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.
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