December 27, 2008

Some shop, others snowshoe...

I have a hard time understanding why so many people flock to the stores on Boxing Day. Yes, things are on sale. So what? If you didn't already get it before Boxing Day, you probably didn't need it (unless you are one of those people who managed to hold off on something you've really needed for an extended period of time in which case I have a great deal of respect for you).

No, I would much rather avoid the post-Christmas shopping madness and spend that valuable day off outside, doing something that I enjoy.

George Privett and I were chatting last week and we both wanted to get outside, so we made tentative plans to go for a Boxing Day snowshoe. We've had a great winter in terms of snowfall; it started early and just keeps getting better - if you're interested in snowshoeing, that is.

George called me up on Boxing Day morning to arrange a time to meet. We still hadn't decided on where to go. At -15oC, the temperature was milder than it has been lately, but the moist southern wind that brought the warmer temperatures also wanted to get rid of its excess moisture. It was snowing and visibility was poor. The low cloud cover and snow meant that any sweeping mountain vistas were "out of the picture". Where could we go that would be fun to snowshoe and not have the trails already packed by Whitehorse's Legion of Snowmachiners?

After considering a few options, I decided it was time to investigate a rocky face on Mount McIntyre that I've been wanting to investigate for its rock climbing potential. I knew that the trail (or lack thereof) would be unpacked.

My in-laws are in town visiting and they wanted to come, too. Our team of two turned into a team of five, thanks to the three extra pairs of snowshoes that we keep (one can never own too many snowshoes, you know?).

The days are still fairly short, and I was hurrying so we could make the most of the daylight on an otherwise dark day. I quickly grabbed some food, the snowshoes, my sled, kettle and Liard Firebox. We all squeezed into the car, and were off.

When we arrived at our starting point, everyone strapped their snowshoes onto their feet. We had an eclectic mix of traditional and modern snowshoes, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. As for myself, I prefer the traditional wooden and babiche snowshoes with a slightly more modern leather binding, especially when snowshoeing in the light powdery snow that's typical of the Whitehorse area.

Adjusting the bindings on my snowshoes.

We had a slow start, but once everyone got their snowshoes adjusted properly, things went smoothly. We weren't long into the trip when I realised that, in the rush to leave, I had left my camera behind. Fortunately, George came prepared. All of the pictures in this entry are compliments of George.

Breaking trail.

Packing down an otherwise unpacked trail.

George (who took all the pictures in this blog entry - with the exception of this one).

My sister-in-law, Nem, and brother-in-law-in-law, Pedro (not his real name).

My father-in-law, Gabe.

Pedro (aka Michael) takes in the somewhat limited (but improving) view.

Nanuq decides he's not interested in the view and promptly returns to his lifetime passion of stepping on the ends of my snowshoes.

After a little side-trip to check out the scenery, we made are way into the valley with the rock wall. It was full of willows, sagging from the weight of the snow. It made for difficult snowshoeing, but I was determined to make it to the rock face. The rest of the crew stayed behind while I broke trail and Nanuq stepped on the ends of my snowshoes.

Eventually, covered with snow and sweating from the effort of finding a passable route, I made it to the rock face. The valley was nothing like I expected. While I was able to rule it out as a potential rock climbing area, it definitely warrants more investigation in the summer months. I retraced my steps, packing the trail even harder for the rest of the crew.

When I got back, it was clear that the rest of the crew wasn't interested in heading for the willows. It was time for tea.

I broke out the firebox and made a fire. The trick to a good winter fire, is to make sure your fire doesn't sink. Fortunately, with the aid of a few short sticks, I was able to build a simple base to support the firebox. Once the fire was going, we put the kettle on. Soon we would have tea.

Or would we?

Building a fire in the Liard Firebox.

When I was asked for mugs, I couldn't produce them. I had forgotten to bring any. I noticed a few small birch back up the valley and went to see if I could peel a few small strips to make some birchbark/willow cups. Unfortunately, the bark was just a little too dry and kept cracking when I peeled it. Defeated, I returned.

Fortunately, George is a resourceful guy. He took the Pepsi bottle that he used for carrying his water supply and cut it in two. By keeping the cap on the spout end of the bottle, we now had two "cups" for holding tea.

Nanuq curls up for a rest.

Next, it was time for making bannock-on-a-stick. Fortunately, no cups are required for that. I poured some luke-warm water into the bag of bannock mix and squished it all together.

Preparing a stick for making bannock.

