Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Snowshoeing Up A Storm

High Tech versus Traditional is what it all came down to on Saturday, January 20th, 2008. That morning, my friend Decon & I headed for Waterton National Park. The town of Waterton, nearly abandoned for the winter months, proffered an ample supply of the white stuff to tromp in. In fact, the place where I wanted to park my car was covered by about two feet of snow! I parked along the road.

The day was not very cold, perhaps –5 Celsius (23 F). We chose the trail leading to Bertha Falls and strapped on our snowshoes.

Under foot, the thick blanket was powder and perfect. The day was dim from thick cloud cover, but not a breath of the area’s usual wind rustled the tenacious evergreens or kissed the barren bark of the hardy deciduous trees and bushes. The place was hauntingly gorgeous.

We plodded purposefully up the trail. It had been ages since either of us had created such giant footprints. I wore my old wood and rawhide snowshoes and Decon wore his new, high tech Christmas presents. After some unsteady minutes, I finally got my snow-legs and progress began to be rapid. Well, at least for a few strides.

Without warning, my left leather binding gave way. The binding was old, but I had come prepared. In seconds, I produced an old leather bootlace from my pack and had it looped and knotted in place. It was as good as new!

Decon & I moved foreword again, stopping here and there to catch our breath and to take some beautiful photographs. Without the slightest breeze, the place was like an expansive tomb, complete with a thick layer of white sound silencer and a huge frozen lake protected by mighty, snow-capped mountains. To call the wondrous scene ‘peace giving’ was an understatement!

Things went well for a while, but soon, a strap on the outside of my left toe tore free. Argh! I dug into my camera bag and produced two short lengths of nylon twine. They were just long enough to make the repair. Off we tromped again.

Tranquil vistas followed by serene, soothing scenes, burst upon us. Tiny mounds of pure white snow adorned the evergreen bows along the trail, perched like sculpted puffs of albino cotton candy on the green. Towering above us, the steep mountain slopes were spread with a thick layer of conifers dusted in icing sugar. On we strode in awe!

All of a sudden, we heard voices. The area was well travelled in the summer time, but in the dead of winter, we thought we were alone. Two girls, ladies actually, emerged from the trees along the trail ahead. Decon and & I moved off the path to let them pass, visiting briefly with them for the duration of our unexpected encounter. We were on our way to visit Bertha Falls, and one young lady told us that the picturesque waterfall had been named after her Great Aunt. Wow! What were the odds of meeting such a person in such a remote location?

Decon and I moved upwards while the girls headed down. How cool would that be to have something so notable and beautiful named after a member of your own kin? A sweet family treasure to be sure!

As we hiked along, the alpine chill seemed to settle upon us. The visibility gently shrank and tiny snowflakes began to sprinkle down. I had packed my stove and my thoughts lingered on the hot soup I would soon be sipping in the snow.

Finally, we reached the frozen waterfall. It was so snow-covered as to be unrecognizable as a falls, but both Decon and I remembered a hot summer’s day when we had enjoyed its splendour with some of our children. Just below the falls, a stout wooden bridge spanned the silent stream. Its deck and railings were filled to overflowing with piled snow. It looked like a whipped cream display gone wrong!

I dug out my fuel bottle and hooked up the stove. It lit without a hitch. Next, out came the soup and I returned my chilled fingers for the pot. “Oh no!” In my haste to get out my door, I had left the pot sitting on the kitchen table! Lingering anticipations of salty soup silencing my shivers slipped away in a split second. Decon just took the disappointment in stride. “Did you bring anything else to eat?” He calmly queried. I had, and we both munched cold sandwiches as we took turns warming our fingers and palms over the radiating stove. After a few minutes I laughed about the whole thing.

Without the warmth of hot soup in my belly, I set up my camera and tiny tripod on one of my snowshoes and we immortalized our frozen selves. The snow was heavy now, and the camera’s flash highlighted every flake between the lens and our chilled bodies. Streaking flakes obscured our images a little. The day was waning, so I quickly gathered up my strewn belongings: the stove, fuel bottle, the plate to set the absent pot on, the thick, flexible foil (that protected the intense flame), and my tripod and camera. By the time I had everything stowed, my fingers were beyond numb. The temperature was plummeting, and the weather was definitely changing for the worse.

In silent concentration Decon and I retraced our giant steps. We’ve hiked together more times than I can remember, and it seemed we both felt the gravity of the impending weather crisis. On we trod, hurrying, but not panicked. Suddenly I lost my footing and down I went.
An inspection of my snowshoes revealed that my old, reliable leather bootlace had broken in several places. With the trailhead more than two kilometres away, I was out of rope tricks. Fortunately, Decon had some rope in his pack. We quickly cut a chunk and I fastened it where the spent lace had just been. Off we went – again.

