We should have taken snowshoes.
What you can’t see from this photo is that I am standing on a snowy road. The snow is one to three feet deep, with variable firmness. Where people skied and snowshoed all winter was packed down and frozen–good places to walk. Where the snow wasn’t packed, a booted foot could plunge down to the knee. As the sun moved, the snow warmed and became even mushier. Bad places to walk. There was no way of knowing the difference between good and bad footing until the weight was committed to the step. We slid, we wallowed, we walked in a mincing careful manner. Snowshoes would have given our feet more flotation and grip. But we were optimistic when we left the truck in the morning, and the snowshoes stayed behind.
It was the first day carrying and using my chainsaw (“Pixie”) this season. My body remembered the familiar weight of it balanced on my left shoulder. My hands remembered the starting sequence, and I remembered how Pixie stalls a little bit when I rev the throttle. None of this is anything new. The new thing is that the oil reservoir needs a cap with a functioning seal to stop the leak that has developed. My focus narrows while the saw is in the log. I’m watching the chips fly, feeling for the bind, feeling how hard the saw is working. The upslope wind blows sawdust right into the open neck of my shirt and I know that I’ll be twitching the rest of the day. In a Zen sense, I am one with the saw. I will never master the saw, and will always be its student. It requires my full attention. When the release cut is made, the log falls. I engage the chain brake and switch off the engine before I step back. Pixie’s bar and chain are sheathed, and the saw again rides on my left shoulder. I stumble forward toward the next log, thinking about the snowshoes down in the truck.
Jon and I agreed that we are entitled to five minutes of whining per day. I used some of mine to notice that what we are doing is physically harder than it ought to be. (That’s not exactly how I said it.) Discomfort is a reality check. We’re in no immediate danger. The sun is shining, although the wind is cold. We’re out of the office, doing work that makes the trail a better place. There are no mosquitoes at all. We’re hiking uphill, but it could be a lot steeper. We’re flopping around in the moment. We know we are going to eat lunch in a pleasant spot.
And we did. I dropped my pack and the saw near where I thought the end of the trail was and hiked up to scout. Ha! As I suspected, there was no need to carry the saw any further. It was time for lunch. As I slid my way back down, I stopped to admire the view of the Stuart Range. The snow line creeps up mountain flanks as the valleys hold warmth. The sound of running water is everywhere. And wind through the stiff subalpine fir branches. Lunch was big spinach salad with feta cheese, red onion and a tomato dressing. Some rice crackers, a handful of toasted almonds, two squares of organic dark chocolate, washed down with plenty of water. I eased back onto my pack, face turned toward the sun. Then it was time to get up and shoulder the saw for the return trip. Going down was even slippier, and we took a shortcut to get back to the truck. The internal whining increased as my shoulders protested the weight of the saw. It’s early May. My shoulders and I will have to work something out.
We laughed a little about a story the receptionist told us this morning. The front desk gets a lot of calls from people wanting to head to their favorite lakes. When they are told that they can’t drive to the trailheads because the roads are still snowy, they just can’t believe it. One caller wanted to day hike to Robin Lake this weekend. All he needs is snowshoes! He can park at the end of the pavement, snowshoe the seventeen miles up the road to where the trail takes off, and then climb up to the granite basin where Robin Lake is still locked in ice. The grownup part of me knows that it’s not nice to laugh at the naivete of city people, but c’mon–all they have to do is look east and see that white stuff hanging on the Cascades. The mountains are accessible. All you need is snowshoes, and a good lunch.