Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Extending Winter Trails into May

Blog post by Eric

I am a trails geek. 

I like doing pretty much anything human-powered on trails. So, I don’t like this time of year. The trails are in transition. The snow is slowly melting. As it does, the snow trails deteriorate, usually revealing muddy trails. I don’t want to make lots of tracks in that mud. It can harden as the trails dry out, creating ruts and rough surfaces that are unpleasant to use and keep water from draining off the trail. 

I used to just shrug and resign myself to biking and running the roads for a while. But the past couple of years I have been experimenting. I’ve used some fish-scale skis Corrine bought a few years back. She didn't like them and quit using them. We were going to get rid of them, but I began to wonder how they would be for late-season skiing. 

The ridge trail behind our neighborhood is shaded and mostly north-facing. It holds snow for a long time. I’ve avoided using it this time of year because it’s too icy, or too punchy, or has sections of dirt between the snow sections. But then I remembered the fish-scale skis and gave them a try. I discovered that if I time my outing right, the trail is skiable. The proper timing varies depending on what the temperature has been doing. (The ground is still mostly frozen this time of year, so that helps keep the snow frozen.) The conditions aren’t great, and the skis are slow, but it's better than being on the road.  

This past Saturday afternoon, I hiked up to the powerline behind our house and put on the skis. The powerline trail falls apart in a hurry. It gets a lot of sun and isn’t as packed, because it’s a side trail that doesn’t get a lot of traffic. Once I got into the shaded forest, things got better. However, some of those trees prevent snow from reaching the ground through the winter. Those places melt out to dirt pretty quickly. That’s why it’s good to have skis you don’t really care about. Instead of taking my skis off and on, I can just walk on my skis over those parts. 

At the old burn on the O'Connor Creek East Ridge Trail, following someone else's ski tracks. 

On Saturday, I skied five miles out our ridge trail. I made it to the powerline trail that parallels Old Murphy Dome Road. I could have skied even farther. For most of our ridge trail I followed someone else’s ski tracks, so clearly I’m not the only one with this idea. The snow conditions varied, sticky in places with a lot of sun exposure, but mostly it was halfway decent. Some places were really nice. The snow trail felt solid the whole way. It had been melting but not falling apart. 

This section on the OMDR powerline trail was really nice for skiing.

That got me to thinking about my fatbike. I figured if I went out early, I could catch the trail while it was still hard. I was right! I headed out right after breakfast and had a great ride. 

OK, great is a bit of a stretch. The trail sections near subdivisions were pretty bumpy from the frozen tracks of all the people who walk later in the day when the snow is soft. And there were a couple of challenging sections, but overall it was a good ride. 

On my Sunday bike ride, where I had turned around on skis the day before.

I rode the whole ridge trail to the OMDR powerline trail and then kept going. Not too long after where I had turned around on my skis, the trail was melted down to dirt for a long section. But it wasn’t muddy, so I kept going. 

This would not have been good on skis! Still, I might have been able to ski to the right. Hmmm.

I rode all the way to the pipeline, which still had quite a bit of snow. Several people had taken ATVs on it when the snow was soft. Lots of ruts. But I found I could ride the snow off to the side without punching through. The riding was a bit tricky, but doable. 

The pipeline had a surprising amount of snow. 

I made it to the Waterford Trail and found that was covered with solid snow, too. Down low, near the trailhead, some places had melted out, but the ground was mostly still frozen. I was able to avoid the few muddy parts. 

High up on the Waterford Trail, near the pipeline. 

Even low down near the trailhead, the Waterford Trail was mostly snow. 

From there it was just a matter of riding the roads back to our house. I’m not crazy about road riding, but it’s worth it to connect a loop that’s mostly trails. Almost 17 miles and a bit over three hours. I was contented! 

Part of me keeps saying it’s time to put the skis and fatbike in storage, but another part tells me to see how long I can keep this up. It’s kind of fun to head out and see how things have changed. Heck, maybe next time I’ll pull out my snowshoes and see how far I can tromp. 

Ski outing

Bike outing

Oh, and you don't get to see things like this when you're out on the roads. 

This grouse swooped low but didn't land until much later. 

I haven't figured out what made these tracks. (The animals tracks, that is.)