Thursday, January 30, 2014

One More Look at the Snow!

Ok, these are the last pictures of our snowbanks for awhile.  I can't provide many pictures with no snow at all at this time of year, but after this I'll stop talking about how much we have for awhile.  This is after all a blog about 'Seasons in the Valley' though, so documenting the snowfall of 2014 is important, right? 

I've cut the exposure and increased the contrast on these photos so the snow itself will be more visible; otherwise it would be all just white and you couldn't distinguish the snowbanks.  There was also a bit of hazy sun, which really helps.

When I head out the driveway and down the road to walk the dog, these are the snowbanks on our own street - fairly sheltered in our rural subdivision, so no real drifting, but 4-5 feet of snow at the roadside.

We turn the corner, up the hill and head down to the cul-de-sac.  This is usually where I face the wind if it's coming out of the south.  Only 3-4 feet of snow, but the highest I've ever seen here.

Down in the cul-de-sac the snow is a good 6 feet high, and the plow has been getting rather lazy, just pushing the snow to the right, so the cul-de-sac is now merely a wide dead-end.  There's 30 feet of pavement under the snow to the right of that snowbank.

Turning the other direction from our driveway the snowbanks are lower, but we're suffering from a serious case of road creep here.  As the plow goes around the curve it tends to push more snow outwards, and cut into the snow on the inner curve.  Only about two-thirds of the road you see is the paved road; on the left is a good 8 feet of grass right into the ditch.  And on the right, 8 feet of pavement is under that snowbank, so the road has migrated 8 feet to the left!

Around the corner, at least the stop sign is still up there above the height of the snowbank when I head into town.

And this is just one snowbank in town, in the arena parking lot where I went to skate the other day.  Here it's a good 8 feet high; you can just see the tops of some distant trees over the top.

Everyone here is saying 'It's a winter to remember'.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

White-outs and Cabin Fever!

These are terrible pictures, but they're here to explain the cabin fever that we sometimes suffer from after days of blowing snow.  We've had temperatures below -20°C (-4°F), blowing snow, snow squalls and wind chill warnings, for 6 days in a row.  We're beginning to talk of the dreaded cabin fever.

The problem is not the snow.  Living in the snowbelt, we can handle lots of snow; in fact we want at least enough to allow us to enjoy those winter sports like skiing and snowmobiling that keep our minds off winter!  Some of us even enjoy it.  We can also handle cold temperatures, if you dress properly.  I won't say we enjoy them, but we can handle them.

The problem is the white-outs when you have 30 or 40 km/hour winds blowing the snow and causing drifting.  Most roadside snowbanks are 3-4 feet high, no problem.  When they reach 4-5 feet, they're a problem at corners, 'cause you may not see other cars coming.  But when they reach 8-10 feet, they're a serious hazard.  On our short 3 mile drive into town there are now 3 stretches of snowdrift 10 feet high, as on the left side of the picture above.

The problem is that the wind blows the snow over that drift, and it swirls around in the lee of the drift, causing complete white-outs.  This is the view into the stretch of road pictured above, when you're returning from town.  This drift is now so high and wide that it's encroaching on the pavement by about 3 feet.  The plows simply can't push it away - you have to drive VERY carefully!

This was the blowing snow as you come to the stop sign, assuming you can pick it out there.  Luckily the trees beyond show up here, marking the spot and there is no drift right here.  But an afternoon of blowing snow like this makes visibility poor everywhere.

But turn left at that stop sign, and this is what you see, another 8 foot drift on the west (right-hand) side, with the snow swirling over top, causing another white-out.  The road is in the centre of the picture if you doubt me, heading for the low point in those evergreens in the distance.  You turn and follow the track of the road; you can see about 20 feet in front of you.  Then you suddenly emerge from the white-out and you're fine.

I thought I'd drive around one block to get some better pictures on the way home, and turned down here.  Bad mistake!  I drove very slowly to the first driveway and turned around, seeing about 20 feet into the white blur as I went.

So that's the problem that interferes with getting out during the winter.  Roads and schools are closed and events are cancelled, and we stay at home.  After 6 days of it, you begin to get desperate to get out - anywhere, as long as it's out!  Today on the way into town they had an enormous snowblower (four feet high and 7 feet wide) cutting into those sections of high drifts, blowing the snow across the road (so it doesn't just make the drift worse), but giving us back the full width of pavement to drive on.

