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Friday, April 3, 2015

The Windiest Snowshoe Hike

I think it's funny that the French word for snowshoe is "raquette."  Yes, the French word for snowshoe evokes images of people walking around with tennis rackets strapped to their feet.  This makes perfect sense, since snowshoes looked a lot like tennis rackets in the old days.
The new snowshoes are completely different.  In case you haven't seen modern snowshoes, you can see a demo here.

And now, on to The Windiest Snowshoe Hike.  As soon as I woke up and looked out the window, I knew it was going be an extremely windy day.  In the photo below, the white in the sky is not clouds; it's spindrift being blasted off the mountaintop by wind blowing left to right.

Most ski lifts in the  area were closed due to high winds.  To buffer the wind, our guide took us through forest on the way up.

The plan was working, we were on the lee side of the mountain, in the forest, and there was no wind.  But, looking across the valley, we could see the wind was still crazy at the top.

Once we emerged into the open near the summit, the snow became an icy crust.  Any loose snow had long since been blown away.  We could hear the wind coming.  It looked like this as it approached.

It would blow across the open mountainside, picking up snow in its path, then wash over us for thirty seconds or so, and vanish without a trace.  So, we alternated between moments of complete calm and brutal winds.  Sorry the series below is so jerky, I was in the same wind, hunched down like everyone else, so I wasn't even looking through the viewfinder!

Nearing the summit.

We made it.

View from the top.

After a very brief look around, the group starts heading back down as another round of wind roars through.  As usual, I'm lagging behind taking more photos.

Every time a blast of wind came through, we'd have to get low to avoid being knocked down.  This one was particularly strong.  In the photo below, Jennifer's holding on for dear life.  The photo makes it look like she's right next to the edge. It is a long way down, but we're safely back from the edge.

Based on the duration of the exposure (1/640 s), and the distance traveled by the ice crystals during that time (2"), the wind speed was about 73 miles per hour.  During the blast of wind in the photo above, I felt safe enough to kneel and continue taking photos.  But, a few seconds later, an even stronger blast rushed in.  This one was so strong I had to lie flat on the ice with my arm over Jennifer, gripping her backpack strap as tightly as I could.  Even lying flat on the ice, it felt like someone was shoving us toward the dropoff with their foot on my backpack.  I actually feared we might start slipping.

As soon as it let up, we jumped up and descended, until we reached a nice stand of fir trees, which provided great shelter.  A nice spot to sit and have lunch.  When I looked down at my camera, it was encrusted with packed white snow crystals in every crevice.

A couple of shots taken on the way down. Goodbye peaks, see you tomorrow.

This article part 4 of a series.  Other articles in the series: Part 1Part 2,  Part 3.

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