Saturday, January 22, 2011

Outdoor rink update

I guess its time to update the status of our little outdoor rink project.  I have been busy shovelling snow off it and I was really wondering if it was ever going to come together.  Today however Seth and I were able to finally skate on it.  It is curently -22 with the windchill so it was a short skate but we were there.  It is still a bit uneven and bumpy but I skated on much worse as a kid.

I have gotten into a good flooding routine now and have become efficient at first working out the kinks and then finally flooding the surface.  The biggest challenge is thawing my outdoor faucet so I can flood.  This requires about 10-15minutes with the heat gun everytime.  This is not bad since I have devised a way to set the gun up and leave it while I prep the hose, scrape the ice, or what ever I need to do that day.  Then once the water is running it only takes me about 10-15minutes to flood the small area and I have to roll up the hose and take it inside for the next flood.  If its really cold like today, I have to go through the whole process again, which is no fun, but after today has been worth it.
Seth's favorite thing to do was jump into the snowbanks.  He wasn't much interested
in practicing stickhandling.
With the weather forecast calling for some clear skies and cold temperatures I am hoping that by the end of the weekend the ice will be much smoother and nicer.  My lower end is great right now but I still need more ice to cover the bumps at the upper end.  Still a work in progress as it likely will be throughout the winter.

Keep your head up :P

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Pleasant Trek around a Ridge

Icy Drop were dripping slowly back into Beatty Brook.
Pleasant Ridge has a warm and fuzzy feeling when you read the name on a map.  The name is well deserved as the area around these high hills makes my heart pump when I am anywhere near there.  No matter what time of year it is I get pumped about all the possibilities that abound.  During the summer months I can often be found wetting a line fishing for trout along one of the many streams that drain the hills that form the ridge.  More recently I decided to explore the Beatty Brook and one of its unnamed tributaries on snowshoes.

Beatty Brook is a steep and cold stream here.
Snowshoeing is my outdoor winter sport of choice because I have never been great at cross country skiing, and I played to much hockey to compete at downhill skiing as a kid.  I didn't need a groomed trail and I could easily carry my snowshoes in my car, so I could go any time or any where.  The goal of this trip was to show a friend of mine a small waterfall and then explore some new wilderness.  The weather man was calling for a mild winter day with a chance of flurries. 

We packed a light lunch and were looking forward to being able to eat it while sitting on the side of Pleasant Ridge.  We hit the woods around 9:30 or so and made our way along the left bank of Beatty Brook heading upstream.  The first thing I noticed was that there was not as much snow as a previous trip I made and this surprised me.  The second thing was how quiet it was.  You could hear the water gurgling under the ice and that was all unless you count your breathing.

The ice ledges along the Brook offered some great views up and down stream.
We approached the Steen Road and walked along the skidoo trail for a short time before taking off to the left up the unmapped ravine looking for water and ice.  The topographical mapping showed that the area had steep slopes but no water.  When I noticed this I was certain there was water but I wanted to see for myself.  We headed up the ravine which would circle around the back of the hill before it made the top at approximately 191m.  As we made the trek an impressive hardwood stand dominated the hill to our right and I was amazed at how crisp and majestic the stand appeared.  There was water in the creek throughout the hike even when we made the top, water was running but the topography was not as steep as we anticipated and the trek was relaxed. 

The view from the top of Pleasant Ridge looking southeast.
As we reached the top of the stream we had lunch and energized for the next lag of the hike was a bush whack across unmarked woodland.  We set our bearings on a steep tributary and were capable enough that we hit our mark and found ourselves looking out over the Millstream Valley while standing in a small natural clearing on the steep southeast side of the Pleasant Ridge. 

We were now faced with a difficult and treacherous descent back to Beatty Brook and the car.  The snow was thin in places with ice underneath and one step sent us glissading down the slope only to be slowed up by a steep drift.  The small and narrow creek bed was filled with many conglomerate boulders but very little water, even though it showed water on the maps.  Suddenly we found the source of the water as we noticed a small ladle hanging in a nearby tree where a spring flowed out from under some roots and rocks. 

The steep ravine we descended provided some challenges.
From this point I tried to stay on the creek bed and unfortunately this would cost me.  As I continued leaping from ice shelf to ice shelf over the small stream I got into a rhythm that flowed with the same resonance of the creek itself.  Without warning though the beat changed and I made a hard step to what looked like snow covered ice but it turned out to be a big boulder.  I only managed to get the toe of my snowshoe up on it and as my weight settled on the shoe the aluminum tube bent and then broke.  Luckily we were not that far from the bottom of the creek and the road and I was able to hobble the rest of the way.

Even with my snowshoe breaking it was a great day and to me it symbolized any normal day.  The little bumps shouldn't take away from all the progress we make along our journey.  I hope your journey is over smooth snow.  See you in the woods.

View Pleasant Ridge Snowshoe Trek in a larger map

Monday, January 10, 2011

Outdoor Rink Part III

Patients is needed when building an outdoor skating rink.  I have learned this over the last week.  That and a few other things about making a skating rink outside.  Just to be clear, I have never made ice indoors either so this has been a fun learning curve.  The location of my small rink is in my backyard which I thought was relatively flat, that was until I started putting water on it and it all flowed to one end.  I also learned that my yard drains quickly.  Since I didn't put a plastic cover down I put a great deal of water into the ground as opposed to on my ice surface.  This weighs heavily on my conscience as a watershed conservationist, but my son asked and I said we could, so what am I to do?