The weather is supposed to break tomorrow; thank goodness!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Winter Life on Northern Lakes

We were up north last week mainly to ski (and to eat!), but there was lots else going on on those northern lakes.  Even though it was cold, with lots of snow, the community is busy.  I've been going to that area for holidays off and on for 60 years, mainly in the summer, so it was interesting to see the place in winter.

By the last day of our visit, they'd had time to layout double tracks for cross-country skiing in a big loop on the lake.  Bitterly cold, but beautiful skiing; moving helps keep you warm a lot!  The very first cottage holiday I remember as a young child was down around the right hand corner of this lake, a long time ago!

There was ice fishing, though this lake is not known for its fish because it has so many cottages and boats in the summer - something I've never felt like trying, even with a heater to keep you warm inside that little hut.

There was downhill skiing within sight.  These are the snow-making machines running across the lake at Hidden Valley Resort.

And of course there are lots of snowmobiles, heading out on the long-distance, often groomed trails that snowmobilers love, taking them through the backwoods where few other people ever go.

It's a good time for fixing boathouses too.  These often aren't allowed at all any more, but the ones that exist do need repair sometimes, and in winter you can get your equipment right out on the ice, making the work easier than in summer.

On the lake the resort had an ice rink, and a wood stove.  I think this was just there to provide the atmosphere, and that wonderful tang of woodsmoke.  And maybe to warm up your hands after tying your skates.

Have you ever seen the cracks in the ice of a northern lake?  In this part of Ontario and further north, the lakes freeze over quite solidly, but the ice still often cracks, leaving narrow fissures like this one I skiid across.  The picture below is another one, this one on the rink, an ankle breaker if you ever got a skate blade caught in it.  

The interesting part is to hear the ice cracking.  On a cold night, if you poke your head outside you can hear the ice moaning, groaning and moving slightly, crushing ever so slightly against itself, almost like thunder in the distance.  And in early spring when the ice is breaking up, the lake will groan and moan quite loudly, sometimes pushing ice right up onshore.  All part of the atmosphere of those northern lakes.

 Linking to:

Monday, January 27, 2014

Weeds in the Snow

On Tuesday, skiing through the meadow beside Pen Lake, I found a few hardy weeds that have withstood the onslaught of snow and are still standing upright.  They looked quite attractive all by themselves above the snow, casting shadows in the late afternoon sun.  Somehow my camera co-operated and I got these in focus.


The first three of these are goldenrods I think, though I didn't stop in the -24°C temperature (-11°F) to check these out carefully!


I'm not sure of the first of the last three, but I did like the milkweeds, especially the last group, all with their shadows reaching out to the side.

Just to give you the context, this is the meadow i was skiing through when I got the pictures.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Skating in the Trees!

Not only does Arrowhead Provincial Park have great ski trails; it has a skating trail!  They flood a campground road to create an outdoor rink 12 feet wide and 1.3 km. (almost a mile) long!  You can skate the loop through the trees! 

I had seen this last year when skiing here, and I've been waiting a whole year to try it.  This time I was prepared, brought my skates, put them on at the benches provided, and while my buddies sat in the warm car and watched, I disappeared around the bend.  I've never seen anything else like this in my life except the frozen Rideau Canal in Ottawa which I skated many years ago.

There was only one person there skating with me, and she quickly disappeared in the distance. You did have to be a little careful; this was not as smooth as ice inside an arena.  But they do have a zamboni to help flood it, and it was remarkably smooth going.

When I taught at the University of Guelph I had a double arena 200 yards from my office, and skating became my favourite fitness routine.  I actually went back and took skating lessons in my 40's, so I could keep up to the students playing hockey.  You can imagine how I enjoyed skating on a trail sailing through the trees!

Down the long straight stretch into the setting sun and home.  Next year I'll plan my timing better and spend an hour doing loops here.  Something special to look forward to, and something that the very cold temperatures we've been getting is good for.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Skiing - on a -37°C Day!

