Out There: Soulful, sunny and serene. Nature's symphony provides the soundtrack to some May 2-4 turns
Victoria Day long weekend. The May two-four. The unofficial start of summer. Cottages are opened, tent trailers are pulled out and RV’s take to the highway. It’s really the first great escape of the year for many Canadians; The first chance to truly shed the shackles of hibernation and re-emerge into the outdoors.
A timely Knowledge Channel documentary on Alaskan Caribou was just the secret message I needed to make me wonder why I would want to shuffle into a narrow, over capacity campground, flock to the lake or basically follow the herd in general? Why not go against the grain and find some peace and quiet? Yes, I’m happy to let the hustle hang out with the bustle and head for higher ground while I play at the intersection of summer and winter. It’s not an over-the-head-deep-backcountry day by any means, but a soul skiing cruise under the late spring sun is about as inspiring a ski experience as can be had. Replace the dead of winter’s silence with spring’s symphony, maintain a good portion of the snow pack, and soften the surface to a satisfying, mushy but not sticky surface and you’ve got the recipe for some satisfying May two-four turns. The doubters may doubt along the 15 minute hop up the gradual climb along the highway for much of the trip. I have to admit the faded snow banks and dry grasses on the southern exposed lower slopes dented a shield of snowy optimism just slightly. First the snowbanks rise on the northern exposed highway side, then the banks sprout up on the south facing side and just before arrival at the summit a healthy 70cm road-side snowpack awaited. One of the additional hazards of late spring skiing (it’s also one of its finest attributes) lies in the increased life that comes out to join you on your trek. The first 50 meter walk from the highway through needle and moss freckled snow leads out into the clearing of the old gravel pit. An examination of the ground revealed no less than three varieties of large animal scat and an interesting dance-floor of tracks pressed into the slightly slushy surface. I’m no tracker, but I’m fairly confident in saying there have been bears, cougars, weasel-type creatures, rabbits and plenty of birds out enjoying the sun in that meadow not long before and perhaps during my cruise. When you’re sliding solo, the strikingly calm and serene cedar forest can play plenty of tricks on you. As the sun rounded the bend of the ridgeline and start firing its heat lasers through holes in the forest canopy, the trees let loose snow bombs. Each casualty of the solar war, in an otherwise silent forest, can sound remarkably like a cougar pouncing from its perch or other such undesirable outcomes. A quick stop and mandatory shoulder check to appease my now paranoid mind and the resulted silence to the zzzzzzzzzzzip of p-tex on a slushy surface sprinkled with cedar needles reveals that the “silence” is really not silent at all. At first, you revel in the quiet. But then, as the stress flows out of you, the symphony of spring starts to flood in. Before you know it, the silence is broken by the rhythm section that is a flooded stream carving its way through the snowpack. Holding the beat steady, the 200 foot tall swaying and creaking cedars keep time as nature’s metronome. Filing out the baseline, the snow-bombs thud on impact. Battling between chorus and verse, robins lend the melody while the mimicking raven freestyles his solos. Cheering in appreciation, the red squirrels laugh along in the gallery. As I zipped along in full harmony with this song, a problem presented itself with a crash of cymbals, bringing me to a halt. The flooded creek had hollowed out under snow banks in front of me. Zipping along in full tune with nature’s song, problem one presented itself with a crash of the cymbals. The flooded creek had hollowed out under the surrounding snow banks and a collapsed section of bank beneath me snapped me back into the real world. Hm. I was going to have to either suffer wet socks and boots or keep searching for a snow-bridge. With a 15 foot wide melt-flooded creek in front of me, hopes of higher altitude, open meadow turns in the sun began to fade. But then, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a pretty solid alternative to a sled and eight flying reindeer. Through the V for victory between diverging cedar twins a still-intact snow-bridge provided a quick route to higher ground and sunshine turns through the alternating clear-cut Christmas trees and mature cedar forest. I made a quick stop, mid-descent, at the Eagle’s Eye cabin. It’s sustained roof-destroying winter damage, but I pulled out a folding metal chair and took a break and enjoyed the namesake views of the cabin. Watching RV after tent-trailer hauling SUV return from holidays on this long week-end Monday a smile for snow in late May and the simple pleasures of full nature immersion slowly curled the corners of my mouth. Yes on this day a simple and surprisingly intact snow bridge provided the fast lane from everyday life to nature’s nurture. Soon I’ll have to detox from my winter addiction. Hopefully this one last hit of the white stuff will help me make the break as the woodland chorus sings me down through the forest on my descent to my car and a warm, sunny afternoon of backyard barbeques.