The visibility dropped to about two hundred feet, making the panoramic view of the lake feel like we were standing in a large room with drab, windowless walls. It was just the trail, a few visible trees and us under a sky full of fluffy snowflakes. When we reached the place where the trail widened and Decon and I had plodded side by side on the way to the waterfall, I stopped for one final photo op. Cold fingers or not, the fish-shaped tracks in the virgin snow just looked too good to pass up!

With about a kilometre between us and our destination, I absentmindedly glanced down at my feet. “Not again?” The rope that had replaced the worn leather lace had nearly cut its way through the leather that held my toe. The whole binding appeared to have just a few more steps before total breakdown. I stopped and dejectedly unstrapped my oversized paws. It was no longer a snowshoeing trip for me.

Like walking on a vast waterbed, I slogged into step behind my friend. The trail was already packed down several inches by several sets of snowshoes, but I still had trouble. Every few steps, without warning, one of my booted feet would sink into oblivion. I tried to keep up with Decon, but slowly but surely, he pulled away. With my shiny wood and golden woven rawhide across my shoulders, I pushed on.

For fifteen long minutes I slipped and slid, constantly fighting for balance. Up the hills and down the slopes the trail twisted and turned. Finally, the car came into view.

It was covered in at least two inches of fresh snow! Unreal! I got the doors open, brushed it off and dumped my pack and snowshoes into the trunk. We paused for one final photo. Decon stood beside the “Bertha Falls” sign while I snapped.

With that, the adventure concluded, and as always, not everything went as planned. Funny how adventures and life can be so similar. Oh, did I say that the adventure was over? Well, only almost!

Our retreat from the newly whitened mountains was slow. I drive a double trailer, 82-foot monstrosity for a living, so a car usually seems pretty easy. However, not everyone I caught up to shared my feelings. As we overtook civilization, the two-lane road became more and more thick with traffic. Soon, I gave up trying to pass people. I was overwhelmingly outnumbered.
Now ordinarily, returning late from a jaunt in the mountains was perfectly fine. In fact, it happened most of the time. However, all the slower going created a problem. I was supposed to use the car, which was really my wife’s car, to pick her up from work at 7pm. I had dropped her off there at 7am and should have easily been back when she finished at 7pm. Well, I tried, but in the end, it was 7:45 before I rolled, or rather slid, into her view. Diana wore an “I told you so” expression, but successfully kept it under raps; masking it with a relived smile. On the way home, she had to hear the saga. Diana eagerly listens to my narrations and descriptions, but is secretly glad that it is usually only one of us that experiences them.
(For more photos, check out the slideshow. Other slide show links are now in the side bar too.)


Autumn Ables said...

Your not a writer by chance? teehee

This adventure sounds amazing, Davis. One of a kind adventure- can't get much better then this. Meeting "Bertha's" great niece was a real treat, too. ;)

Even though you had a few mishaps and a few ARGH! moments- over all it sounds like you had the time of your life, enjoying Father's creations, with Decon.

Memories that will be cherished.

Oh- and I LOVE the photos, too.

Davis Bigelow said...

As always, I enjoyed your comment Autumn. We received your Christmas card a bit ago. Thank you for that. It was very nice. I just smiled at the troupe of boys you have. I hope you keep a firm grip on your car keys!! It won't be long now. I have only one son, but he was plenty of boy. His friends were always here, so it seemed like we had a whole herd of them ourselves. Life was never dull, and our couch never recovered. Oh well, kids are more lasting than couches anyway!

Tristi Pinkston said...

Thanks for reliving this for us!

You know -- snowshoes have always looked like tennis rackets to me. (You're not going to believe this but I've forgotten how to spell rackets. Is it raquets? Do I need to just give up and go to bed??)

Tristi Pinkston said...





I'm leaving now . . .

Davis Bigelow said...

Thanks for that Tristi. This whole "having to spell things the right way" is just a racket anyway! When I was growing up, we had a fisherman friend who was born in 1915. He had very poor spelling skills (this was long before spellchecker and computers were even thought of) and when he wrote a letter, the words were all spelled phonetically. It was a tough read, but fun. Don was a dear old gentleman and nearly always wore a smile. (I talk lots about him in one of the stories in my book.) He spent three years cutting down trees and forming them into a beautiful fishing boat. His lack of spelling skills were certainly not a measure of his intelligence!
Oh, and snow shoes and tenis rackets do have much in common about their design - although I've never tried hitting a tennis ball with a snowshoe. Sounds fun though... Hmmm!