Hiking, Japan, USA
Comments 11

The Battlefield on Snowshoes

Three and three-quarter miles of walking in glorious sunshine and very mild temps — it’s minus 1C as I write this over the remnants of my bakery lunch — could just about fool a gullible rambler into thinking Winter was over.

We’re not quite out of the wintry woods yet, however. Next Saturday, with its planned hike, isn’t looking quite as temperate:

We won't pack away the snowshoes just yet.

We won’t pack away the snowshoes just yet.

Just my luck to get here as one of the coldest & most prolonged winters in recent memory kicked off. I’ve had more than a few spells of despair since late January, the natural side effects for a child of the Subtropics of a monotonous climatic diet of drab skies and bone-cracking cold. But I try to get out every day for at least a couple of miles, and that always feels good — in retrospect, that is, once the ability to feel has been restored.

Weekdays of pleasant weather almost feel like a waste, with Kate at school, local roads walked into submission and my transport options limited to the ambulatory. It’s the weekends when they really pay off: we cram a lot in, most of it outdoors.

One Sunday a few weeks back we scored big time.

The moon was just sinking below the sill of the study window…

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..when we rose, rather half-heartedly following our Friday-night dip in the murky waters of Crane Lake (surely the most fun $4.44 can buy), got the Mr Coffee bubbling and decided to act on some caffeine-induced inspiration.

Sunshine, elixir of action, was streaming in the windows as Kate clicked and swiped her iPad for sources and prices. Clear skies notwithstanding, it was bitterly cold as we drove off…

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..heading downtown to coffee and bagels at Uncommon Grounds, a warm and fragrant sanctuary already jammed with well-padded fellow refugees, while we waited for the outfitter down the street to open.

9:55. A necessarily rushed modelling session in a nearby alley…

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..and we returned to the outfitter, with its furry staff…

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..then quickly headed south-east for the Saratoga Battlefield with just about the last two pairs of snowshoes in the store.

No doubt these are good times for the snowshoe business.

Snowshoes (we got these) were pretty novel for us both — still are. Five years back I tried out a brand-new pair on a couple of training hikes before my ill-fated walk through north-eastern Hokkaido in Winter; they ended up tossed on the roadside, an expensive windfall for the next lucky hobo to wander past. Before I made the scene, Kate had wisely spent much of each Winter on the sane side of the window glass.

But Winter wasn’t going anywhere, and some weekend walking was crucial. Can’t beat it, join it.

You’ll recall our first visit to the Battlefield, last August, when tall grass clothed the fields, trees in full leaf hummed with birdsong and flowers sparkled at the trail fringes. Different scene this time, as we laid our new hardware on the snow outside the visitor centre…

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..and tried to pretend we knew what we were doing.

Snowshoes don’t come with instructions.

We got them on without incident — by chance on the correct feet, straps pointing out — and started off excitedly down the 4.2-mile Wilkinson Trail…

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..which follows part of the pathway trod by British forces during the conflicts of 1777.

Most of the occasional walkers we passed wore snowshoes or skis — we hadn’t yet learned the trail etiquette proscribing the scuffing-up of well-groomed ski tracks with decidedly uncouth snowshoe teeth, so, er…sorry about that, folks — and the mostly flat battlefield was just right for this first trial:

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With JFK only a four-hours drive south, no wonder it’s hard to photograph a sky unscarred by contrails, sometimes several at a time:

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Still a damned shame, though.

My shoes were klop-klopping a bit with each step. Some fine-tuning — moving each foot back on the shoe — fixed that.

The trail leads alternately through forest and across open fields. It was bitterly cold despite (or because of) the clear skies, and removing gloves to take each picture was the usual race against agony and paralysis.

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Crunching over  — rather than postholing through — snow is a pleasure in itself, but the thing I appreciate about snowshoes as a photographer is the same thing hikers love about them: you’re no longer a slave to the path, and can stomp off-trail without guilt. And with trees and shrubs barer and spaces between them more navigable, it’s a delight to spy something interesting off trail and be able to bound right over for a closer look.

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A Touch of the Medieval

Kate might just suffer from the cold more than me — I’ve spent part of almost every day since I got here outdoors, so I had to acclimatise fast or slip into a hypothermic coma. In addition to fighting off the odd forest troll and snow goblin, I valiantly gave up my rain jacket to get her out of the breeze:

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More contrails criss-crossing the late-afternoon sky as we began the home stretch:

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It was a couple of hours or less before the visitor centre came into view — probably no surprise that this Winter walk sans kids was a lot faster and easier than the Summer one with them.

A little group of deer was ambling just down the slope before most darted into cover, leaving this one to endure ordeal by camera shot:

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Our own souvenir shot out of the way…

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..we just had to collect the kids and join the family for Sunday dinner…

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..and that was another weekend well spent.

We’ve had a few more great ones since then…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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11 Comments

  1. You are really brave to be able to walk that long on such a cold day. Your photographs show your journey well. I sit in a warm room and wonder, how does he do it.

    • Thanks, Ranu. It’s 6C this morning and I just walked five miles to a cafe. Can’t wait for real Spring rather than just the official version.

  2. Another superb post… 🙂 Does snow never melt in your place? Here in South India, summer has peaked and it’s really really hot 🙂

    • Sreejith, the snow has indeed melted — a bit. The roadsides are getting wider, gradually. But there are snowflakes swirling now and more rain/snow is forecast for tomorrow…

  3. Wow!!! Great walk. These photos are bringing back memories of the winter of 1973-74 which I spend in Massachusetts not far from Walden Pond. Yep, it was cold when we went out walking!

    Beautiful full moon and snow photo — reminds me of Ando Hiroshige’s woodcuts. I particularly like your black and white snow photos and the exquisite one of Kate snowshoeing ahead of you (the 6th photo down from the Hiroshige one) in the clear late winter light. Sweet to know that you are no longer walking alone all of the time!

    • We love our weekends now, Am! Hard part is fitting all the stuff in that we want to do. We were getting used to doing the 6-mile breakfast circuit on Saturdays, but it costs us a couple of hours we could use on our drive into the Park. Either way, we end up walking off the huge American breakfast!

      I love Hiroshige too.

  4. Christina M. Tanski says

    I so look forward to your posts! Your ongoing journey, as well as your past footsteps, are such a pleasure to experience through your descriptive words and the lens of your camera. Thank you for so freely sharing your adventures and your unique perspective-each one is a pure pleasure!
    -ChristinaAtTheLake

    • Thanks, Christina! That was a nice pick-me-up — I sometimes flirt with the idea of abandoning the blog as it takes a lot of work and I often wonder if anybody out there (apart from the regular followers, bless ’em) is reading. I’ll hang onto it for now!

  5. I have never hiked in snowshoes, though we have a pair of antiques on the wall. It looks like a lot of fun.

    • It’s fun but still feels a bit weird. I am sure we have a lot to learn — sometimes they seem to clip-clop a bit, but maybe that’s normal? Great to no longer be at the mercy of my arch-nemesis, the White Devil, though.

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