A bad day in the woods

Paul Smith
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There’s no bad weather, only bad gear. Those are words dear to my heart and I repeat them often. If you appreciate your time in the woods, and you are obligated to punch the nine to five during weekdays, then it’s a motto you best adopt.

How often has the sun split the rocks all week, clear blue autumn skies from Monday all the way through to Friday, only to cloud over and pour rain all weekend. Yes sir, fine-weather hunters and hikers are inevitably going to miss out.

And there’s yet another pertinent saying that rings crystal clear on this matter of time afield. A bad Saturday in the woods is far better than a good day stuck in the house. So there you go; a good suit of raingear will improve your life and costs significantly less than psychological counselling.

We finally got a snowstorm. I don’t think we’ve had a proper blizzard here on the Avalon Peninsula in at least four or five years. My snowshoes have gathered far too much dust resting on the beams in my garage. I think I had them out just once last winter, and only a couple of times the year before. It’s depressing. All we’ve had are piddly little snowfalls followed by bloody rain to wash the precious white stuff down the brooks and gutters.

But starting on Thursday, Jan. 10, snow fell with reckless abandon. All night long, visibility was virtually nil, heavy snow whipped around by

100 km/h winds. By morning, the landscape was transformed from green Christmas to a postcard of Canadian winter.

My brain was totally consumed with the prospect of hiking to the cabin on snowshoes. There was certainly a degree of spousal objection, but considering possible wind damage and potentially excessive structural snow loads, things just had to be checked on. I did agree that the blocked driveway would be given priority.

The storm raged beyond my expectations, snowing till noon on Friday, before showing any sign of easing its fury. It would certainly be Saturday before I could make the hike to check the cabin. After lunch, I attacked my snow-filled driveway with both snow blower and ATV plow. It was a tough slug and took more than three hours to clear.

I still couldn’t go anywhere because our road hadn’t been plowed. Damn, if the council doesn’t clear the road before midnight, I’ll either go without much sleep or plow more snow in the morning before heading in the woods. Remember, we are talking about sacred Saturday here now; every effort must be made.

More objections arose from my better half about me going off in the woods in such adverse conditions. You would think she would know me better by now and just let me torture myself afield in snow, hail, rain and wind. I suppose she cares about me.

The plow bucked its way down the road around 8 o’clock Friday evening, piling up huge mounds of wet soggy snow. It was raining now and still blowing a gale of northeasterly wind. Not easily dissuaded with woods on my mind, I dressed up and got my quad out of the garage once again. The snow blower wouldn’t have a chance against the wet soggy compacted stuff I now had facing me. Two hours later, I walked back in the house, soaking wet, but with the driveway so clear you could spin a top on it. I would be off to the cabin at daybreak.

Up and at ’em

When I got up Saturday morning, it was still raining and just as windy. What a lovely day to watch a movie on Netflix. I don’t think so. My snowshoes were calling out to me and I really was a bit worried about the cabin. I had to get the roof shovelled off and so on.

My buddy Cameron Gosse agreed to go with me and we headed off with a good supply of fruitcake for the trail, and a couple of mackerel to boil when the work was done at the cabin.

We were facing a five-kilometre trudge through a fresh 50-centimetre snowfall, uphill just about all the way. The temperature was just above freezing and the rain was blowing sideways. If you can picture those conditions, you might find some degree of sympathy for Goldie’s reluctance to give this excursion her blessing. Her last words upon my leaving were a stern, “Call me when you get to that bloody cabin.”

Remember what I said about no bad days? This hike would put my words to the test. The trick is to dress in layers and the challenge is not to get too wet either by sweating or rain. The cabin would be cold and it would take a while to get her warmed up, even with a rousing fire. We’d be shivering in no time if we landed on the doorstep soaked to the skin.

What you need are clothes that perform, a base layer next to your skin that will both insulate and wick away sweat, a mid layer to keep you at the right temperature, and an outer shell that will block the elements while letting perspiration out. This is the only way to exert one’s self physically in the woods without ending up chilled and hypothermic. Cotton clothes that trap moisture and stay wet can kill you in extreme adverse conditions.

For this outing, I turned to tried and true wool next to my skin. I’ve been using polypropylene underwear for years, but wool is making a strong comeback. I’ll tell you more about the details another time.

Special sheep

There’s a fascinating story behind this, but suffice now to say that Merino is a sort of sheep bred specifically for its fleece and excellent clothing properties. More and more outdoor enthusiasts from winter joggers to mountain climbers are returning to this amazing natural material. All the major outdoor suppliers like Patagonia, North Face and MEC are now offering Merino in addition to their usually Polypro lineups. I picked up both tops and bottoms in a brand called Smartwool, locally, at the Outfitter Store on Water Street.

To keep out the rain and keep me warm, I relied again on modern synthetics, a light but warm jacket and a rain shell both from Patagonia.  

My God, it felt good to be back on the snow racquets! The trudging was super tough in the very deep soggy snow, but we loved it. The frost will come in time, and the trail will harden. There will be more snowshoeing in coming days and weeks.

It took over two hours to reach the cabin, and thankfully there was no damage. The gear functioned as designed and we were just a little damp, not bad after five kilometres uphill in the rain. We lit the stove and a pipe, relaxing while the rising heat dried our jackets, cuffs, and caps. Rain pounded on the window and a pot of mackerel bubbled on the stove. A bad day in the woods? There’s no such thing.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every

opportunity. He can be contacted

at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com.

Organizations: North Face, Outfitter Store on Water Street.To

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Recent comments

  • Paul Smith
    January 20, 2013 - 16:05

    Winston, right I didn't wear the hiking gear out plowing snow. I could have wore any kind of rain gear and stayed dry. I didn't think I'd be out there as long as I was and just went for it with a fleece jacket on. Boys wil be boys, as you said. If ATV's are toys then I'm a boy I guess. But there's the whole issue of self reliance to consider. I like to fix my own plumbing, paint my kitchen, and clear my own snow, even if it does take a bit longer. Back to getting wet. i really dont care about getting wet when I'm coming right back into a warm cozy house. Hiking 2 miles in the woods in winter is altogether another quintal of fish. You can go hypothermic pretty quick if you are wet in the woods. It is a serious matter. People have died If we were all in pursuit of pure green w'ed be out shovelling our drivways by hand. I have no idea if my ATV is more or less green than a loader driving all over the place clearing driveways. ATV engines are 4-stroke and for the most part fuel injected these days. They are similar to cars in emmission standards. Compare that to diesel backhoes and loaders, I have no idea which is more green but I suspect a very insignificant difference in carbon footprint. Anyway, if we all hired loaders, you'd have to wait a long while to get the car out of the driveway.

  • Winston Adams
    January 20, 2013 - 12:18

    Paul, how come you got soaking wet after 2 hrs on the ATV plowing snow,while raining, but could hike 2 miles innthe rain and got only damp? Should have had your hiking gear on while plowing? And you spent 3 hrs then another 2 plowing your own snow, with toys poorly suited to handle heavy wet snow. i used my old 1978 Chev 4 wheel drive for years, and it could take an hour with that when the snow was deep and wet. I now engage a guy with a big machine and a scoop bucket on the front, 15 minutes and 30.00. An average year 350.00. And I stay dry. Toys work half the time, but boys will be boys. The large machines are likely more environmently friendly, being more efficient. But can't knock your enthusiasm to stay fit.