Monday, November 19, 2012


Sometimes I think that the bears have it right. As we slogged in six inches of boot-grabbing snow towards Aneroid Lake, not a sign of them was to be seen. Not a sign of any kind of life, all the animals tucked up in their winter beds, resting after a manic summer, waiting it out.

Time for Puff Daddy! I heart this puffy.
It's hard to live here in November. A desperate month, November. If there are demons moving deep in your soul, as B. discovered, there is not much to stand between you and the gun. Not enough snow to ski without hitting rocks or venturing into extreme territory, primal winds that rake across the mountain crest and whine through the night as if they will never stop. Too much snow to make it to the lake without snowshoes and you didn't bring them today. You stop, defeated, two miles short. You hate this. You are, unfortunately, destination oriented.

Of course, I don't have demons and I wouldn't resort to the gun. Life is too beautiful to leave without a fight. This is a transition time, my own sort of restless hibernation, and while I don't like it as much as the sugar rush of summer, it's all part of living here.

Unlike my seasonal tribe mates, back in the day I never took unemployment, kicking back to ski all winter or travel to balmy climates (though now I wonder why I didn't). Instead I scoured the country for jobs, fighting fires, replanting savaged campsites, leading naturalist tours. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like not to work. To wake up every day with hours and hours to fill with whatever adventure you wanted.

November is the month for trying things. Sometimes they work. Running on the moraine can be tricky; sometimes ice fills the two-track. Sometimes wind ruffles the surface of the lake like a hand through hair, making kayaking an extreme proposition. You can haul your skis up the mountain road to Salt Creek and discover an unfortunate crust. It can go your way in November, or it can't.

These dogs are totally snow-coated but they know how to wait things out.

You have to roll with it. Today the wind howls at a speed faster than we are allowed to drive on the North Highway. It is a day for being inside, the gym or the hotel pool, back and forth in an endless circle, going nowhere. However, I rolled up to the pool with a sense of resignation, only to learn that the entire hotel is closed for the winter. I stood in front of the door in disbelief. The closest pool from here is now 50 miles, not a journey to be taken lightly.

So here we go. November. It gets gritty this time of year. You go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. You carve out little episodes of time to run, or to write, or do whatever sustains you. You know deep inside that better times are coming and that you have to find things that make life good in November. You write like a fiend on your memoir and your novel. You run more than you have all summer, because there isn't good backpacking to be had, and winter camping is still an iffy proposition. You contemplate running a 10K in the summer, or not. You make yummy crockpot meals. You split wood, with the satisfying chunk of rounds falling into pieces. You plan your next long hike and coax people into trail angeling for you.  It's your own kind of hibernation.  It works. Like the bears, you will emerge from this stronger and better.

White dogs at the backcountry ski hut.
Ps. Big news! I have settled on sections K and L for next summer's hike. It's 187 miles from Stevens Pass (Washington) to Manning Park (BC). I hope to do it in 13 days or less. If anyone has hiked this, please respond with resupply or other details.


  1. Is this the Pacific Crest or the Continental Divide? I may have someone in mind who may know both those.

  2. There are few "at home" activities I enjoy more than scheming big adventures. That's awesome you're thinking about tacking sections of the PCT next year. I'm giving serious consideration to a hike/run of the Colorado Trail in 2013, although this would depend on snow conditions as I want to shoot for late June or early July so as to not conflict with other plans. I still want to save the PCT for the possible "someday" when I can tackle the whole thing.

  3. SNOW! Oh I am bemoaning being away from my beloved valley. We have no snow here. It's 50 degrees and grey, a bit of rain here and there.
    Worse, this means no snow in West Yellowstone which is the start of the XC ski race season (normally). We expected to be able to go see our oldest son race this Friday, but there is no snow.
    I'm primed and ready for it to be cold, and in SE Idaho it usually IS cold by now, and usually much colder than home in the beautiful Wallowa Valley.
    I can't believe the hotel is closed for the winter. wow.
    I hear you struggling with the season, and in a much different way than I am. I'm far from home and really missing it.


  4. That is a beautiful stretch of the PCT (only the Sierra top it in terms of scenery -- although I'm sure there are more than a few who would disagree with me). We did that stretch with only a resupply in Stehekin, which is easy enough to get to (there is a national park shuttle to take you in from the trail at High Bridge). We did a mail drop there -- and be sure to hit the Stehekin Bakery -- a highlight of our PCT trip.

  5. This is so beautiful, Mary! And pretty much how I feel about winter, how it forces you to slow down and look at yourself, really look at yourself, for the first time in months. And how seductive it is to curl up and read and write, and how the darkness presses up so close, and lord, how good the cold air feels on your face, even when it stings, because you know, without a doubt, that you are totally and completely alive.
    Thanks for reminding me of this. Sometimes I forget.
    Cheers and happy writing,


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