Montana Jones

Montana n: A state of the northwest United States bordering on Canada. Admitted as the 41st state in 1889. The fourth largest state in the union, it includes vast prairies and numerous majestic mountain ranges.
Syn: Treasure State, Big Sky Country, Last Best Place.

Jones n: slang. An addiction or very deep craving.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Learning the winter

I can hike up a storm in the warm months, the mountains and I are pretty tight. But I have never learned how to be in the wild during the winter. I broke the ice, so to speak, with new snowshoes last winter. This season I am putting them to more use. I am feeling something new on the trails, like I am out of place. Like I am vulnerable. Not a feeling I get on the hot days of summer. Not a feeling I enjoy.

I know how to cope with the trail in the summer. How much water to carry. What clothing works for both the heat of the day and layers well for cool evenings. How much food for how many miles of trail. What gear to carry just in case. I am at home and comfortable with the wilderness. In the winter I suddenly find myself a stranger again as ice crusts the streams and snow goblins climb the trees.

My biggest problem so far is with clothing. Learning what works and what doesn't. I understand layers and use them, but the wrong layers cause problems. If I trap too much heat I sweat and ultimately get wet and chills. If I don't trap enough heat I find myself in a race to keep moving and keep my body temp up. The middle ground is elusive.

The right gear to carry is different too. I learned the other week that my snowshoes can throw snow up the back of my legs and get my pants wet. Wet is bad and results in chills. Note to self: get some waterproof snow pants.

I am leery of the unforeseen too. When it is warm I am confident I could spend an unplanned night in the wild if an injury or other circumstance forced me to. In the cold I don't have the same confidence. I am reluctant to explore too far from the trailhead and safety.

So many things are different about this time of year. I feel like a novice again. Snow and ice are harder to walk on than dry ground. The trail is harder to identify. It even feels different to be thirsty. Add to that everything I don't know about avalanches and when ice is safe and my own limits and tolerance for hypothermia. I don't like feeling like a novice. Some days staying in like a hermit sounds better than feeling like this.

There are some wonderful things about the snow and cold. The still silence that makes breath and heartbeat ear shatteringly loud. How easy it becomes to see animal tracks. The way snow and frost paint old familiar landscapes into new, wonderful pieces of art. I think I have to keep going. To keep learning. To keep adding gear. What choice do I have really? Last winter I learned that being a hermit sucks.

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I can't wait for my winter escape, I need that silence you talk about. I'm far better at being a snow bunny then moving around in the heat.
I love that silence too. I also love to sit and just watch it snow.

Course, I've had my fill of snow this year.
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