Monday, February 8, 2010


Monday, February 8, 2010
content added with my usual constant grammar edits 2/11/2010

The picture below is looking out the back door where I live.

Since my Taurus is not designed to travel on uncleared roads and some of the area's roads were impassable for even high clearance four wheel drive vehicles I did not go out to Old Rag this weekend.

I may not go to Old Rag next weekend either. I will want to go. It is hard to miss two weekends in a row and I know I am already going to miss yet another weekend late in February when I go to a PATC CPR and Wilderness First Aid training class.

My brother-in-law owns a very large snow blower, an Ariens 11528. It is very satisfying working with this machine as it chews through hundreds of pounds of waist high snow and throws it 20 feet to the side. He and I spent the weekend first clearing out the long pipe-stem we live on (over 100 yards long) and then helping around 10 other neighbors to clear their driveways.

Some Of My Snow and Cold Bono-Fides
I grew up at 2,2oo feet on the ridge line of a rolling hill located halfway between Cazenovia and Hamilton NY. My parents receive an average of 140 inches of snowfall per year. More importantly, the winds constantly blow across their road and cause it to endlessly drift in even when it has not recently snowed. As a kid I would help my Dad put up several hundred yards of snow fence every Fall and then roll them up and store them every Spring. These snow fences capture blown snow into drifts in the fields before it can reach the road. Even with the help of the snow fences the snow banks along the road near my parents house get higher and higher as the winter wears on. The higher the banks get the more they act as windbreaks that cause yet more snow to drop on their leeward sides.


There used to be a company, Walter Trucks which designed and made wonderful huge heavy duty trucks called Walter Snow Fighters. There was another company, Frink which designed and made great plows for the Walter Snow Fighters. Frink made both huge 8 foot V plows and wonderful long wing plows. The wing plows could be hydraulically moved in and out, up and down and could also have their angle relative to the ground adjusted. With the in and out motion the wing plow could be moved from being flat back along the side of the truck to being swung way out almost perpendicular to the side of the truck. For the up and down motion the whole wing plow assembly was mounted on a heavy duty steel frame which allowed the complete wing plow assembly to be raised or lowered from ground level to perhaps as high as 10 feet in the air. For the angle relative to the level ground there was a cable which could raise or lower just the far end of the wing plow. A wing plow could be left parrallel to the ground or have its far end raised to around a twenty degree angle relative to the ground. With the whole wing plow assemble raised high in the air the driver could use it to push back the tops of the tallest ten or twelve foot snowbanks. When a Walters had wing plows on both sides, each one was set independently. A common configuration was to see the wing plow on the road side strectched out to the middle of the road flat on the ground while the wing plow on the snowbank side was set up high so as to push back the tops of the banks. Late in the seconde video linked below you can see a glimpse of this configuration being used.

The following two links show videos of a vintage Walter Snow Fighters with large Frink V plows and Frink wing plows being used to plow snow in upstate NY.

The link above is vintage. The link below is modern and very closely resembles both the plows and roads of my youth. The sound of the Walter on the second video brings back many memories. The Walter Snow Fighter's engines had a unique hum that is accurately reproduced on this video. As a kid that sound acted as a herald calling for me to run and watch the Walter Snow Fighter do its work.

Despite what the first video says about skilled operators of the plows, many of my boyhood neighbors learned to loosely mount their mailboxes on 4X4 poles that were placed inside of a ballasted milk can. If the snow plow hit their mailbox it would not get broken just thrown up into the snowbank. All you needed to do was find the three pieces, reassemble them and place them back on the shoulder of the road. This system had the added advantage that you could reposition your mailbox such that the mail person could place mail in it from inside his vehicle without worrying about getting stuck regardless of where the cleared street ended.

The road in front of my parents home is notorious for developing very large snowbanks. There was one rare winter when the banks had already built up to about 12 feet when a large windy snow storm filled the canyon between the banks with new snow all the way to its top. Even with getting a running start of 30mph the big Walter Snow Fighter would only progress a few feet each time it slammed into the wall of snow. Rather than risk breaking the Walters, the town gave up with the Walters and brought in a large D8 or D10 Caterpillar Bulldozer to clear the road and push back the banks.


