Sunday, January 31, 2010

A moonlit adventure--of possibly dire consequences

I went for a walk this morning. And couldn’t get home. Almost.

It all started with the moonlight. Moon + snow = light at night. Bright, luminescent light. A soft glow that beckons….

So I left the cabin at 4:45a.m. to walk the loop, down to the highway, up around to the falls road, and then home by the back way, skirting behind the cabins that are north of me and emerging on my own road again. I took my headlamp, just in case, but didn’t think I’d need it. Being outside under this kind of moon is like playing outside at night in the summer after the streetlights come on.

When I got to the falls road—walking up the middle of the highway, bathed in the bluish light, no cars coming either way—I realized that someone had plowed it after the big storms of last week, clearing it all the way down to the asphalt. In the day time, an hour or so after the sun rises over the eastern ridge of this canyon, having the snow cleared makes walking easier. When the sun hits them, all those piles of snow begin to melt, and the water trickles downhill all day—until it freezes in the night. This created quite the challenge for me walking up it. Basically, I was walking uphill on black ice.

I stepped slowly and carefully, with each step looking for patches of dry pavement. Up around a corner, I was relieved to see that the plowing came to an abrupt halt, although I had to squeeze carefully around my neighbor’s truck; he’d driven as far as he could, then just parked in the middle of the road and walked the rest of the way home.

Now, walking on packed snow, the footprints of hundreds of feet still visible, I could walk at a more normal pace. It was cold—in the 20’s—and I was eager to get home to breakfast.

Far up ahead on the trail I could see lights flashing. Hikers with headlamps were coming down the trail. After a minute or so, they passed me.
“How was your walk?” I asked quietly.
“Great!” they both responded, chuckling.
I am not entirely crazy. Those guys wanted to play under the giant streetlight, too.

My whimsical moment with them passed quickly. By this time, the moon had disappeared behind the western ridge. I reached up and switched my headlamp on. The first thing I saw was a giant snowdrift that had all but obliterated the road ahead, reducing the trail to a narrow single track that proceeded determinedly up and over the drift. I’ve hiked the falls road for several winters now. I’ve never seen it like that.

Up and over I went, continuing on to find several more similar drifts. Finally, I came to the falls. I could hear the water thundering into the stream below as it cascaded down the sheer rock face, though I couldn’t see it in the darkness. I stood for long moments, listening to the quiet of the forest, the water tap dancing over rocks below. This much snow in the winter makes everything on the mountain harder—getting to and from work, bringing wood in, staying warm. No one ever complains. We know that this spring the mountain will be alive with flowers and with seeds and berries for all our furry friends. No bears wandering past the cabins in late summer, I thought, smiling. Then it was time to go.

There are three driveways that bisect the falls road. One belongs to John, my neighbor, whose cabin is closest to the waterfall. I had passed his big dually truck, completely mired in snow now. Below John’s there is another driveway that leads to the cabin of ‘Red Truck Guy.’ I have often waved to him in the early morning as he is heading out to work and I am walking along the road. I don’t know his name. His truck was the one parked where the snowplow had stopped. The third driveway leads to Cabin #54, and it is that driveway that I usually take to cut down behind the cabins to my own road. Not this morning.

When I finally found the place where the driveway should be (because I recognized the huge pine tree that stands next to it), I realized it would be impossible for me to use it; the snow that had drifted over the road had spilled down this driveway as well, creating one long beautifully rounded slope. Had it been daylight, I would have toyed with the idea of simply sliding on my butt all the way down to Cabin 54. I admit, even standing there in the dark, I was cold enough and hungry enough to think about it seriously—for a second or two. At that hour, in that place, if I were to injure myself, no one would find me for a good long time. There was nothing left to do but figure out another way.

Going back down the falls road was an option I could take, but it was the last one I would choose. Walking uphill on black ice is one thing. Walking downhill on it—for a quarter mile or so—was something I just didn’t want to think about. I turned and walked back up the road toward the falls.

I took Red Truck Guy’s driveway. I stepped in his prints carefully, and I tried to be quiet, though the crunch of each step was a resounding abuse to the otherwise quiet. If he woke, he must’ve thought a very large animal was making its way past his cabin.

Finally, I made it to the trail behind his cabin. Whew. Now all I had to do was follow the trail and I would get to my own road soon. I thought.

When I say “trail,” I really mean the area where the trail once was. Before it was covered in four feet of snow. I was now glad for the freezing temperatures of the night before, as I could walk—slowly and gingerly—along the top of the snow, making my way down in the dark with the help of my lamp, looking for landmarks, certain boulders and trees that would help me identify where I was.

Have I mentioned that the name of my road is Canyon Rim Road? It is named thus because the road was built to accommodate the cabins that were built along the rim of the canyon formed by the water streaming from the falls. What might be unclear at this point in the narrative is the fact that, if I start sliding off the (nonexistent) trail, I will no doubt keep going down, picking up speed as I fly, sans toboggan, over the edge and a hundred feet down into the bottom of the canyon. If that were to happen, most likely I would lie there until spring, when some poor hiker might stumble across whatever the coyotes left behind.

Heart pounding, I took careful step after careful step, holding onto low hanging tree branches when I could. Finally, I looked up to see Cabin 54 in the distance. I was going the right way, nearly to the road. In every other winter that I’ve lived and hiked here, someone always heads up to the falls shortly after every storm, breaking the trail, making a path. Though it has been over a week since our five consecutive days of snow, no one has been here; there was simply no place to walk. Perhaps I should say, no one was foolish enough to try….

At the last cabin before the road, a set of steep steps leads down to a driveway and then the road. The steps were buried beneath the snow, so I sat down and slid, no longer in danger of heading out of control and over the side.

Finally, at 6:15, I arrived home. From the warmth and safety of my cabin, I could appreciate the adventure. . . and the snow's promise of a beautiful spring. After all, Tuesday is Groundhog's Day.


  1. Whew that wasn't a walk that was a journey.
    Wanted to let you know your book Tainted Legacy arrived Friday and I finished reading it Friday night. I thought it was very good. I actually felt quite badly for your great grandmother.....I don't think that could possibly happen today but then who knows with todays technology they may have discovered other things. All in all I thought you showed great respect and much truth.....I thank you.
    ........:-) Hugs

  2. Bernie, thank you so much. I am pleased to hear that you read and enjoyed TL, and I'm especially pleased that you felt some compassion for my great-grandmother. I love when people tell me that they are touched by what happened to her, as opposed to being horrified. Not to diminish the victims--if they were, in fact, victims--but locking Bertha up for 23 years was cruel, in my very biased view.

    Thanks so much for your kind words. Hugs in return!!

  3. I am not sure I could have completed that jounrey, that must have been fun though..I enjoyed reading about it...warmer that way,, lol

  4. I hope you had a hearty breakfast after that early morning walk!