Early Winter

Harrison Lake.

In the previous two years autumn has lasted almost until the solstice, with snow and single digit (F) temps waiting until mid-December.  This year, everything seems to be a month ahead.  I approve.

It is a few weeks process getting acclimated to winter.  The psychological and physiological aspects of cold adaptation cannot be rushed, nor can the great variety, numbers, and importance of gear.  (I forgot my Houdini today, fortunately it was almost dead still.)  Most importantly moving through snow, and the added foot-weight of snowshoes or skis, is strenuous in ways that cannot be effectively mimicked by dry land training.

Prepping to cross the Middle Fork of the Flathead at the start of today’s outing.

Winter is also a fountain of possibility.  Early snow like we have now tends to be shallow, dry, and in most every way a hindrance to wilderness travel.  In a month or two brush and blowdowns will be covered by compacted feet, and snow will become an expediant.

Today was forecasted to be cold, and I made modest plans to account for my lack of winter acclimation on all counts.  I thought about a loop, but knew that I would most likely do a shorter out and back, which I did.  Bring snowshoes and the packraft, ferry across the Middle Fork, snowshoe up to Harrison Lake, reverse, ferry back to the car.  The seeing the freezing river ended up being so interesting that I packed the raft and paddle with me, and when I returned to the Middle Fork drainage headed upstream to give myself a mile or so of floating before I had to take out.

Packraft-carved passage in the ice.  This had totally refrozen when I floated by on the way home 6 hours later

I had on Sealskinz socks (as a vapor barrier), but it still seems like a really bad idea to get my feet wet.  Avoiding this at the put in was easy; place the boat on the 4-8′ of supportive ice along the shore, get in, seal the deck, slide right in.  This same ice layer, specifically the 4-6 additional feet of ice that wouldn’t support my weight, made getting out with dry feet quite a bit trickier.  I probed the shore a bit, then settled on ice-breakering my way into the small alcove pictures above.  This process proceedes as follows: gather momentum with a few quick strokes, and just before contact with the ice lean back.  Your unweighted bow and feet will slide over the ice, and aggressive forward weighting and bouncing breakes the ice into chunks.  Shuttle the pieces behind you with the paddle, and repeat.  Slow, but effective.  My take out used a similar technique, and when I reached the weight-supporting ice braced one blade in the mud behind me and pushed myself up and totally onto the ice.  What would have been two mundane river crossings turned into fascinating puzzles with temps near zero (F).

Ice build-up after the first crossing; perhaps 5 minutes of paddling.  After the final take out all three joints were frozen shut, I had to carry the whole assembled paddle back to the truck.

After the first crossing had been made, I was able to strap on my snowshoes and enjoy some aimless wanderings in the silent forest.  Snow is a prodigious sound dampener, and though I saw some very fresh deer, moose, and wolf tracks, heard nothing other than flowing water and three differents species of bird.  (Canada Goose, Killdeer, Dipper.)

You’ll see tress with ~12″ pieces of diagonal barbed wire tacked to them all over the park.  They’re designed to do the above, catch fur from passing Griz.  The DNA is then analyzed and conclusions extrapolated.

This wreck of a building looked a bit big to be an abandoned patrol cabin.

This tractor doesn’t seem like an NPS sorta thing, either.  I wonder how big that cedar was when the tractor was, finally, parked?  All this was in the midst of a good stand of forest, which doesn’t help explain it’s existence.

All in all, it was a splendid day out wandering around, getting used to winter.  May it be long.


4 responses to “Early Winter”

  1. I’ve been hoping to come across some data from the GYE Grizzly studies of 2004/2005. Thanks for providing the link to that bibliography, Dave.

  2. There are some very cool remote-camera photos on that site as well.

  3. I got federally investigated because I was suspected of tampering with Wilderness bear-rub data sites. I was innocent. The feds spent a LOT of money tracking down suspected perpetrators. Silly government. I’m going to spend some free time going through that data site.

  4. Well, you can’t make that up, I suppose! What the hell caught their eye in the first place? Too many permits?

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