Well, I have to admit that we didn't ski at -37°, though that was the reading when we headed over for breakfast in the main lodge.  Luckily the sun was out, and there was no wind chill, so the temperature rose steadily.  It was about -24°C (-11°F) when we finally headed out to ski in mid-afternoon - almost warm in comparison!

We drove to Arrowhead Provincial Park, about 20 minutes away, to take advantage of their fabulous groomed trails.  Arrowhead has seven different cross-country trails, in both classic and skate formats, at three different difficulty levels - a lot of kilometres of skiing to choose from.

Two of us took the easy trail, a flat double track trail along the bank of the Big East River on one side and the Little East River on the other.  Most of this trail follows roads through the campgrounds.
It's a northern pine/spruce/birch forest, with lots of snow-covered evergreens to give shelter, and the white trunks of the birch trees.  The green and white of the northern winter forest always appeals to me.  Even though the sun was shining, by later afternoon, the trails were mostly in shade.

The  Big East River flows through deep glacial sand deposits in this area, cutting wide meandering oxbows.  We're standing at the top of the slope on a lookout platform that will undoubtedly have to be moved back a few feet very soon!

This very steep slope is far too steep to climb up or down, but it provides for some nice views over the valley.

This is another viewpoint over the valley from the ski trail, the clinging leaves of a couple of beech saplings looking like it is still fall.  They often hang on all winter until the buds burst out in the spring.  The Big East River is right in front of us at the bottom of the slope.

The trails themselves were excellent, with deep snow and a track-set double track so we could ski side-by-side (except I was always stopping for pictures and falling behind).  They had obviously been preparing these trails for the Muskoka Loppet, the big race of the season, being held there today.  In spite of starting our day at -37°C (that's -35°F), we had a great day of skiing.  And there's still more to come...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Northern Skies

I took a few quick pictures before I headed out skiing at Pen Lake on Tuesday.  I really liked the outline of of this tree against the deep blue sky.  The corner of the summer boat house shows up on the left, and straight ahead on the far shore is the popular resort Hidden Valley.

The sun was already started down toward the horizon as I set out, giving a golden glow to these trees on the edge of the meadow.

And once I got out onto the lake the sun was close to setting.  There are ski, snowshoe and snowmobile tracks back and forth across the lake; the ice is probably 18" thick, plenty thick enough to hold vehicles.

The setting sun was shining on these birch along the shore giving them an even brighter golden glow.

 With no clouds the sun set quickly, leaving behind an orange glow all over the western sky.

And I was left skiing in the blue light of early dusk, with the pink afterglow lighting the horizon to the south.

But we finished the day in vigourous debate in front of the fire in the cabin.  A memorable day of cross-country skiing under northern skies, at about -24°C, but with little wind chill.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Peninsula Lake Skiing

I've just returned from a cross-country ski expedition with friends to Peninsula Lake, near Algonquin Park a little further north in Ontario, for 3 days.  Although it was a tad chilly (!!) we had three beautiful sunny winter days, so I got lots of pictures.
We didn't get there til late on Tuesday, and there was a bit of a wind chill, so we waited til late afternoon to head out.  This is the great track-set trail on the lake, as the sun is setting.

I actually headed out back across the meadow first, to avoid the wind chill, and got some interesting pictures.  This one is just to prove I was actually there!

I came across this intriguing set of tracks, looking a little like a spaceship had landed in the snow, except for the one set of tracks leading in and out of the circle - reminded me of a tiny crop circle!

My only guess is that a squirrel left these tracks, perhaps hunting for some nuts it had buried in the fall, but now facing 18" of snow to dig through.

The sun was setting though, so I turned around and headed for the lake.  It helped that the wind died down.  I got this picture straight into the sun by hiding the sun behind the little trail maker sign.

I headed out on the lake on the beautiful trails, just track-set in fresh snow that morning and skiid a loop around the north bay of the lake.  Peninsula ('Pen') Lake is a popular cottaging lake in the summer, but at this time of year only a few diehard skiers and snowmobilers are around.

This is Cedargrove Lodge from the middle of the lake; our cabin is the 3rd roof from the left.  I actually holidayed on Pen Lake as a young child, but I'm not telling you how many decades ago that was!

This was the cabin I stayed in with my skiing buddies,   You can see the clear skies we had, so I have lots of pictures to share over the next few days.