shore before me as it had the last time I was here.

My eyes watered as the wind blew, urging me to cut my walk short. Oblivious to the cold, Matika kept running after the ball. Clouds appeared on the western horizon and that was it for me. Back inside for another day. Spring will arrive soon, the optimist in me kept thinking. And I smiled when I saw a shamrock decoration plastered to the window of a house during my drive home.  Yes, spring will arrive soon, very soon.


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Mar 04 2014

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Cabin Fever

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Sheldon woodsIt has been a long winter, colder than any in memory, and I have a case of cabin fever that won’t quit. That’s why I went out this morning after a round of writing, despite the fact that it got down to 3 below zero last night. By the time I’d pulled on several layers of wool clothing and had slipped out the door, it was 10 above zero. Still very cold for early March, but it would have to do.

Matika was as happy as I was to get out of the house. She ran circles around me as I tramped a hard-packed trail cutting through the woods. She disappeared momentarily. When I found her she was chewing on the bones of a deer that hadn’t survived the winter.

The tracks of several other wild animals crisscrossed the trail. This time of year, they could only be doing one thing: looking for food.  That made me realize just how easy I have it. Grumble all I want about this long, cold season, at least I’m well fed.

The fresh air, bright sunlight, and forest silence work wonders on me regardless of the time of year, no matter what the thermometer says. It was good getting out this morning, and I was just a little disappointed when I’d finished the loop and had returned to the car. So soon?  Not the daylong excursion that I so desperately need, but good enough for now.

Patience, patience. Spring isn’t far away. In a few more weeks, Matika and I will be slogging through cold mud. Then we’ll be in our glory.



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Feb 11 2012

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Icy Trail

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The lack of snow is making a lot of Vermonters grumpy these days. Even those of us who don’t ski are missing the white stuff. Vermont in the winter isn’t same without a blanket of white. Oh sure, there’s snow in the mountains and the ski areas are making their own, but here in the valley we get a dusting that melts with the next sunny day. Then the ground is half-naked again. It’s unsettling.

Snow or no, I went for a walk the other day.  I went to Aldis Hill as I usually do when I’m short on time but need a woods fix. I was shocked to find the trail a solid mass of ice and immediately regretted not bringing my Yaktraks. I slipped and slid along, often leaving the trail for better footing yet returning to it out of sheer habit. I crept along slowly. That helped.

Matika didn’t mind, of course. Any time out-of-doors is a good time for her. Then again, she wasn’t on the trail itself.

I slipped and took a hard fall at one point. No surprise there. Got up and immediately checked to see if anything was broken.  A slight abrasion on my hand, that’s all.  A few minutes later, I slid ten feet. After that I tramped through the woods back to the car. An icy trail isn’t a trail, really. It’s a river of ice reminding three-season hikers like me that winter is fundamentally inhospitable. This one is for sure. So now it’s just an impatient wait until springtime.  Fortunately, in a year like this, that can’t be far away.


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Jan 19 2012

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Deep Freeze

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A change in weather over the weekend reminded me that it gets cold here in Vermont – wicked cold. Temps dropped below zero, and my enthusiasm for a long-awaited hike on my day off dropped with it.

I awoke Monday morning to single digits. Warmer, but not warm. So I puttered about the house while the mercury climbed. By late morning it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Hmm… that would have to do. I put on four layers of wools and thermals beneath my shell and went out.

A town forest twenty minutes from home seemed like the place to go. I wasn’t in the mood to drive any farther than that. Commuting to work every day does that to you.

Told Judy before leaving the house that I’d be glad to be in the woods once I was there. That was true but the chill that came when I broke a sweat kept me from lingering. I walked about an hour through the forest, cutting tracks through several inches of fresh snow, then called it quits. Outside just long enough for my beard to ice over. No more.

My dog Matika would have stayed out longer. Tracks of deer, squirrel, field mouse, you name it – there was plenty to sniff. She ran back and forth through the snow like she was born to it. Yeah, she has a heavy winter coat as most long haired German shepherds do.

Had the place all to myself for an hour. That was nice. Enjoyed the way the sun broke through the trees when the clouds opened up, and the way the snow clung to the boughs of conifers when they didn’t. But it was just a tad too cold to reflect upon the wonders of wild nature any more than that.

Fixed cup of hot chocolate as soon as I got home, then thawed out. It wasn’t enough of a hike to blow away all my stinky, mid-winter thoughts, but it would have to do. For now, that is. Next time I have a day off from work and temps rise into the twenties, I’ll go out for a much longer walk.  No doubt Matika will be ready to roll when I do.


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