Sounds like the title to a spy novel, when all we did was go snowshoeing – a thrilling enough true life adventure, but no mystery, unless you are mystified that people enjoy the ancient and honourable tradition of plodding through snow on old tennis rackets (or racquets?)
Sailing a bit close to an untruth there; we’ve never used the old school snowshoes, handmade, traditional and really rather romantic. No, we opt for the modern form when it comes to snowshoes. Perhaps we’ll tackle the classics sometime? I can see it already, pure PlaidCamper poetry in motion. Speculative fiction, at any rate.
It was wonderful to be back in some mountain and forest scenery for the weekend, after rather too many consecutive weekends in the big city. All the recent snowfall created landscapes blanketed in snow, much of it deep, thigh deep if we stepped off the trail. Or fell off the trail, if one wasn’t too attentive to matters underfoot, all too distracted by the sheer delight of being in the woods. Did I mention poetry in motion? Flailing, failing and falling can be balletic.
Some of the tracks ran parallel with and occasionally crossed some xc ski trails, and although we saw no others out on snowshoes, there were a few skiers sliding along and enjoying the day. It was generally pretty quiet, noise wise, just the happy cries of speeding skiers as they hit some of the steeper patches, and these cries were muffled by the trees and snow. We’ll have to investigate some flat tracks next winter, see if we can navigate them on skis with a well trained dog padding alongside. If only we knew a well trained dog…or a dog with well trained humans?
A short post about a brief trip, but the energy boost and recharge from our Kananaskis caper lasted long after we returned to the city – I can still feel the effects. Temperatures are edging up dangerously close to spring-like numbers, but perhaps we’ll manage one or two more mountain jaunts on snowshoes? Ooh, a serial adventure…
Really, PlaidCamper? What horrors have you endured?
No, nothing grisly here, quite the opposite! A post about bones, snow, quiet, and a book you might enjoy.
We were on snowshoes down by the Bow and Baker Creek a short while ago. Snow was falling, and the trees had a good coating. The wind had less teeth in the trees, and although temperatures were low, conditions were just right for tramping. And there were bare bones everywhere…
Maybe the roads were still relatively difficult to make travel out of the city an easy prospect, but returning from Yoho we saw no other traffic on the Bow Valley Parkway, other than a snow plow, and we parked up and had the trails to ourselves. Always an introvert, with a tendency towards being a touch anti-social on my time off, this was a special morning. Two PlaidCampers, deep snow, empty trails, and a backpack full of snacks? Let’s go!
Having spent a few winters lumbering along in snowshoes, I’ve developed a (slightly sad?) obsession with types of snow. There is a difference in what falls where in the mountains. On the BC side, the snow is almost a given – or as close to a given you can get in these post truth global warming days. It will often be deep, and it will often be wet and heavy. On snowshoes, heavy snow is fine if you’re second on the trail, but if you’re first – and if you’re me – it’s a workout. I’ve been known to hang back at a trailhead because I’m anti-social or quiet, but the other truth is I’m letting fellow hikers do my heavy lifting. I know, I know.
On the Alberta side of the mountains, snowfall isn’t as certain compared with further west, but when it falls it is light and powdery. Yes, I prefer to snowshoe through the powder. I’ll hit that trail and cheerfully blast a brave path through unbroken snow, leading the way and selflessly helping those who are to follow later in the day. It’s a workout, but I’m happy to help. I know, I know.
What about the bare bones that were everywhere? Tree bones! The light and the snow last week seemed to reveal the beauty of the trees in sharp, near black and white. We could see the tree bones laid bare. Alright, perhaps an overactive imagination here. I’ll admit to borrowing tree bones from Peter Wohlleben, and his wonderful book, The Hidden Life of Trees, written in partabout the forest in Germany he attends to.
Highly recommended as a thoughtful and off centre read about trees, I thoroughly enjoyed Wohlleben telling how, over many years, he redefined his relationship to the trees he works with, evolving from logger to conservationist. His notions about trees being a “wood wide web” of communicating and social entities, beings that taste and smell, are a challenge to conventional thinking. He isn’t a sentimental tree hugger, he acknowledges trees have a commercial value, and he explores and explains different, less destructive approaches to harvesting.
It’s a great book to read if you enjoy thinking about other ways of looking at the world, and different ways of measuring time or wealth. Preaching to the choir here, but when you consider the beauty and complexity of a single tree, and how that single tree impacts the environment of thousands of other living creatures, then how wonderful is a stand of trees? A woodland? A forest?
