Pratfalls were the stuff of vaudeville routines like the famous (or infamous) Three Stooges skits, and they can still evoke a laugh. But while a fall might be funny on stage, it’s no joke on the trail — especially if you’re carrying a heavy pack or a canoe when your feet go out from under you. At best, you’ll have a painful bruise. And at worst? How does compound fracture sound? Or concussion? Both are possibilities.
So it pays to keep your feet on the ground. That’s easily said. But not so easily done. Especially in winter, when trails often become icy ribbons. Of course, you probably won’t be portaging a canoe under these conditions, but you might well be returning from a winter hike or snowshoe outing. (It often happens that parking lots and connector trails are snowless and ice‑covered, even when there are deep drifts in the woods.)
What’s the remedy? In a word: crampons. But the classic climbers’ crampon, a steel frame bearing 10 or more sharp steel teeth, is a little out of place on rolling hills and lowland trails. These are the proper province of the crampons’ less aggressive cousin, the “traction device.” And as I explained in an earlier article, I’ve taken to using Yaktrax — Yaktrax Walkers initially, and later, when the Walkers let me down, Yaktrax Pros — for much of my winter rambling. Unfortunately, they’re not always up to the jobs I ask them to do, and as a result, I’ve been casting about for something better.
I figured that one or more readers might be able to help me, and I was right. My virtual mailbag soon filled with letters on the subject, and I realized I ought to pass along a representative sample. I can’t be the only paddler-turned-winter-hillwalker who’s looking for a better way to get a grip, after all. And so, with my readers’ kind consent, I’m going to give them the floor, beginning with one reader’s ringing endorsement of Kahtoola MICROspikes… Read more…
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Now is the winter of our… What, exactly? Not discontent, surely. At least not unalloyed discontent. True, many northern streams and ponds are already sheathed in ice. So unless you live on the southern marches of Canoe Country, paddling is something that only the hardy (or the foolhardy) can enjoy. But winter has pleasures all its own. At what other season can we ordinary mortals walk on water, after all?
And yes, I know that the calendar on the wall tells us winter is still two weeks away. But a glance out any window will likely confirm that the wall calendar lies. The 22nd of December is midwinter’s day. It’s also the day when Sol begins his stately, measured return from his Farthest South. The upshot? Winter will be with us for many weeks to come, and we’d be foolish not to make the best of it. Of course, this means getting outside whenever we can. Therein lies the rub — or maybe the smash. Because the winter landscape, beautiful though it often is, is also a slippery place.
Snow is usually no problem. As least it’s no problem for webfooted wanderers. We welcome the drifts that afford us safe passage through the same thickets and marshes that defeated our best efforts in more temperate seasons. (Skiers once traversed these same royal roads — skiers of the cross‑country persuasion, at any rate. But nowadays most skiers seem content to follow in the wake of soot‑belching groomers. So much for “cross‑country,” eh?)
But ice… What about ice? Well, ice is something else again … Read more…
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Size isn’t everything. Sometimes small is beautiful. And small things often play big parts in our lives. My recent column about the legendary “John Wayne” — a very big name that’s attached itself to the minuscule military‑issue P‑38 can opener — pretty much confirms this. The John Wayne has played a large role in lot of readers’ lives, too, and for many it still does. Quite a few of you wrote to me on the subject, in fact. And since you were good enough to give me permission to reprint your letters, I thought it only right and proper to do so — to give Big John a proper send‑off, so to speak.
So here goes, starting with Gary Bayless’ story of the day John Wayne came to his rescue …Read more…