Tuesday, January 17, 2017

doing hard things

I snarled along on snowshoes. In case you haven't tried it, sidehilling on snowshoes with a backpack full of overnight gear on unconsolidated snow is hard. "Why do I always do hard things on my birthday?" I whined. Granted, it wasn't my actual birthday, but that day is on a weekday. so there it was, my birthday trip, my idea. I had only myself to blame.

Honestly, I would rather have a birthday in July, because swimming in an alpine lake would be pretty much ideal. But since my parents didn't take this into consideration, I am stuck with January. Which, once I cheered up, can be pretty good. When we arrived at the backcountry shelter, I decided some more climbing would be all right.
Looking into Idaho from almost 8000 feet
The truth is, the things I consider hard would be an easy day for some of you. For other people I know, it would be impossible. I have seen some friends who have no health limitations just stop doing anything hard. That's their right. But I think when you give up, that's when things really get difficult. So I'll keep it up, snarls and all.

Wolves! Oh wait...dogs.
We spent a starry, near-full moon night in the cabin and climbed some more the next day before heading out. J likes to remind me that snowshoes don't have much reward. You climb to a high point and then you have to just hike down, unlike skiing. But I don't mind. There's something contemplative about snowshoeing in deep powdery snow.

It's so simple up there. Melt water for snow, chop wood for the stove, go to sleep when it's dark. The cabin is tiny but whenever I'm up there I think of how I could really live there. I imagine where my gear would go, and how I would stomp out a snowshoe track to run on, and how much easier things would be.

But maybe not. Who knows? It was time to descend. Another successful birthday weekend, doing hard things. May it always be so.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

testing the ice

I cautiously inched out onto the ice. It looked like it would hold. There were a few boot tracks in the snow and no large gaping holes, so obviously the walkers had made it back to shore. Our five mile long lake had frozen! It was a January miracle!
Near the boat ramp, the ice had frozen bumpy, the bane of skaters. Wind is the enemy of smooth ice formation. You want a cold, calm night for the best ice.  I almost gave up, but since this is only the second time the lake has frozen since I moved here, I decided to keep trying. Looking like an ungainly bird, I hobbled out past the boat dock supports.
Bumpy ice!
At least the ice seemed solid. I decided to venture out farther. A thin layer of snow covered the ice so it was hard to tell what was bumpy or smooth. I had to go on faith alone. But then I found it. Smooth ice! I circled around, getting braver.

A couple of onlookers appeared. "How do you know it's safe?" they asked. Well, you never really know. You can dig a hole in one place and it might not be as thick in others. "We'll pull you out if you fall in," they suggested, which emboldened me to go out further. Perhaps not a wise plan, but it worked. In fact, as we explored, we discovered a slushy area from which we retreated rapidly (it could have just been snow melting). All I could go with was my  instinct, which is usually right in these situations. And sometimes you just have to try.

First tracks!
The onlookers left, so I decided the better part of valor was to come in too. A skater must know her limitations. People here are complaining about winter and all I can think is: move away then! I hope this ice sticks around for awhile.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

No margin for error

"Hey.it's sixteen degrees!" J said in tones of happy surprise.  We geared up to ski. This was a heat wave compared to our usual temperatures. I haven't been in -20 in quite some time but it is common this winter. The last time I ran, I wore a down skirt (it worked!) and the other day, snowshoeing, I wore a down puffy the whole time, despite climbing some significant elevation.

I've had to scale back in some of my adventures. The day I took the picture above, Ruby and I were going to head up to Aneroid Lake, a 12 mile snowshoe. Ruby doesn't care; she loves the cold and even sleeps outside some nights (the house, even at 60 degrees, is too warm for her). But I realized that  hiking in snowshoes to 8,000 feet, on a trail that nobody else would be on, left just no margin for error. We headed out closer to home instead.

I haven't always been so cautious, but just because I want to hike up to a frozen lake in winter, when the wind chill values are -34, doesn't mean I should.

However, these cold temperatures are making some of us cross our fingers. Back in the old days, I hear that the entire Wallowa Lake froze solid enough that people drove cars across it. It's only frozen once since I lived here. This could be the year! Full of hope, I drove there today to check.

A couple of skinny guys were on the ice, one with a rope that the other guy had tied to himself (safety first). They were eagerly checking the ice thickness. Sadly, it is only about three inches--not safe yet. But there is always hope. There should be a payoff for this brutally cold weather!

Except for feeling tough, though. That's something. And if I lived in Arizona, how would I ever wear my cute down skirt?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Burn your candles

Greetings on the first day of 2017. We are having what one of my friends calls a "burly winter." The mail has not gotten through, and the interstates have been closed. The trails look like the picture above. Yes, that is a trail. I sank to my waist. In snowshoes.
I like it, though. This is the first time I had a few days off from work (5) and I didn't travel anywhere to go on a hike. I tend to think I am wasting vacation time if I don't travel. Weird, I know. While I cursed the irony that made Phantom Ranch a balmy 60 degrees this year (last year we shivered through 20 degree temps), it's been actually nice to stay home. I have recruited several friends to snowshoe and hike. Like I have mentioned, many of them are retired or underemployed, so they have time during the week to get out.
It's back to work next week, but it has been a glimpse of the holy grail, retirement. Someday!

The other day I skied with a friend who is battling cancer. When people complain about how awful 2016 was (I don't really think it was), she just smiles and I can tell she wants to say something, but doesn't. She is too nice to remind us that we are lucky to be here. How can a year be bad if you made it through, still on the planet?

