Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Bennett Hill: Winter

(Walking alongside this farm is a beautiful introduction to the trails at Bennett Hill.)

In Spring 2017, I promised you that I would follow the seasons at Bennett Hill, a beautiful hiking spot not far from my Albany home. I was inspired by Jackie Donnelly's ongoing in-depth study of her beloved nature spot, Moreau Lake State Park, which she features often in her blog:

However, after spring and summer, I had let the idea go, but now I'm back and it's winter!

(Now and then, my snowshoes barely made a dent in the packed wind-blown snow.)

We received 15" of beautiful snow last week.  With heavy rain in the forecast, I was itching to get out in the powder while it lasted.  A perfect sunny cold Tuesday passed me by.  Rain inched closer.  I checked and double-checked the forecast.

On Wednesday, the rain was not supposed to arrive until mid-afternoon.  I gathered up snowshoes and boots and headed out early.  I felt desperate for fresh air and some exertion with beauty on the side.  Bennett Hill was close enough that I hoped to drive there and do the 3-mile loop before sleet and freezing rain made an appearance.

(You mean I have to break my own trail from now on through deep powder?)

The sky was dark.  Freezing rain hit my windshield as I drove the short distance.  Ice creeped in from the edges and I turned on the defrost.  This was not fair!  It was far too early in the day for rain (according to my authority weather underground, I was glad it stopped as I pulled into the small parking area at Bennett Hill.

(This tree was made for sitting, but I'll just admire it this time.)

Wind had howled around my house the previous night and it apparently had here also.  Amidst the softer snow, hard patches of trail showed where the wind had banked the snow into concrete.  I didn't mind; being able to walk on top of the snow for a short stretch offered an easy, if sporadic, change from the powder.

I passed a woman coming down the trail as I was going up.  We talked about the impending rain and discussed ski tracks visible alongside the snowshoe trail.  Skiing here would take some skill between the trees.

(Can't you imagine an otter sliding down the hill from the left and doing some aerials, as if on a ski jump, as he flies off to the right?)

I kept a steady pace as the trail climbed.  I needed some sturdy exercise.  I worry that, if I turn into a slug during the winter, I won't be able to hike well in the summer, and I want to continue my hiking career for a long time.  Besides, winter is one of two seasons, along with fall, when I feel at my best physically.

(Wind has been the story of our 2018-2019 winter so far, making swirls around the trees.)

Apparently, the hiking gods heard my plea for exercise, because I hadn't snowshoed too far when the tracked trail ended.  Others before me had turned around and gone back. Even the ski tracks vanished into the woods.  My work was cut out for me, for sure.  Breaking trail in deep snow is not easy!

Suddenly, I felt alone and was reminded of all those ranger reports I read where people get hurt and are often not prepared to wait for help in the cold.  This is not a mindset that I usually feed into.  Clearly, I had been reading too many DEC reports and quickly passed off these thoughts!

(All this view needs is Santa and his reindeer crossing the sky at night: "the children were nestled all snug in their beds," "Mamma in her 'kerchief and I in my cap" )

The summit of Bennett Hill is a reward in any season.  I like the way the trail curves around the low vegetation to the view over the hamlet of Clarksville.  In winter, Clarksville looks like a Christmas village below with streets making lines between the white, and rooftops covered in snow.

But...just as I came to the viewpoint, freezing rain pelted my face and pinged on my jacket in defiance of the forecast.  In minutes, it stopped.  I wasn't any the worse for wear, but, really, what's the deal, wunderground?

(This summit birch tree is a favorite of mine.)

I paid more attention to natural elements, taking winter pictures of the places I had photographed for my spring and summer blog posts back in 2017. I enjoyed being the first person, except for woodland animals, to make tracks in this snow.  The summit was a clean white landscape, without the needles blown by the wind littering the landscape as they had farther down the hill.

(So many small fungi decorate this tree trunk.)

I had seen deer tracks criss-crossing the snow all the way up, and then I came across this deer bed.   I was tempted to put my hand on the earth to see if it were still warm, since it looked like the deer had recently left, but I knew that in today's temperature, the ground would only have stayed warm for a few seconds. I walked on.

(A perfect deer bed -- recently vacated?)

When I first set out today, I had seen numerous dog tracks on the lower trail.  Those tracks came from hikers' best friends who had been here before me.  But now, higher up where no one had broken the pristine snow with human footprints, I knew that these dog-like tracks belonged to a coyote.  A clue is the way that coyotes put their back paws in the tracks of the front paws, one foot stepping where the other had been. This coyote had been traveling at a relaxed trot.

(Out for a stroll, or hoping for a hunt?)

And what about this mound?  The attractive-meditation-shrine-turned-messy-rock-cairn had to be underneath the smooth white covering.  Perhaps buried stones and sticks provided a cozy winter hibernation nest for someone small. 

(Burial mound for a rock cairn)

And what was that? Blue sky?  Feeble shadows came and went across the forest floor as the sun struggled to break through the dark clouds...until it won with a splash of blue.

(A fabulous surprise!)
Shadows acquired a sharp definition and deepened in contrast to the now bright white.  As I began the descent from Bennett Hill's plateau, my scene changed entirely.

(Sun offers a whole new dimension to the trail.)

I knew I was getting hungry when I saw this log in the woods and was reminded of a roll of cake with white buttercream frosting.  I began to think about what I would have as a snack on my way home.  A tiny grocery would be a nearby shopping option.  My longtime favorite lunch of an apple and cheese awaited me at home, but I longed for something sweeter.


How different the farm scene looked in the sun compared to it's dark appearance when I had arrived.  But even as the sun glistened in the foreground, the sky and hills beyond grew dark.  I was glad I was almost to the car.  I had had enough brushes with freezing rain and preferred to carry the burst of blue sky and sunshine home with me.

(Two moods on the farm.)

It had taken me two hours to hike Bennett Hill, longer than usual.  Breaking trail in deep powder had slowed me down, but I felt good.  I had breathed deep and worked hard. 

The car seemed drawn to snack options on my way home.  I prefer ice cream sandwiches made with two chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice cream, which I didn't find in the case today, but I bought the next best thing and it tasted pretty good.  That apple and cheese wouldn't be too bad when I got home, either.
Here are links to my Spring and Summer 2017 blog posts about Bennett Hill: