Sunday, December 18, 2011

Snowshoes, Skijoring, Ski Buggies

Yesterday my friend Jena and I fled the gray skies of western Washington and headed over Snoqualmie pass to Stampede Pass for a little snowshoe trip in a flatter countryside.  The location is very popular with snow mobilers, dog sledders, snowshoers, track skiers and skate skiers -- and thanks to the Sons of Norway with a lodge nearby, Trollhagen, the trails are well marked, mapped, and the various kinds of users have resources to keep from competing.  Washington State has provided some of the trail grooming, as well, and for a permit fee, we can park there and head for the trails we want to explore.

A Son of Norway is all set up to let his Malamute Husky cross breed take him for out a fine winter glide.  On return, he said, she is happiest when she is very tired.  Too bad I couldn't get the happy smile on her face, too.  The sport is called "skijoring."  A perfect reason to have a husky in the house.

Here a new papa is converting the stroller to a sled by replacing the wheels with skis.  Baby and mom waited in the warm car while dad got things ready.  He told me that when baby is big enough for her own skis, they could sell the rig, but I suggested he save it for the next one.  This drew a skeptical sigh from him, and he said "no, I think I'll plan on selling it."

Here comes the distinctly Viking Trollhaugen snowcat to pick up passengers bound for the lodge.  It's a long time since we prayed to be delivered from the rage of the Norsemen and things that go bump in the night -- now we're happy to see them coming our way to take us up hill easily to their warm, fragrant sunny and hospitable lodge and network of beautiful groomed ski trails.  My own ski skills are so humble, I hope I can reincarnate as one qualified to join the Sons of Norway and ski with the best of them!

And now for an array of images from my happy day wearing my favorite footwear, my "instruments of  happiness and delight," snowshoes, with a nice backpack cargo including the 10 essentials, a thermos of hot tea and a tasty Orchard Bar:

Winter is really not so bad around here!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

sunlight, frost, rime ice, climate change

We've had a full week of thermal inversion here in Seattle, with sprinkles of sunshine, fog and frost.  The freezing level has retreated to 11,000 feet, below the summit of 14,410 Mt. Rainier, except it is "on the deck" in the passes at 3,000 to 4,000 feet.  We get great, thick pea soup fogs at night, that begin to freeze just before dawn.  Morning driving is hazardous and our usual commute snarl has gotten much worse.

 Yesterday, on a walk at Tiger Mountain, I was delighted with the frozen fog on foliage, quickly thawing in the morning sun.

This phenomenon is called "rime."  It doesn't happen only on this small scale -- summits of the Great Northwest westernmost Peaks, like volcanic Mt. Shasta, often are covered with rime ice from the moisture laden winds that come in from the Pacific and condense as they rise to go inland.  When I climbed Shasta in 1996, the entire summit looked like a big, frozen cauliflower -- today, sadly, climate change has left Shasta mostly snow and ice free.  This is true of all the great summits and glaciers I have known; they have become noticeably bare in just the last 10 years.  Glaciers have retreated as ablation zones grow wider.  Climbing routes now entail slogging through loose dirt, mud and stone before getting onto any proper mountaineering ground.

Still, on  a pretty, frosty morning, lower down, you can see the rime ice making beautiful lace of the winter leaves and grasses, ephemeral as it is, appreciate the beauty, and hope we can turn ourselves around in time to save ourselves and the great glaciers and summits that are the top of our watershed, where the winter snows and ice save the waters for us until summer.

The day before, on a walk in woodland Meadowdale Park, the sunlight slanted through the canopy and shone through maple leaves, sword fern, and Oregon grape.  The woodland floors in the Northwest are incredibly dense, and evolved shaped by moisture that rolls in from the sea through the high canopies of fir, hemlock, and  lowlands maple and alder -- all have lived and worked together to provide pure, clean water and bless us and our rivers with pure and abundant water, trout and salmon.  What will become of this wealth if we steal it away?  You cannot hold it in your hands, yet it shapes your life, each day.