I went out this morning to buy a coping-saw, and some blades, and since I always have my camera with me when I’m out walking, I was able to snap a few shots of our mountains off in the background attired in their winter clothing. As I was doing so, it reminded me of the particular dangers that can crop up when hiking in the winter, even when a person is on very familiar ground.
If you take a look at the pictures I’ve included at the bottom of this entry, you’ll find Camel Mt., and while I was snapping these shots today, I recollected a time my wife, her step-father and I were on our way up to Camel, and those dangers I mentioned became very apparent – luckily for me, in what turned out to be a rather humorous fashion, as opposed to tragic.
We had already reached the summit of Grouse Mt., and were part of the way along the trail as it leads up Dam Mt. which sits just behind Grouse. The three of us having stopped for a bit of a breather, I had walked over to the edge of the mountain where I was occupied taking pictures of the valley below, when I heard my wife call me over to where she was standing with her step-father, several yards closer to the inside face of the mountain that we would next be ascending. I said something to the effect of, “Yeah, in a minute, I just want to get a couple more shots”, but she immediately replied with, “No, come here now.” Not really irritated or anything (yet), I again said something like, “Yeah! In a second, I just want to get these shots.” Well, the third time she made her request, there was just enough urgency in her voice that though it didn’t panic me (my wife was a very smart lady), it did let me know that I shouldn’t be ignoring her any longer; I suspected now that something was up, and as I turned to walk over to her, I half expected to see a bear about to blind-side me or something of that nature.
When I finished turning around, however, and by the time I walked over to her, I had determined that there was no immediate threat of any kind that I could see, and so now I was a little bit irritated when I asked her, “So what was so important that it couldn’t wait 5 or 10 seconds more?” She said, “Take a good look at where you were standing when I called you.” Turning around once more, I now saw what she and her step-father could see from their vantage point, that I was blind to from where I was standing. Unlike what I thought, which was that I was standing on the edge of the mountain, in actuality, I was a good three feet, or more, off the mountain, standing on a floe of packed ice and snow that was about 24-36 inches thick on average, but a little thicker in some places, and thinner in others. And that was all that was stopping my 180 pounds, plus my pack and gear, from plummeting 4000 feet down into the same valley I had been so busy photographing.
So now you know why I always warn people about the extra dangers you face if you hike the mountains in the winter, especially after a fresh snow. You may not always be on that trail you think you’re on, and on rare occasions, like the one I just mentioned that happened to me, you might not even be on the mountain you think you’re on. So keep that in mind when you find yourself out there in the wilds, and in the meantime, while we’re here in the more civilized environs, I hope everyone is getting ready for a joyous holiday season, however you may choose to celebrate it, and I hope everyone stays happy, healthy, and safe throughout. And since I never know these days when I might make another entry myself, I’ll just wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year right now.