One of the more fun aspects of the way snowdrifts would blow across the roads near my parents had to do with the fact that miles of clear road are periodically interrupted by an occasional wind blown snowdrift that was three to five feet high and 10 to 50 feet wide. With experience you learned which drifts where small enough to build up speed and crash your car through to the open road on the other side. Once in a Blue Moon you would crash through to the other side of the snow bank only to have your engine stall. When this happened you needed to pop open the hood and remove the snow packed up around the carburetor intake. Anytime you were going to crash through one of these snowdrifts you had to make sure of two things. First you had to make sure that nothing was either coming the other way or was in the road because once you hit the snowdrift you were going to be driving completely blind from white out for what seemed like an eternity but was in truth only 1 to 5 seconds. Second you had to make sure you had enough speed and momentum to make it all the way to the other side of the snowdrift. If you were timid and did not get up enough speed you were going to be deeply buried in the middle of the drift and might not even be able to get your doors opened but rather would need to crawl out a window.

Cold Weather Hiking and Camping

My coldest backpacking trip spanned four days and three nights. We were snowshoeing in the Adirondack High Peaks at the time. The highs never got above zero degrees and the lows reached around minus 30 degrees. One of the Adirondack Shelters we used was completely buried below the snow. In order to get in it we had to tunnel down a couple feet and slip under the edge of the roof and into the shelter.

During one January trip to the White Mountains I was able to snowshoe to the summit of Mount Washington twice in the same day. The first time up was with the rest of my group of three. It was very hard work because we had to break trail using snowshoes in very deep powder. We made it to the summit and back down to our campsite just before dark. After finishing dinner that night the skies were crystal clear, calm and there was a big moon in the sky so I decided to take a short hike up to a view point above our campsite. With it being so easy to snowshoe on the previously packed trail and the weather being so perfect, I could not resist zooming past my original planned destination and ended up going all the way to the summit a second time. On my back way down the weather started to change very rapidly. I found myself running and sliding as fast as I could go on my Westover Snowshoes so as to make it below timberline before the rapidly worsening conditions turned into a whiteout. I was not terribly familiar with the mountain and I also was not on a part of the mountain that provided any features you could follow in a whiteout like a ridgeline or gully to follow. Above timerline the snow and wind can very quickly blow in even deep tracks while below timberline it takes a lot longer. I made it back okay but the fearful experience of thinking about getting lost in a whiteout taught me a lesson about how rapidly conditions can change on Mt Washington.

Westover Snowshoes

These were made by the legendary (in very limited circles) Floyd Westover of Gloversville NY. Based on the 1962 article linked to below he was the first to use neoprene instead of rawhide on the snowshoes that he made. More importantly, Floyd Westover was one of those craftsmen who extensively used the products he made and he was constantly experimenting with the improvement of every aspect of their performance. I remember that he welcomed customers writing to him if they wanted customizations or ineeded repairs on snowshoes that he made.,231470

The following post has pictures of Modified Westover Snowshoes and explains why they did not catch on with illegal hunters.

Outdoor Hockey

I played on a very competitive travel hockey team (60 games a year) for the town of Cazenovia which maintained an outdoor rink complete with boards, nets and lights. There was no charge for using this rink and it was available for young hockey players to spend as much time between 9AM and 9PM as they wanted. There were seldom any organized practices claiming the ice so it was usually free to practice individual skills or play a game of pickup. Starting at age seven I spent many hours exposed to the cold while playing pick up hockey or practicing my individual skills on that rink.

Despite high chain link backstops behind the nets many a puck would leave the confines of the rink. You learned to try and watch where the puck plunged into the snow and sometimes you could find and retrieve the errant puck but just as often you could not. Once the snow melted in the spring it was fun to go and collect pucks. One time I collected over thirty. These were just added to my collection to be used during the next winter. The good thing about pucks is that being just chunks of solid dense rubber they are still as good as new to use even after being out in the weather for a couple of years.

While the pictures of the outdoor hockey rink deep into the post linked below are not the Burton Street Rink of my youth, they very closely resemble it.



Assume you are going to make a lot of mistakes as you learn about living outdoors in very cold weather. I have had frost byte at least 20 times and I have had frost nip hundreds of times. The excruciating burning throbbing pain you will feel as your body parts warm back up is no fun.

Even with all the mistakes and lessons learned in my past, I still make mistakes. You are most likely going to make lots of mistakes and learn lots of lessons the hard way as well.


As you learn plan to take baby steps with layers of safety so your mistakes only result in discomfort!

If you plan properly, truly life threatening situations should only arise when and if your multiple layers of safety get crashed through by a cascade of unlucky events. When dealing with the unforgiving nature of deep cold, consider backing out whenever any of your safety layers are compromised, even when you are still basically in good shape. If you decide to power through despite loosing some of your safety margin than do it with the understanding that cascades of unlucky events can happen. If you are caught in a cascade of unlucky events, Mother Nature has a lot of maternal duties and can at best prioritize your survival wishes in the que with the survival wishes of the billions of snowflakes all around you.