As Wohlleben says, trees ought to be beyond the status of inanimate objects like stones or boulders, but because in human measured time they appear static (beyond seasonal shifts), we mistake them as slow or unchanging and ripe for (poorly thought out) commercial exploitation. Well, you might enjoy the book.
We certainly enjoyed our deep powder snowshoe hike along the riverbanks and through the trees. As we retraced our steps, I was hoping to spot the dipper we’ve seen several times along this stretch. I’d just told myself to be content with the day, dipper or no dipper, when I caught sight of it out the corner of my eye. Splashing and bobbing upstream, then dipping below the surface to pop up a few metres downstream, this was a fine way to complete our walk. No dipper photos, but a happy memory.
Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!
Like an old PlaidCamper? No, like the snow that fell all day. A short piece this week about a short walk last week.
With temperatures hovering around -15C, and the snow being blown and thrown around by sharp gusts, we decided to wrap up and snowshoe in the shelter of trees. Swaddled and waddling, I really wasn’t too persistent or thin, especially when we tried to forge through deep snow. As an excuse for my lack of persistence, I’ll offer up the sore back I’ve been nursing the past few weeks. It has slowed me down, but the bonus has been the chance to take and make more frequent stops, and really absorb our natural surroundings.
So I couldn’t make much headway along the trail, but when we stopped and sat in a snow bank to eat a snack, the quiet was delightful. Grains of snow rustled and pitter-pattered on our packs and jackets. The near silence was seductive, and only the cold seeping through snow pants got us up and moving once more.
Distant views were obscured, with mountains being more of a suggestion than a reality in the murk. This made us focus in more of a close up way, prompting a readjustment and shrinking of vision, and that wasn’t a bad thing.
We followed a less difficult path, down to the Kicking Horse and towards the sounds of rushing and splashing water. Each riverbank was frozen, with deep snow covering ice layers. Here and there, and mostly in the middle, were stretches of flowing water. The exposed flow, tumbling and racing over blue-grey river rocks, made for some lovely sights and sounds.
Maybe not the finest day weather wise to be out and about – no bright blue skies or fat falling flakes – chilly, windy and grey could be one way to describe the day, but there was plenty to see and savour in a more muted way.
Thanks for reading, I always appreciate you taking the time, and have a wonderful weekend!
Sounds painful, but it really wasn’t. This piece includes a Western (Canada) tale about a man who is tall in the saddle. Or a man telling tall tales. And there’s a saddle.
We were on the Saddleback trail a little while ago, and it is a fine place to be. Searching for some outdoor peace on a crowded January weekend near Lake Louise, we watched where most folks were heading from the parking lot, and then went in the opposite direction. We are wily PlaidCampers…
That was a good decision. The Saddleback is a bridle trail in warmer months, and they can sometimes be very muddy and rutted for hikers. In the winter though, they are often wonderful snowshoe trails, and so it proved to be along the Saddleback. The snow was deep on either side of the path, but previous snowshoers had created an easy enough set of tracks to follow – I know, we are contrary PlaidCampers, wanting a quiet trail but happy enough to benefit from previous users. Contrary? Or wily?
With the narrow track winding through tall trees, there was an almost tunnel like effect at times, with branches overhanging the trail and dumping clumps of heavy snow if we disturbed the dangling limbs. Dump clump? Well, alright! Ahem. The heavy blanket muffled most noise, so there was a real stillness and quiet to the forest.
Plodding along and enjoying the walk, I got to thinking about taking a trail ride in the summer. Would I enjoy it? The few horses I’ve ever ridden always appear to have a tremendous time. They’ll take a route under the lowest boughs, and close to rough trunks simply to see if I can hang on. I can. Last time out, I slipped just a little in the saddle. Or from the saddle. My butt was lower than my knees but I think that’s a riding style. A slight twist on side saddle? Definitely didn’t fall off. It’s not falling off if you don’t touch the ground.
Maybe I’ll stick to hiking. Supposing I’m out riding on a narrow mountain path and we meet a bear? The horse would rear up, I’d fall off – the last couple of feet or so, being close to the ground already – and then there’d be headlines. Nope, sticking to hiking. I’m a wily (and news shy) old PlaidCamper.
We enjoyed the Saddleback, and would take it again. It’s a quiet spot in a sometimes crowded part of Banff National Park. Recommended, certainly in winter, and if you’re a brave soul, perhaps you’d enjoy it on a horse in the summer?
Thanks for reading this tall (short?) tale from the trail. As always, please feel free to share a story or comment, and have a wonderful weekend!
Aren’t we all? A little risk-taking sharpens the senses. Still, there are senses, and then there is common sense. Where is this leading?
