Normally, in the winter, my friends and I cancel our plans if the combined temperature and windchill aren’t going to get above minus 15 celsius that day. While I have gone out in lower temperatures, we usually end up regretting it – we get chilled, the wind slices through whatever clothes we’re wearing, frost buildup in my glasses makes it hard to see where I’m going. In a nutshell, no one enjoys the outing, and you can only pat yourself on the back for “toughing it out” so many times before you begin to wonder what the point is.
On a weekend in late December, a friend and I headed south to the area surrounding Upper Kananaskis Lake. The forecast was promising decent temperatures. As we drove south, however, the temperature on my friend’s vehicle thermometer kept wavering: -21, -20, -19, -18, back down to -20 as we drove the road there. We wavered with the thermometer – should we go, should we head back north to a warmer location? We decided in the end to at least get to our destination and check things out.
So it was -18 celsius at the parking lot, but the saving grace was that there was no wind. We knew we would be in the trees quite a bit, so we decided to try it. We get our gear, only I realized that I had forgotten my hiking poles when I hopped in with my friend. Then my friend had a pole that wouldn’t latch into position. So there we are with one pole between the two of us. My fingers were painfully cold by the time I got my snowshoes strapped on, and I welcomed the handwarmers in my mitts, and the one in my pocket keeping my camera battery warm.
We decided to head out along the sunnier north side of the lake, even though there was no “official” snowshoe trail in that area. We knew roughly where the summer trail was, and sure enough, others had snowshoed along there before us. The other side of the lake, which heads towards the trail for Rawson Lake, is very popular, but at this time of year, with the sun angled below the peaks, it doesn’t see much sun at all.
We started off across the top of the dam, where the winds had blown the snow into sastrugi that were fairly solid. Our weight wasn’t so much packing a trail there, as it was collapsing the top of the snow a little. It was bright and sunny, except for one strange cloud cutting across the pass from BC, streaking low below the peaks.
Past the dam, we were finally in the trees, onto more normal snow that packed into good trail. The trail went up and down as we travelled, and I was surprised I didn’t tumble, as I normally rely on my poles for balance. I was taking things a bit slower, but I was doing OK.
By lunchtime, we had reached what appeared to be an island, across from where the trail ran. We crossed to it and found rocks to sit on in a beautiful sunny spot. By then, the little thermometer on my pack said it was -10, and there was still no wind. It was perfect.
We decided that was also our turnaround point, as the sun drops quickly behind the peaks at that time of year. Our return trip was fine, but as we moved out to cross the dam, the wind had come up, and we couldn’t move fast enough to get off there. We did stop a few times to catch our breath, facing away from the wind, sun at our backs, taking photos of our tiny shadows down in the valley below the dam. That wind meant the day was over for us.
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