The dough was freezing quickly and didn't want to attach itself to the sticks. With a little coaxing and massaging, I finally managed to get them all wrapped.

Wrapping the quickly-freezing bannock dough around a stick.

The trick to making good bannock-on-a-stick is to heat the bannock slowly over the hot coals. Sticking the dough into the flames will result in a crispy, charred outer layer and a gooey, cold, doughy inner layer. While that may work well for marshmallows, it do make for good bannock.

Warming the bannock dough the wrong way.

Certain members of our party (who shall remain unnamed but who are in the picture below) were so eager to eat their bannock, that they went for the flash-cooked outer layer and ate it off before returning their dough-covered sticks to the fire. They repeated this process until all the warmed dough had been consumed.
Cooking dough on a stick.

In his enthusiasm, Pedro eats his bannock nearly raw. Ew.

Yes, a little patience and some good hot coals makes for great bannock.

Bannock on a stick done the right way. Yum.

The sun had set and the dark afternoon was quickly turning into a dusky afternoon. It was time to pack up and head out.
Packing for home.

As I drove home, I thought about what it means to me to get out and go snowshoeing (or canoeing or camping or hiking or biking). After I go, I always feel better physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. If ever there were a church for me, being outside is that church. I guess shopping is like that for some people.

Our Boxing Day snowshoe was a good way to end 2008, also known as "The Year in Which I Didn't Get Out Much", and a good way to warm up for 2009, which will likely be known as "The Year in Which I Got Out Even Less" but which I hope will be known as "The Year in Which I Got Out Lots and Lots". In fact, I've decided that for the first time in years I'm going to have a New Year's Resolution. I hereby resolve to get out more and for longer.

It's a resolution that I look forward to upholding.


Anonymous said...

Boxing Day is the day I head to Staples early to get my Norton antivirus update for $10 instead of $65. But your day looks MUCH more fun!

Matt, Kara, Hunter and Cavan said...

Looks like you all had a great day out there!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great day!!

If you wrap your bannock around the stick in a spiral (a long snake wrapped around) it seems to cook quicker & often stays on the stick better. Yum - either way!

Janet said...

I didn't know about cooking bannock on a stick until I read this poinst. Do you use just a normal bannock recipe or does it have to be thicker than when you're frying it in a pan?

Meandering Michael said...

Anon, the spiral/twist is what I normally use, but the dough was too cold (not flexible and sticky enough) to use it this time, unfortunately.

Janet, I'll post the recipe soon. Everyone's got their own bannock recipe, so I'm not sure how it compares to yours.

Jennybell said...

Where is George's hat!
We don't have Boxing Day here. Everyone flocks to the stores the day after our Thanksgiving (Nov 27), a human stampede going into a Walmart killed a worker this year in New Jersey ( I think it was New Jersey). People are nuts!

Meandering Michael said...

Jennybell, you couldn't be more right. People are nuts. We are the most irrational rational creatures on the planet.

As crazy as it might seem, George is doing a very smart thing. Believe it or not, your own sweat can kill you when it gets cold enough.

Instead of overheating and sweating and making his clothes damp (which makes you very cold and, eventually, hypothermic), George is regulating his body temperature using one of the easiest and most effective methods there is: letting his heat-generating head (one of the warmest parts of the body) disperse the heat for him. The second he starts to feel cool, on goes the hat and his body warms right back up. The second he starts to overheat again, off goes the hat. He probably doesn't even think about it anymore; it becomes instinctive.

Also, the snow in his hair is very pretty, don't you think? (He dusts that off before the hat goes back on)

Anonymous said...

I agree about Boxing Day, although my husband did do some online boxing day shopping this year.

I hate the rush of boxing day, especially since the deals aren't that great anymore and the sales generally last at least a week.

Hpwever, I must confess to buying tissue paper and Christmas cards at 50% off when I went grocery shopping today.

RachelW said...

And the moral of the story is.... take George with you, and you will be prepared for anything!

Heather, aka: Mum said...

It's SO true about the hat thing! The fur hats that I had made for us (like yours) at -30'C, they are STILL too warm to keep on your head! In the dog yard or even for a simple walk down the road...hat goes on...hat goes off...hat goes on...hat goes off...

The "frosting" is always fun at those temps though isn't it??

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Unknown said...

Sometimes is good to learn from the best, and you guys are certainly the best in snowshoeing and winter survival in general. I like your improvisation with the campfire; it’s so inspiring for someone who has never rambled on snow. I read more on snowshoeing here: