Wednesday, December 20, 2017

the secrets of winter trails

In winter, the small enclave of houses near Wallowa Lake becomes nearly a ghost town. Most of the cabins are summer rentals, shut up tight. A few snow-shrouded cars hint at reclusive year-round residents. The gondola stopped running months ago. The shops are closed. You drive through, feeling as if you are the only person in the world.

The trails in summer are full of horses and hikers, a place to generally hurry through enroute to a high mountain lake. But in winter, you can have them all to yourself. I was looking for a trail a short drive from the house, and this one, only six miles from home, was perfect.
I could say I am fortunate to live so close to mountain trails, but it's not really a stroke of luck, not an accident of fate. I took additional science college classes at night for two years to supplement my BA in order to qualify for the job I now have. I lived in places that were not geographically desirable for years, lonely places, building up my resume. So while I know fortunate events in life have led me here, much of it was my doing.

I often wonder if dogs feel sorry for us as we plod along slowly on two feet. Ruby and I headed up the East Fork Wallowa trail, which in summer is a rock-studded slog until you reach the alpine shores of Aneroid Lake. The forest is unhealthy here, with little sunlight reaching through the thick mat of trees. It's not particularly lovely; you don't get views for at least three miles. But in winter, a thick coat of forgiving snow turns it somewhat magical.

I followed someone's Yak Traks toward the dam that feeds the small hydropower plant for the resort houses. That person had turned around and accessed the dam road to return to the trailhead, a steeper and shorter option that also avoids some avalanche paths. Because there has been little snow until now, the avy danger is low, although it won't be soon. Light snow has begun to cover the surface hoar, and hikers will have to beware the danger.

Ruby patiently waits for me to appear.
In a couple of miles, too soon, we arrived at the dam and little cabin. I've never seen anyone at this cabin, and I think it's for Fish and Game workers. If it were mine, I would be here all the time.

Is there anything better than a small cabin in falling snow?

The water backs up by the dam to create a small lake. It doesn't freeze because of the force of the river running into it.
Ruby didn't want to turn around. If it were up to her, we would walk forever. But there were things to do in town. Make bread, pack for a trip, send a copy of my book to Fresh Air (because you might as well aim high). As we headed down the trail, I encountered a solo female hiker, and then later, two women carrying snowshoes. That was it. There were no men in sight. The women knew the secrets of winter trails, too.

But, I don't want to turn around.

11 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. I love being outside in the winter! Wish our trails were as close to home as yours are. Cute pic of your doggy.

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    1. You have more trails so...maybe it is equal!

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  3. Just in from my early, sweaty, morning walk so a delight to read this post and see the snow falling!

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    1. So weird to think of it being summer somewhere! Although I have been to Australia three times so I should remember!

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  4. I didn't know that the dam was on the East Fork and there was a little lake there! Always took the West Fork to the bridge and up to the waterfall. Something to think about! Nice hike, happy dog.

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    1. The West Fork is more scenic, but this is a nice hike when you don't have a lot of time and want to hike uphill.

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  5. I would love to see that trail (and area) in the winter! We only lived (near) there April-October and it still stands out in our mind as one of the most beautiful spots we’ve lived!!!!

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    1. It's quite magical. Especially if the lake freezes!

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  6. I've been hoping for snowshoe opportunities but so far haven't had any. I am in NE California (Chester) now and it's raining, it feels like SE Alaska did the winter I was there.
    Interesting that only women were on the trail. Perhaps we need more solitude than men, and/or appreciate the peace and wonder of a winter hike, versus something that provides an adrenaline rush ;-}

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