In my opinion, the most important rule dealing with the cold is to plan with the expectation that you are going to learn a lot of lessons by making mistakes. The lessons you are going to learn will cover a lot of bases; technique, behaviour, attitude, knowledge and equipment.

New lessons will need to be learned for every drop of twenty degrees of the thermometer. Behavior and equipment that worked at zero degrees may fail at minus twenty degrees. What worked at minus twenty degrees may fail at minus forty degrees.

Daytrips are good training but be prepared to learn a whole new set of lessons when you first start staying out for nights and mulitple days. It is best to plan your the first cold weather overnights such that you can easily bail out to the front country if you need to. For example, you could plan on a trip where your campsite is a relatively a short distance from your car and where you are then going to do multiple day hikes from your centrally located campsite hub. After you gain experience and become comfortable with living outside in the deep cold for extended periods of time, you can take trips where your campsites are more than a half day's travel from a frontcountry bailout.

Once wet, equipment is not going to insulate well. You will learn to manage you perspiration and you may want to carry a small wiskbroom for brushing snow off cloths in order to help keep them dry.

If you are camping and your boots are made of something that absorbs water make sure to keep them near your body in a water proof bag so they will not freeze solid at night. When I was really young I once woke to thoroughly rock solid frozen boots. It took me a very long time to use my bare stomach and a campstove to get them unfrozen and pliable enough to get on my feet.

You will learn why pull tabs on zippers are not just decorations and why you wished you paid more attention to learning which knots would not lock up after being loaded or which knots could be easily tied with your mittens on. There are wonderful Clamcleat guy line cleats that work allow you to adjust tent and tarp guylines without taking your big puffy mittens off.

Lithium batteries will work at colder temperatures than other types of batteries but in the deep cold it is best to plan on keeping any of your batteries warm with your body heat. If you google you can find lots of cold weather suggestions and or interesting light modifications. For example, dog sledders often fashion slap switches for turning their lights on and off.

In the really cold weather, boots made of materials that can not soak up water versus the typical materials used for hiking footwear will make more and more sense. The old army surplus bunny or mouse boots are a great example of equipment that seems ridiculous to use ten degrees above zero or when you know you are only out for a daytrip but become sensible when you are going to live outside in sub-zero weather for more than a day at a time.

Continuously using your warm torso to dry any dampened clothing becomes a clammy but useful trick.

You will learn that mittens work long after the best gloves fail and that layering with thin silk-like liner gloves or fingerless gloves can help for those times when you absolutely need to use your fingers.

Try repairing metal equipment in 10 below weather and you will learn a lot of lessons about how well your fingers work with metal tools and parts in the cold.

You will learn how to pace the use of your exertion-furnace. You will want to stay warm from exertion but not so warm that your cloths become soaked with sweat.

You will need to experiment with your sleeping equipment so as not to have an icy layer of frozen moisture build up on the outer layer of your sleeping system. At times waterproof inner liners may make sense. You will learn why some tents have frost liners.

In really cold situations wearing vapor barrier clothing may make sense.

It helps to plan on eating lots of individually wrapped mini meals/or snacks that you can stash in outer easily reached pockets so that you never need to take a long break to eat but rather can eat during frequent short five minute breaks.

I learned the hard way to change my thoughts about facemasks being ugly and unceccesary one day when it was ten below zero and the only way to the summit was to walk directly into a high wind laced with lots icy snow particles. Glacier creme and eyeprotection from reflected sun can become important for those bright sunny days.

If it gets cold enough and you have been out for enough days that your body has revved up its metabolism then you may learn that your tastes change. I was surprised to find that chewing on a raw stick of butter which I would normally find repulsive became extremely appetizing after being out in deep cold for a couple of days.

I learned to plan my day's activities so I could go from hiking on the trail to quickly being in my sleeping bag at the ends and beginnings of the day. When possible, meals and the next day's preparations were best done from within the sleeping bag. In the morning when my metabolism had slowed from its evening's rest, I would try to arrange everything so that I could go from being in my sleeping bag to being hiking on the trail in under ten minutes.

The good news is that there is snow everywhere which can be melted for water and the bad news is that it can be a challenge to keep it unfrozen in its drinkable liquid form.


Those are enough hints to get you started. You will need to learn most your own lessons the hard way. I know I still am.

Please give yourself enough of a safety margin that you come away from your hard lessons unbroken.

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