Sleet, Ice and Snow on the Hot Springs Trails
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I awoke to a wintry mix falling from the sky, a surprise as the Weather Channel did not issue the warning until it was already here. I decided to hike up the mountain as it appeared in the higher elevations it was snowing.
The lower park area was a slushy mix and the birds did not appear enthusiastic about the sudden change. Only a hand full of Robins were visible in the trees, joined by a solitary Cardinal. From the ground I had to agree with them, it was a sloppy mess on the Promenade,Tufa Trail and Carriage Road. Like walking through a Slurpee, the thought made me giggle. As I traveled the Tufa Terrace I stopped smiling, the trees that has survived the freezing rain a week earlier and stood upright again were now bending from the weight of the ice snow mix. More painful changes were coming to the forest.
As I headed up the Dead Chief Trail the mix became more favored toward snow. Unfortunately this mixture was causing ice to form on my lens making photography less than optimal. Half way up the trail a lovely Black-Throated Green Warbler appeared and did not seem to care about my proximity. A Black-Eyed Slate Junco on the other hand would fly away at the smallest gesture on my part. I thought the Warbler might be smarter to follow the Junco’s lead.
The Short Cut Trail was snow only, large beautiful flakes fell coating the landscape. I had this wonderful winter wonderland all to myself. It was like being a child again, with a snow day in the park. I wanted to share this day, so no matter where people were they could have a snow day too, especially my fiance’ Rick. Although my camera lens was not icing up it was like trying to take a photograph from inside a recently shaken snow globe.
When I reached the top another lovely Green Warbler appeared this time joined by sparrows. They were all frantically digging around the sheltered side of trees trying to get a few morsels. The snow began falling at a faster rate so I headed for the Pagoda for my daily view shot. In this case it appeared it would be a lack of view shot. Even on the worst day of the ice storm I could see the valley, now the view stopped at the trail below. The snow storm was closing in around me and I could not wait to see how the park looked further down the trail.
I loved being the first person on the trail, ahead of me was pristine untouched snow. Others had left prints on the Dead Chief and Short Cut, but their prints indicated they had travel only part way up. The silence of falling snow has it’s own beauty. It can fall in the night only revealing itself when you draw back the curtains in the morning. It casts a light over the places it falls and no matter how dark the sky there is an ethereal glow.
The changing landscape spread out before me as I hiked along the Hot Springs Mountain Trail. Familiar bends in the trail and trees standing watch, I always feel at home here. Half way between the Pagoda and the Rest Hut at the Gulpha Gorge Trail head the snow fall increased and visibility decreased. I was looking forward to reaching the rest hut. As I neared the hut a heard a loud crack followed by a soft thud, my heart sank. Another life had been lost in the forest. When I entered the hut I took my hat off and discovered two inches of wet snow had accumulated on the top and brim. After clearing my hat of the snow fall I removed my jacket and shook it off.
When I looked out the entry of the Hut I could not see the trail head I had exited nor the trail I was going to enter. I decided I had better move out in case the storm worsened. I was half way home when the lovely snow switched to a heavy sleet, I was now missing the snow. The journey now entailed hiking through Three inches of slush on top of loose rock and trying not to slip. My consistent hiking of the trails gave me an advantage, knowing where the obstacles were under the soupy mess. As I made my way to the bottom I thought of the lovely little wildflowers I had seen the day before. So delicate, I did not think they would fair well under the ice and snow. I was so glad I had gone back yesterday to photograph them.
The conditions worsened and I decided it would prudent to exit onto the road and out to the closest paved walkway. The slushy mix was getting so deep ice was forming on the bottom of my pants. When I reached the bottom of the road the gates were locked and I exited to the side of them.
It was a mixed adventure and I can’t wait to see what Nature has in store for me tomorrow.