I have been eyeing my possessions in preparation for a big purge, and I came upon a candle I love. It shows the Round Island Light, a favorite lighthouse of mine. It sits on a spit of land near an uninhabited island near where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron  mix. I spent many summer days canoeing or boating to this place. There are a lot of memories with this lighthouse. I never burned the candle because I liked it so much. But...

Life can be short. Burn your candles, friends.

Monday, December 26, 2016


I have several friends who do not have pets, mostly because, they say, they travel too much. Some of  them really do travel. Others travel less than I do. I think they just like the idea of being able to pick up and take off without responsibilities, even if they never really take off.

I used to be like that, more by circumstance than desire. As a seasonal worker, I was never allowed to have pets in the bunkhouses, and I was on patrol five days a week anyway. When I finally got a kitten, I thought this was the best of both worlds. I could still travel if someone checked in on the cat, and I had something fluffy at home that always wanted to see me, unlike the bad romances I found myself in.

Dogs? Meh. They were cute, but they required a real commitment. I loved the ones I inherited by marriage, but they weren't really my responsibility. I could leave them behind. My friends who had dogs had mixed bags. For every dog that obediently trotted after us, there was the Problem Dog, the one that disappeared, got bit by a rattlesnake, or lunged at other dogs.

Cale has a skin condition where he is losing hair. He looks pretty cute in his ruffwear jacket.
But then there was Ruby. Now I get it. Talking about your dog to people who don't like dogs is probably as irritating as those who talk about their kids to childless people. But I do love having a dog on the trail. It bridges the gap between solo and accompanied. There are times I don't feel like taking anyone along, but don't really want to be completely alone.

Not that there aren't issues. Yesterday, on Christmas Day, foolishly left leashless, she bolted and was nowhere to be found. We traipsed the back streets to no avail. I decided to drive around in hopes of spotting her. Flashing red and blue lights ahead plus dodging cars led me to believe she had been spotted. Here came my puppy, cheerfully cruising Main Street.

"Dog in Winter Shadow"
"You know, this is a fifteen year commitment," a friend said when I got a kitten a couple years ago. A dog is even more of a commitment. For years I was bad at commitment. I couldn't even commit to a town, much less a husband or an animal. I think back to what a former bad romance told me: "I'm just wired this way." At the time I felt despair because our wires certainly did not cross. But now I know: people can change. I may no longer be my footloose self, but I have a lot more love.

Dogs don't pose.

Monday, December 19, 2016

skiing below zero

Mist rises off the lake.  The campground is deserted. Our fingers freeze as we step into our skis. The day before, at minus twenty, I punted and went to the gym. It was slightly warmer today, and I enlisted a friend who was up for the adventure.

We get a cold snap like this every year but people seem to forget it. They seem personally affronted by the temperatures. There are very few people out on any trails, even though the snow conditions are perfect. 

We glide along the deserted lakeshore and campground, speculating if this is the year that the entire lake will freeze and we will be able to skate. This used to be a regular occurrence, but has only happened once in the past seven years. 

Leaving the campground, we venture up into the summer cabins. Only a few souls live here year round: it is dark and frosty, suited only to a certain personality. I could do it, I think. 

We crawl up a snowy closed road, our skis protesting and sliding backwards. The water below us is encrusted with ice. The ski down is perfect, not too fast but not slow either. We have wings.

One of my hiking partners has moved to the Southwest, where she extols the warm days and the ability to hike year round (except perhaps at high noon in summer). While I am no fan of the cold, I think I would miss that incomparable warmth that comes when you have been exercising in it and you suddenly glow with self-created heat. I would miss skiing like this, in a world gone quiet and muffled by snow.

We see the car in the distance and I want to do another loop but with friends, you must compromise, so I do. Another storm is coming, promising much more snow. This is the biggest winter in years so far, but all of us are gun shy, remembering January thaw, flooding in February. Keep snowing, I think. Bring it, I think.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

When the snow is too deep for the dog....

Since we have All the Snow, I have been skiing for a week straight, completely ignoring the gym or running or anything else. My truck has been locked in 4WD for several days. I have had several ski outings with friends, breaking trail (nothing is groomed here) and other trips on my own. We are supposed to get another foot tomorrow. I am not going on my annual Grand Canyon backpacking trip this year, so here it is. It's been four years since I was home for Christmas.

The windswept and deep Devils View trail.
 We trudge along taking turns breaking trail, following blue diamonds. I realize I am skiing with three people who are all retired. I am the young one in the group. That's weird. Because they are retired, they don't have the same urgency to do All The Skiing in one day, but we do make two loops out of it. By the second loop, we can even glide. It's hard work, but I'd rather have this than a groomed, Lycra-clad playground. We don't see a soul on our trek.

I take T up high the next day when she wants to go low, and we are pummeled by stinging snow and wind. and must retreat to the place she wanted to go all along. And it's okay, another trudge through unpopulated woods, climbing over fallen trees.  The next day I travel high again, finding our track completely blown in. Ruby and I travel for a ways before I notice a strange phenomenon-the snow is too deep for the puppy! It is time to turn around.

Bad phone picture, but you get an idea. Even the dog gave up.

I snicker as I see my co-workers on the west side excused from work for 1-3 inches of snow. We don't get any such exception.  I also don't feel jealous of my friends who don't live in snow. I need a change of pace and activity every year. As much as I love hiking and running, it is good to change things up, to challenge myself in different ways. Besides, skiing is about the best workout there is.

The puppy and I trudge back to the car. We are the only ones on the trail. It would be hard to give this up. Even for the Grand Canyon. It will be there next year.