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Scrrrunching through the woods

>> Sunday, January 17, 2010

This past weekend was nearly as crammed full of obligations as the prior weekend (and next weekend isn't looking any better).  However, I made it a priority to get outside for a brief snowshoeing trip on Saturday by telling myself it was officially on my "must do" list so I'd have something to blog about.

That, my friends, is one of the reasons I like keeping this blog.  It helps me prioritize getting outside even when it seems impossible.  My best friend teases me that I can justify just about anything if I work at it. She's so right!

My husband (God bless the man!) decided he'd rather stay home and put away the Christmas tree and clean the house than frolic in the great outdoors, so I left him in charge of the fur and took advantage of the rare opportunity to play somewhere that dogs are not allowed.  Usually if we're heading outdoors the hounds have to come too because a) I feel too guilty leaving them inside when I'm out having fun, and b) I don't feel like torturing myself unnecessarily by allowing them to build up too much pent up energy.

One of my very favorite places to play in the woods is a place called Baltimore Woods.  Dogs aren't allowed there, so I don't get there very often anymore despite that it's quite close to home.  I miss it.  I have been going to Baltimore Woods in all seasons since I was a kid and love it.  It's never too crowded, is a nice mix of wood and field and stream and pond, makes for good birding and wildlife spotting, and is by far the best place I know of to look for spring wildflowers.  They have wonderful nature education programming, too.

The terrain at Baltimore Woods is pretty rugged as it's centered around a deep gorge on lots of cool glacial geology.  Skiing isn't allowed there - for a darn good reason.  I have been cross-country skiing since I was 2, and while I'm no ski racer or remarkable talent on them, I am extremely comfortable on skis.  But you couldn't pay me any amount of money to try to cross country ski down this:

If you managed to avoid the trees in the first few big sweeping turns, you wouldn't likely manage to avoid them in the much steeper switchbacks at the bottom, and if you did manage to avoid the trees, you'd end up (bump bump bump kersplunk!) in a frigid stream at the bottom.

No thanks.  There were two foolhardy individuals (male, roughly 20) putting on skis just as I was leaving.  I hope no ambulances were involved.  It pays to read the rules - sometimes they exist for good reason.

Anyway, I have been hoping since I bought my snowshoes that Baltimore Woods would be steep enough for me to use the MSR's "Televator Heel Lifter" feature.  It turns out that it's mighty hard to take pictures of one's own heels - here's the best I could manage:

See that lighter gray tab under my tan boot heel?  It's on a black metal bar.  That's the Televator doohickie, which is basically just a bar that lifts up under the heel. Instead of resting on the bottom of the snowshoe, the heel rests on the elevated bar so that your foot is much more level while climbing steep terrain.  It reduces calf strain. Worked like a charm coming back up that gorge! Then I had a heck of a time getting them back down. Not only is the angle wrong for photography of one's own heel, but it's also wrong for grabbing a tab and pulling backward and down while wearing the snowshoes.  Ah well.  Fun toy anyway.

Technically it wasn't snowy enough to need snowshoes on Saturday - curse this above-32 spell.  I could have walked quite comfortably without them most of the way.  But they're new, provide good traction, and my boots don't have a cool Televator feature that I was dying to try out.  So I snowshoed.  The disadvantage was that they're noisy as heck on the kind of heavy damp icy snow we presently have.  The SCRRRUNCH SCRRRUNCH SCRRRUNCH SCRRRUNCH of my footfalls certainly scared off any wildlife I might otherwise have crept up on.

There are only about 6 miles of trails at Baltimore Woods, and I usually take the longest perimeter trail just to get some distance in.  I think perhaps the many different habitats the trail passes through are part of why I like Baltimore Woods so much.  I made my way down to the bottom of the gorge, then worked my way back up on the other side through deciduous woods, and along the edge of some open fields.  It passes through a long-abandoned sand pit that makes for good bird watching, although only chickadees serenaded me there on Saturday:

And then it winds along the edge of some farm fields.

I distinctly recall once seeing three baby raccoons hiding up a tree on the edge of the farm field.  It was my husband's first trip there perhaps 5 years ago, and it predated my camera-toting days.  But we played peek-a-boo with those fuzzy baby raccoons for a good 10 minutes because they were so irresistibly cute, and they firmly believed that if they couldn't see us, we couldn't see them.  I think of them every time I pass through here - I even remember the exact tree they were in.

Eventually the trail winds its way back through the woods and up and down the sides of the gorges again, and past a pond.  The pond is great for duck/heron/turtle/frog watching in warmer seasons.

Then I scrrrunched along through more woods, across a stream, and back on up the really steep side of the gorge with my Televators in action and back to the car.  It wasn't a long walk but those hills make for good exercise.  I certainly felt infinitely better for a few hours in the delicious sunshine and fresh air.

I need to make a point of getting to Baltimore Woods more often.  Come spring, I will make a point of coming back so I can post a whole bunch of wildflower pictures.  What a long way off that seems!


Carolyn H January 18, 2010 at 10:05 AM  

Unfortunately, i had heavy rain yesterday, so the snow disappeared!

Carolyn H

Woodswoman Extraordinaire: January 19, 2010 at 2:03 PM  

Ugh, Carolyn - we keep teetering right on the edge of rain. We've had some "wintery mix" and a little dusting of snow last night, but I keep hoping we'll be able to avoid outright rain. In winter I much prefer snow. Mud isn't as much fun!

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