Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Snowshoe Detective - LP Bypass


January 5, 2013

The beautiful blue sky January morning gave me the signal to hit the trail.  But before getting to that, I went to REI the previous evening to buy nylon gaiters and check out snowshoes.  Snowshoes seemed expensive to me at first glance ($130-$190) because they represent something that is completely unnecessary in my life.  Don’t get me wrong, I learned last week I needed them to continue winter hiking in certain snow conditions, I just mean they are unnecessary in a way because one can always choose to do something different, like go skiing (which by the way represents even more expensive gear that collects dust for more than 360 days a year in my loft). Buying more sporting goods crap is actually a lifelong commitment to store another piece of seldom used hardware for the rest of my life. Really not a small commitment if you think about it on a higher level.  I was spared from making a misinformed purchase as soon as the sales clerk asked me a million questions about my height and weight, my intended pack weight, heel movement preferences, whether I wanted ascent angle adjustment, if I wanted a hiker type or mountaineering type shoe and finally, whether I wanted the type I could add on a ski front and tail back pieces to better handle all snow conditions. The guy was nice and I knew he was asking the right set of questions, but I had that glazed over expression which told him I was totally befuddled. He kindly informed me they will be having a clinic on Tuesday to explain all this. I inwardly thanked him for giving me an excuse not to buy one from him and moved to browsing other gadgets in the traction control area. They also sold wicked looking spiked cramp-on’s ($90-$175), micro-spikes (under $60) and spring like “yak” walkers ($25) that looked like a terrible option for hiking but probably great for ice fishing or city walking.  The bottom line, protecting your backside from a fall can be pretty expensive considering you really need multiple pieces of hardware to cover all possible conditions.  My current traction control consists of flexible rubber grips with little replaceable golfer style cleats.  These probably score only about 2 out of a possible 10 for grip on ice but they would be fine today.

I pulled off Rt 94 into an unplowed AT parking area using my 4X4 to navigate the loose snow.  One truck was there already. The parking lot was clearly identified from the road but a 2 wheel drive vehicle would get stuck trying to get in or out.  It reminded me how little attention the hiker community gets from the local road departments.  The AT is a national park and I’ve yet to see any of the parking areas plowed to allow year round access to it.
Pileated Woodpecker
(Photo from Wikipedia)
Wawayanda Ridge
I geared up with my little cleats and gaiters and hit the snow.  Fortunately, it was totally hard packed on this part of the trail so there was no call for snowshoes here.  The trail headed towards Wawayanda Mountain and the Pinwheel Vista.  My research prior on the web typically uncovered the word “spectacular” as an adjective when discussing this vista.  After passing through a snow field, the climb began and it was switchbacks up to the top through a large boulder field with streams and large oak blow downs.  I reached the top and a sign indicated the vista was only 100 feet up a side trail.  Even though it was close, I decided to first complete the hike to Barrett rd, then turn around and hike back to the vista for my lunch break.  The trail became less packed after the side trail so I realized 95% of the folks who come here never go further than the vista trail.  I was able to walk in someone else’s prior footsteps so I was fine without snowshoes. I signed the trail register at the top and move on gentle slope down.  The leg to Barrett Rd. held that peaceful easy feeling of being alone in the woods, with only the occasional sound and sighting of a large Pileated Woodpecker hard at work.  I crossed a bubbling brook and the small wood bridge that was supposed to span the creek was tethered askew on one bank.  It was easy to cross without it as it may only be helpful in high water periods. 
Stream In Wawayanda
Upon arriving at Barrett Rd, I decided to eat a few snacks and dropped my pack to fetch them.  A couple (man & woman) were coming across the road in snowshoes to continue on my side of the road.  I waved politely to them while they were approaching and I just happened to look down on the snow and I saw evidence of fresh blood all over the place.  I’m staring at the ground and thinking this like a crazy “Larry David” moment.  So here I am by myself standing in an area of snow that is covered in large splats of red blood while I am basically “laying in wait” to say hi to a couple of strangers.  My weapon of choice is my big mouth and the damage it delivers is usually self-inflicted, so without real thought I simply blurt out “Hi…” followed by “…look at all this blood here”.  I didn’t see the woman’s face, but I suspect every maternal instinct in her said “run”, except she was in snowshoes and I wasn’t, which I’m sure caused her even more duress.  The guy, being a regular dumb hiker guy like me, was immediately fascinated at the blood and jumped into discussing the possible origins and we noted the lack of drag marks if it was caused by a hunter pulling his catch.  He thought the blood may be old, but I turned over the snow a little with the tip of my pole and showed him it was bright red and quite dripping, so we concluded it was very fresh and came from a real bleeder.  Awkwardly, I returned to hiking talk and explained I was turning around here and hiking back to Rt 94 and he said they were “continuing on in the same direct to Pinwheel vista” and “looked forward to seeing it”.  The snowshoes “will help” I said, not knowing what else to say and decided to end the conversation with a sudden “goodbye” as I started away from them.  I realized moments later, the woman never said a word the whole time, and I noted as I got further and further away, that they never set out behind me in their intended direction.  Hiking solo allows for all kinds of mental contrivances to be played out in ones’ head, so after a few minutes I decided she told her mate that she would follow behind me into the woods “over her dead body”.  I chuckled as I probably would have done the same if the situation was reversed. After all, it was an unfortunate meeting spot and I was “that strange guy” conspicuously waiting alone in an area stained with fresh blood.  You may be asking “what’s the deal with the blood?”  Good question, it’s one that occupied me for a bit of the walk back to the vista and beyond.
The Pinwheel Vista
"That Strange Guy"
I arrived at the Pinwheel vista and it was worth the wait.  It really was a spectacular view.  I could see the tower at High point along the Kittatinny Ridge, the Mountain Creek ski area, and the Gunks to the north. I put my space blanket on the snow in the leeward side of a rock and activated my MRE lunch by adding the provided water into the package.  I lay back against my pack and sat on a cushion I always carry as insulation.  For once I was dry and warm in the sun and had no interest in moving off this spot.  My MRE was sizzling hot in about 10 minutes. It represents the very best in military self heating field rations, combining meat, beans and noodles into something they called “Italian dinner”.  I tasted it, hmm, not bad considering it’s a MRE, but no self respecting Italian would ever serve this, so the name “Italian dinner” was a stretch.  Seriously, it was good eats on the trail and warmed me up nicely inside and out.  I stood for another 10 minutes just soaking in the sun and the view before heading back to the car.  I snapped a nice photo of the trail and a tree in the field next to the AT.  It was a simple pleasure to be out on the trail today and look forward to the next opportunity to hike again.

Vernon Valley in Winter

Trail Stats: 2.8 miles west on the AT.  5.6 hiked today 

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