Snowshoeing through woods on a snowy morning

Snowshoeing through woods on a snowy morning

I couldn’t help but think of Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as I trekked along the Turnagain Arm Trail in showshoes this morning.  Not that I had a horse, or there were any farmhouses, or that it was getting dark.  I just had not though of that poem in a while, and somehow it made its way from the deep recesses of my subconscious to the world where my daily thoughts blend. Perhaps it was the darkness and the depth of these woods, mostly cottonwoods, on the steep slopes of the Chugach Mountains above the Turnagain Arm.  But the woods were certainly lovely.

I started at the Potter Creek trailhead over an hour before sunrise.  I knew I was not going to be able to photograph sunrise, as the clouds to the south and east were pretty thick.  But, I had my snowshoes, my camera gear in my LowePro Orion II bag, some water and a thermos of hot chocolate.  What better thing to do on a Saturday morning then trek out into the woods, in the not cold but not too warm air, and see what nature would present to me?

It took me a few hundred yards to get away from the up-close sounds of traffic on the Seward Highway, heading south out of Anchorage.  Soon, though, the only sounds around were of the crunching of the cleats on my snowshoes, digging into the hard packed snow and ice just beneath our fresh snows of Wednesday and Thursday.  As I heard the metal scraping and finding keep on the hard ice, I was glad to not just be wearing my Sorels.  The hiking poles helped also to add some additional stability with the slick surface.

Shortly after a mile along the trail, I happened upon a cow moose bedded down in the woods below me.  She was acutely aware of me, but not concerned enough to get up or otherwise interrupt her chewing.  I did not really see what she was eating, but I could see her mouth moving back and forth, gnashing her teeth against something.  Not that I really need any more photos of cow moose at this point in my career, but I liked the peaceful look of her sitting there on the ground, careless about my presence.  Good for her this is winter, as this particular stretch of the trail is known to have bear problems, including a fatal mauling of two hikers by a bear that was believed to be protecting a moose kill.

As I am packing up my gear, I notice the moose stand up.  I look up and see the source of her disturbance – an older couple coming down the trail, each with a dog.  It has been my experience that moose generally don’t care much for dogs.  I continue on down the trail toward McHugh Creek, the next intersection along the trail, and am nearly to the two-mile mark on the trail when I see something unexpected: a large spruce decorated as if it were a Christmas tree.  A couple of runners pass me by, and tell me that someone has been anonymously decorating this tree for the last few years, even leaving some of the decorations up in the summer.  Has it been that long since I have been down this trail?

I start to notice that, even though the sun has not broken through the clouds, it has risen and is starting to light up and add some color to the higher altitude clouds.  After a while, I decide to head back.  On my way back to my car, I keep looking for enough of a break through the trees to photograph Gull Rock, on the other side of the Turnagain Arm from my position.  The skies in that area definitely were starting to light up with some color.  I finally find an opening and stamp my way through the bushes with my snowshoes to get to a spot where I can set up my tripod.

I keep heading back up the trail toward the trailhead and my car, running into various small groups, mostly with dogs, along the way.  I learn from one group that the bench where I plan to take a hot chocolate break before the final descent to the trailhead was built as part of an Eagle Scout project.  I find the bench and take the time to capture some sweeping landscapes of the outgoing tide, the coast, the Kenai Mountains, and the gnarly trees on the little knob where the bench rests.  Then, I take a break for some Godiva hot chocolate.  Satisfied, I return to the trail and my car, glad to have taken the time even on this cloudy morning to rediscover a part of my extensive backyard.

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