Yes, to Emerald Lake and another snowshoe trip! Only this time, it’s rife with danger…Stop reading now if you believe that, because it’s not true. I’m an old PlaidCamper, and I didn’t get this close to my half century by taking insane risks. Certainly not! Only the sane risks for me. Almost outdoorsmen are just that – almost. As in, I almost went over the edge there but didn’t because snowboarding slower than many walk is a safe way to navigate black runs. Common sense with an element of near danger; the perfect recipe for outdoor success and coming back another day? My younger self would have laughed at that. But I’m here and he isn’t, so who’s right now? (Am I really arguing with old young me?)
Back to Emerald Lake. On a monochrome Yoho afternoon, we went in search of a safely frozen lake offering big mountain views under leaden skies. Given the right conditions, Emerald Lake can be a natural snowshoe stadium. There had been plenty of recent snow, but sadly, due to ongoing unseasonable warmth, it didn’t quite work out.
For me, it is about trusting how deep down the lake is frozen. I evidently have trust issues. When your snowshoes sink slightly into deep snow, it’s all good. Crump, crump, crump, wonderful, let’s go! Away from the shoreline, when they continue to sink past the snow into a layer of melting ice, and the slush covers your boots, it’s less good. Call me cautious, but no thanks (don’t tell young me!) Ice should be frozen, weight bearing, and, let me think, solid.
Out on the ice, you must listen to the voices, PlaidCamper. Especially the worst case scenario voice. At first thought, an undermining little creature, spinning annoying common sense words. He’ll whisper and weave an underwater nightmare where the mountain views aren’t as good from beneath the ice. Crack, splash, scrabble, scratch and tap. Yikes! Thank you, voices, and that’s enough of that. About turn and the shortest snowshoe trip ever, even if the cross country skiers are splush-gliding by with ease. (Splush?) Perhaps they were off season water skiers.
Needing to settle my jangled nerves and overactive imagination, we took a little turn along the shore, snapping big mountain views from a firmer footing, and wondering at the number of skiers blithely ignoring the avalanche warning signs posted across the front of an evident chute. I guess to each their own level of acceptable risk. Some must lead charmed lives, or possess conveniently underdeveloped fear centres.
Virtually everything in life is a risk one way or another, and getting outdoors is no exception. There’s fun to be had in exploring your boundaries, and testing yourself in less forgiving environments. The best fun though, is in coming back, sharing your adventures, and telling trail tales to friends and family. Who knows, maybe they’ll want to join you next time? This post is like a message from the government of PlaidCamper:
Be safe, manage your risk, and be sure there is a next time!
Thanks for reading, and, as ever, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment – always appreciated!
Something of an odd title, but bear with me, it might make sense. The last week or two has definitely seen a change in the weather, moving from surefire winter to a more uncertain season. There is still plenty of snow on the ground, at least out in the mountains, but everything has warmed up, and I don’t like it! But let’s try to be glass half full…
I know, here he goes again, loves winter, blah, blah, blah… It feels wrong to be this warm, with temperatures above freezing and even up into the mid-teens centigrade, with chinook after chinook blowing through. Mid March, alright, but to be this warm from the beginning of February? It’s not all chinooks, but honestly, what a meteorological maelstrom. El Nino and climate change, warm winters and extreme weather, doom mongers and deniers. We’ve just had the warmest year on record, so let’s get fracking. No! Let’s not.
We have to show a fraction more sense. It should be cold(er) in winter! Global warming isn’t a leftist anti-oil and big business fabrication, but a common concern for all thoughtful (and thoughtless) human beings. Non-renewable resources are dwindling, and they will run out. We have to shift to renewable sources, and put our mental energy, education, and training into facing this reality. I understand the concerns about employment. Jobs won’t have to disappear, but different ones will need to replace current ones. New energy requires engineers, technicians, scientists, maintenance, infrastructure, retail and associated skills. This is an opportunity! Blocking clean air initiatives is fiddling while Rome burns. It’s fracking silly, and we can do better. Goodness, I am irritable this week.
A classroom, many, many years into the future:
“Excuse me, teacher? Are you sure this information is correct? It says that our ancestors continued to pollute the air, water, and ground, even when they had an opportunity to do things differently. Really? And they did it for profit?! They prioritized money over the health of the planet? Huh? But weren’t they educated? Couldn’t they see what was happening? Who was Willow?”
