K2, a Hungarian Kuvasz, and I were watching Credit River freezing rock solid right in front of our eyes during an early morning hike in February. The temperatures had plummeted to -25 C (-13 F).
As we moved further, the river was clogged with ice jams. Maintaining a safe distance, we carefully followed the ice slabs laden frozen river by hiking over slippery ice, all the while maintaining a safe distance. A few km upstream we saw a stranded mallard standing on the frozen river wary of our approaching it from nowhere.wings.
This was the early part of our hike northward on the Culham trail, as it passed through a conservation area, to Churchville, a small village in the neighbouring city of Brampton.
Why hike in winters at all?
Well for one, you can’t pack up your travel bag and head off like a snowbird to a warm destination for 3 months. You would be better off making friends with winters rather than treat it as an adversity. This is what I have attempted to do and K2 has been my willing partner. Winters offer us opportunities to explore nature in ways that normal people don’t.
I was covered head to toe with cap, buff, winter jacket, winter mittens with hand warmers inside that I was wearing over glove liners to ease photography, snow pant, winter hiking socks made of wool, and winter boots. I had my hiking camera backpack with photography gear, tea, medical first aid pouch, and other winter hiking accessories that could come in handy.
It may be noted that several items I use during my hiking adventures in four seasons come from the Gear Boxes of Explore Magazine’s Live the Adventure Club, of which I am a member.
K2 had his dog backpack on with his lunch, water, treats, poop bags, medical pouch, mushers vax and other accessories. I had rubbed as many as thick layers of mushers vax on his paws.
Did I tell you that we were hiking on ice?
Hiking on slippery ice turned out to be a risky affair, something that I would like to avoid, but it is not always possible to do so. I soon found out that ice and a lead dog are not a good combination.
By mistake, I let K2 lead the way down a steep slope and soon regretted the decision. K2 pulled a bit more than he himself wanted and I slipped over the double-edged instability elements of nature – rocks and ice covering them – slapping me with a bruised skin on several parts of my body.
Out came the ice cleats.
We observed several trees that had yielded to the accumulated ice over their branches. I felt sorry for the old trees, but there was no time for mourning the loss.
K2 found scratching the surface of frozen streams a good exercise, but I noticed that when he walked he had his paws wide open to get a firm grip on the ice.
After hiking the Highway 407 underpass, along the Credit River, we entered a forest cover in the municipality of Brampton. The leafless trees provided a little break from accumulated ice.
A herd of deer started walking along keeping a watchful eye over the two of us from a safe distance of about 20 meters (65 feet). This could be a herd of deer habituated to human presence and looking for food handout in the adverse weather conditions, but presence of a large sized dog making them keep a safe distance. Or, the deer could be just keeping the odd duo within their full view for any signs of aggression to bolt in time.
We reached Churchville by noon. We had our lunch and I had my tea afterward, still hot out of the thermos. I took time to do some photography and then started the return journey.
Snow – when hikejoring came in handy
As we trudged ahead, snowflakes began to fall and deposit on my sleeves and gloves. So much for the myth that snow does not fall at below -15C temperatures. Surprisingly, I felt a soothing effect. K2 seemed to enjoy flakes as well, trying to catch them mid-air. But soon the snow started falling so heavily that it turned ankle and then knee deep. With snow covering my face and limiting my vision, I gasped for air as I pushed ahead in near zero visibility. At least it was not very windy.
Readers may be aware of skijoring where one or more dogs are harnessed to pull a person on skis. K2’s love for pulling on command on that particular day came as a welcome help. He pulled me for a long stretch, giving me a breather for making path in the deep snow.
But then snow became so deep that K2 could not break the path. I took the lead with K2 in the tow.
That treacherous wind
As if the snow was not enough, the wind started picking up too. And soon it was windy, but not a breeze like windy, not even a gale like windy, but a hurricane like windy. I felt like my face was constantly being stung by zillions of bees. I covered my face with buff thermonet. But the cunning wind still found ways to reach parts of my skin. Accepting defeat at the hands of the blowing wind, I decided to walk backward. Getting frustrated at my slow pace, K2 decided to lead the way, craftily hopping forward breaking the snow and creating a path about 3 meters ahead (about 10 feet), waiting for me to follow and then hop, hop, hop.
Did I mention that we were hiking on ice?
Knee deep snow gave rise to two problems – the snow itself and the icy bottom. Now it was a double-ordeal. Both K2 and I slipped several times, but somehow managed to maintain our respective balances.
We walked at a snail pace for over 10 km (about 6 miles) in those adverse conditions. It was about 5:00 pm and we were hiking in total darkness.
Finally, when I began seeing the first lights of the city of Mississauga, I felt relieved.
Despite our ordeal of that almost day-long hike, I hoped that winters would remain what they used to be; giving us snow, snow storms, arctic winds, freezing temperatures and ice; often.