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Frozen wilderness an aesthetic delight

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2010

November brought us some good cold weather, which froze the mudholes in the trails very nicely. So tromping out toward the Eagle Glacier cabin was much easier than it would have been before the hard freeze. Not that there are many mudholes left! Bridges have been replaced or repaired in several spots (though some still need work) and the formerly treacherous stairway is now in good shape. A few places remain that will be ugly when they thaw, however.

Courtesy Of  Mary Willson
Courtesy Of Mary Willson

We were happy that the cold also bonded the ice to the boardwalk. Ice cleats are great for walking on ice, but if the ice itself slides on the boards with the cleats firmly embedded, it can be bad news for hikers. When the weather warms up, sliding ice cakes on the boardwalk are things to watch out for.

Many of the high-bush cranberry bushes still bore fruit, and the bright fruits dangled from the branches like tiny scarlet Christmas tree decorations. The berries seemed to almost glow in the dark understory, a welcome and cheering visual relief from the somber background.

Not much wildlife was in evidence: an eagle with its treble cackling somewhere along the river, a raven overhead. Tiny brown winter wrens scurried around in piles of wind-thrown timber.

Several trailside cliffs were ornamented with spectacular arrays of icicles, tier upon tier. To a twisted imagination, they were reminiscent of those wicked-looking deep-sea fish that have batteries of long, skinny teeth in the mouth.

We didn't quite make to the cabin, which was OK, because it was going to be occupied by ten people and two dogs. But of course we then missed the loop from the cabin back past the broad waterfall where we might have seen some dippers. Instead of all that, we camped on the riverbank for lunch and a lively discussion of the merits of different kinds of ice cleats.

As we passed over the bridge at Boulder Creek, I was reminded of the summers when we monitored the progress and fate of dipper nests on the creek. It took a good deal of serious bush-whacking along the creek to find and then keep track of two nests that were located well upstream of the bridge. One day, I had the brilliant(?) notion of going a little farther upstream from the upper nest and then cutting uphill to the Yankee Basin trail, for an easy route back to the car.

Nice idea, in principle, but it didn't quite take into account what was needed to get from the stream up the steep slope to the trail. My assistant probably thought (but kindly did not say) that I was quite mad - I know I did! But we got there, not much the worse for wear.

A week or two after the Eagle River junket, we enjoyed our first Parks and Rec hike on skis and snowshoes. Since it was the first of the season, we weren't terribly ambitious, and merely set our sights on Cropley Lake above the Eaglecrest lodge. Lovely snow and plenty of it, for our purposes, almost everywhere. The lunchtime show was enviously watching about seven more intrepid folks silhouetted on the skyline at the crest of the ridge; one by one they plummeted gracefully down through the chutes and into the woods.

There was a variety of animal tracks, including hare, squirrel, porcupine and weasel. A fair-sized bird had left tracings of wing tips in a nice pattern in the fresh snow. I thought I heard one of the small owls calling, but it was hard to hear clearly over the crunch of the snowshoes and cheerful chatter. I'm looking forward to more good snow and the prospect of reading stories from the animal tracks and trails that I find and follow.

• Mary F. Willson is a retired professor of ecology.



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