We’ll be long gone, and of course, I’m simply being fanciful…
Maybe I should step outside, calm down. Our last little snowshoe adventure saw us along the river once more, and the river was fractionally higher, with ice shelves collapsing into the water. Don’t get too close to the edge, and a precarious situation… Lovely to look at, but in February? Too soon! I tottered along (as mentioned last week, was still feeling under the weather, hence the tottering) and realized we were past the midpoint of winter, over halfway and racing towards spring. To be honest, I wasn’t racing, or even tottering, not in snowshoes, but isn’t tottering a great word? I do look forward to spring, but please, not yet.
So, Groundhog Day came and went, with the sad news that Winnipeg Willow died a day before having the chance to pronounce an end to (or continuation of) winter. Was this natural causes, or a shadowy groundhog grassy knoll conspiracy to suppress the truth? Who would want to silence poor Willow? The naysayers, or the doom mongers?
All these thoughts – too strong a word? – were swirling around as we enjoyed the snow, the streams, and the relative silence under grey skies. Oh, my mental maelstrom. Suppose the planet keeps on heating up? What of winter then? How thin is the ice? Hmm. Enjoy winter while you can, and if a snowstorm hits, embrace it because, who knows, suppose you don’t experience another? What an awful thought…
Fortunately, and on a more positive note, we did encounter the American Dipper once again. Knowing that they only frequent unpolluted rivers and streams made everything seem a little less precarious.
I think I’d best keep this brief, and aim to top up my optimism glass. Here’s hoping winter hangs on a little longer around here, and I’ll seek to enjoy it – it’s what Willow would have wanted. For all my doom and gloom, there’s usually a way to fractionally brighten the spirits:
As always, thanks for reading! Please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.
…like an American dipper in the rushing current. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we’d been snowshoeing along the Bow, and I was going to write about that small adventure, but last week “The Revenant’ swept my attention away. Still, the dipper is a plucky little fellow, not easily distracted, and willing to plunge in upstream and be carried back to where he started – and further.
So, our little snowshoeing adventure. It was about perfect, -10C, blue skies, and bright sunshine. We delayed our start deliberately, wanting to be outside into the late afternoon and catch the changing light as the sun fell beneath the tree line and behind the mountains. A magical time of day.
There had been some reasonably heavy snowfall the previous day or two, and the conifers were wearing snow cloaks. It made me think of Narnia, although winter in Narnia was a mean season, and it felt anything but.
I have to thank my grandparents for the Narnia books. I loved them, reading and rereading, always enthralled, captivated by the stories, to the point where I could recite them almost by heart. Especially “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” – who couldn’t love that one?
The imagination of little PlaidCamper was fired up by those books – he didn’t know much or care about the religious parallels, although they are interesting. He was all about the talking animals, mysterious tree and water spirits, and other mythical creatures. He was swept away by the landscapes and adventures. He got upset every time Aslan “died” on the stone table, tears of sadness. He was moved to tears again when Aslan returned and the stone table was split asunder. Edmund! You fool! Don’t eat candy offered to you by strangers! Especially witches! Edmund’s choices were a disappointment every time (I was a sensitive, repetitive, and judgemental reader…)
I’m certainly not going to share with you the time I climbed into my wardrobe and reached forward past the clothes hanging there, hoping for some magic. Nope, not going there.
Thank goodness we moved to Alberta many years later! The cupboards are built in, and I can’t get to Narnia through them, but a short journey out to the mountains in winter is pretty close. No Turkish delight (perhaps a small bar of chocolate in the backpack), but Albertan delights are more than enough.
A feast for the senses that snowshoe afternoon, with crisp pine air, whispering trees, misty rivers, crunching snow, creaking ice, and rushing water. Spirits? I know what a young PlaidCamper might think, and maybe he wouldn’t be wrong…
We didn’t see a faun, white witch, or any talking animals, but the American dipper was a wonder. What a tough little bird! Icy waters were no problem as he splashed, bobbed and flew over and into the fast moving current. Diving in, fetching his meal, and popping back up far further down than we expected. You would swear he was enjoying himself, completely engrossed in his antics, and if he was aware of his admiring audience, he didn’t let on. Or perhaps he did know we were there, and decided quite deliberately to fly up and drift down the same little patch of river, simply sharing some quality time. (You can blame C.S. Lewis for my shameless anthropomorphizing.)
The American dipper is also known as the water ouzel. How wonderful to have an alternate name, and doesn’t it sound positively Narnian?
I’ll leave it here, happy to share with you our warm winter adventure. Downstream and thinking about that funny little PlaidCamper boy with his imaginative and bookish ways.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read this. Please feel to share a (wardrobe?) story, or make a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.