Don't get me wrong it is getting better but the weather is not as cold as I would like.  It is late into the evening before I can get the first flood on so the ice building has been slow.  Stay tuned though as I am sure I will get a skating rink before the end of winter.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Winter Trek and Lesson

Mature spruce dwarf the younger hardwood stands at the top of a
ridge in the Mill Brook area.

Since the holidays I have been able to get out on two snowshoe hikes.  This entry is about the first of those trips.

How can you not feel blessed when a road like this
lay before you.  You simply say a prayer as you walk.

The weather was crisp and sunny and I had been thinking about a waterfall that I wanted to visit in winter.  I was thinking there might be some good ice for climbers in there and for me to take pictures of.  There was lots of snow in the woods and I knew it would be a great day for just getting out and stretching my legs and working off the Christmas turkey.  I had plotted a route that wouldn't take me directly there but rather bring me around the hill from the back side.  This would later prove to be a mistake, but I don't want to get ahead of myself.

I packed up a day bag with extra clothes, food, water, map, emergency kit, and of course my camera.  I made a quick stop at my parents to pick up their dog Kizmet and headed to the upper headwaters of Mill Brook.  The Cotter Holler road is a beautiful walk no matter the season but it is extra special in winter and that is why I wanted to start there.  There was also a ravine there that I hadn't yet explored so that is where I headed with the intent of following that ravine up to the crest and then crossing over to the other ravine.  This plan sounded good in my head but I was unprepared for how deep the snow was and how steep the first unknown ravine would be.

The Cotter Holler Stream is a photogenic presence anytime
of year but especially in the winter as its spring fed waters
tend to create great ice and water formations.

If you have ever been snowshoeing before it is not a simple task to climb up steep slopes that have a light upper layer of snow and a hard crusty lower layer.  You tend to have to crawl on all fours and push a trail of snow off ahead of you or to the sides.  It is an amazing workout and by the time I reached the top of the ravine I was climbing out I was tuckered out.  To be honest at that point I was beyond probably any point I have ever been, and it was going to get worse.  As I climbed the ravine I topped out into a clear cut area which had snow up to my waist and it was next to impossible to push through.  I decided to skirt around the clearing and find the access road and use that to cross over to the next drainage.

The Bluff is part of the landscape that is often used to orient yourself to
the rest of the surroundings.  Once I was provided this view I knew
instictively which direction I was looking.

One positive thing about the clearing was that it provided a great new perspective for me of the Bluff in Sussex Corner.  This local attraction is a photographers dream and if I had a better camera I could have snapped some great pics of the frosted tip evergreens as they revealed the Bluff through a grey sky.  I sat at the high point of the sloping clear cut and caught my breath while the dog sat on the back of my snowshoes.  She was so quiet I often had to turn around to see if she was still there.

The snow hung off everything and provided a nice
contrast to the clear, crisp blue of the sky.

We made our way to the back of the clearing where I was able to find an access trail that was leading in what I felt was the right direction.  If my hunch and my thought about where I was on my topo map were right I should be able to catch the main logging road and then from there drop over the other side of the mountain.  My problem was time and energy.  I had spent over half the daylight I needed and my energy reserves were running low.  I was seriously, for the first time in my life considering spending an unplanned night in the woods.  Not because I was in trouble, hurt, or lost, but simply because I was pushing my personal limits.

When I made what I thought was the main logging road I continued in the direction I needed to go but nothing looked familiar and I became uncertain.  Given the time of day I couldn't afford uncertainty, so I gave myself ten more minutes walking time, but even then I wasn't certain I was where I wanted to be so I had to turn around and head back the same way I came to get home.  I was sour and disappointed in my own inability to get to where I wanted.  It revealed to a certain extent my age, my arrogance, and my need to improve my skills.  It was a humbling day, but one that rewarded me by simply being outside.  I was shown many things from a different perspective, the least of which was myself.  Once again the wilderness of this great area has exposed its strength to be that not only of beauty but of a fabric of life and persistence on multiple levels.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Outdoor Rink?? Part II

If you follow the weather at all you likely know that we have had a run of warmer weather which slowed my progress on our outdoor rink.  Tonight however, it was a cold -9 celsius with the wind chill, so I headed out with "my hood up."  Get it?  "hood up"; "head up?"  I know.  Groan. 

With the snow this morning, I had to give the area a quick shovel.  I also compacted the snow layer by laying down some plywood and jumping on it.  Good thing I didn't make a big surface because my legs would have been sore after I was done with that task.  Once I got the water running again I flooded the surface twice with a good base forming again before I called it quits.   With a forecast of four more cold days before the temps start to rise again, I might get a good surface for a late evening skate by Thursday.  Maybe??
It was such a nice night out that I wandered out into the nearby field and laid on my back to look at the stars.  A great deal of jets were flying overhead tonight as well.  Being outside and enjoying the cold is rewarding and purifying.  My head clears, my body relaxes, and a calmness comes over me.  Flooding the ice is a simple task that allows my head to wander and I enjoy it.  This started off as a way for me to hopefully spend more time outside with my kids, but the reward will be more than that.