No, it’s not. Last time out in the mountains, there was so much fresh snow we decided to put on our snowshoes and take a little wander.
If I’d bothered to check the overnight temperatures, I wouldn’t have left the snowshoes in the car. But I hadn’t, so I did. Great. It was so much fun trying to strap unforgivingly stiff fasteners and clips over my clumpy boots with numb fingers. Trying to look balanced, leaning nonchalantly against a tree and reaching down and behind to fix and tighten the back strap. Of course I intended to hop left, left, left, and then right, right, right back to the tree. It’s a method. Cursing? No, that was singing, you misheard me – they were the words to go with the snowshoe shuffle.
Early season deep snow and raring to go! Raring? Might have had to stretch out a cramp or two, ease the legs back into it, and then off we go, relearning the wider stance and slightly exaggerated strides, over the railway tracks and down into the woods. (Every time we cross the tracks in snowshoes, I can’t help remembering the scene from “Stand By Me” where the boys are crossing a wooden bridge and a train comes around the corner. Not helpful…)
The woods were silent, snow hushed and pristine; white sheets marked with tracks left by snowshoe hares, and a few bird prints, although we didn’t see or hear either. The air was still, but every now and then clumps of snow would fall from tree limbs where there was just enough sun heat to prompt the drop. As we shuffled through the trees, the faint sounds of the creek and river rushing, splashing, and attempting to outrun winter could be heard.
We emerged at the confluence, enjoying the bumps, lumps and humps of a landscape putting on the first layers of seasonal finery. Fresh, textured and intriguing, almost impossible-looking in places. An early winter wonderland, enough to cause a little jig, and maybe I fell, but the landing was soft and powdery, and you could only laugh at it all.
The Bow doesn’t always freeze over, but Baker Creek will. Too early yet, but the signs were there. We saw the beginnings of a frosty, blue-white waterfall where the waters meet; icy, beautiful and brief, soon to be frozen over and buried under snow. It was something to see, and strange to think that when we return in a week or two, we’ll be able to snowshoe over the top of the creek, and closer to, if not over and above the banks of the Bow as winter takes hold.
Our snowshoe shuffle was brief, but an exciting and enticing reminder of the outdoor delights in store for the next few months. Now, if only I can remember to defrost the snowshoes before putting them on next time…
Thanks for taking the time to read this. As ever, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.
PS As I was writing this, the song “Bad Boy Boogie” by AC/DC came into my head, only my brain changed it to “Snowshoe Shuffle” – showing my age, questionable musical tastes, odd neural pathways, and now I’m off to find the CD. Mrs PlaidCamper will be pleased.
My first effort on snowshoes was a couple of years ago, and effort was the right word. It looked simple, and friends who were practised in the art said things like “oh, if you can walk, you can snowshoe” and this was perfectly true. Yet what they should really have said, especially to the unwitting first timer, was “oh, if you can walk comfortably wearing very large overshoes that spread your normal gait wider than is comfortable, while taking exaggerated strides, then you can snowshoe”. That would have been more true.
The physics of the shoes do work. Your weight is spread evenly, and you don’t sink far, particularly on firm snow packs. Not that I believed it – and me being a teacher too – silly boy. That first time was such an effort, getting all sweaty, legs burning and my heart pounding, overheating even in -15 temperatures. I remember thinking “are these snowshoes really necessary?” So I took them off and tried walking without. Sinking almost immediately into midthigh snow and trying to walk even a few metres was a lung buster – that unnatural snowshoe gait suddenly seemed very attractive. Old PlaidCamper never felt as old as he did than in those few steps without the snowshoes. My respect for the wit, wisdom and ingenuity of the original snowshoers increased exponentially with each floundering snowshoeless step. Snowshoes! A marvellous invention and a great way to travel! I put them back on, learned very quickly to adopt a good gait, and imagined I was Huron or Algonquin (go here for a brief history of snowshoes: snowshoes.com).
As much as I love them, skiing and snowboarding are sometimes too fast for taking in the natural beauty of wintry mountain valleys. There are times and days when a slower mode is what I’m after. Snowshoes fit the bill. We’ve gone from borrowing pairs, just to “give it a go”, to acquiring our own, such has been our enthusiasm. Real peace, quiet and solitude can be found on a pair of snowshoes. Especially since, after a few outings, my original laboured breathing, hammering heart, and ponderous lurching has diminished to the point where snowshoeing is perfectly simple. Now it’s all about pine scented air and breathtaking scenery:
Bow Valley, AB, Feb 2015
Honestly, take it from me – an old PlaidCamper – if you can walk, you can snowshoe!
Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.