Granted, for the unhealthy and the homeless -- and for those caught in the wrong storms at the wrong time -- extreme weather can be extremely disastrous. But for most people, winds are not wicked and sun is not sinister.
To hear some people talk about it, though, weather is out to get us.
…AccuWeather's top long-range forecaster says that while the East Coast of the United States may not see as many monster snowstorms as last year, much of the nation will be in a "Wintry Battle Zone" during the [coming] season.
We barely have time to dry off from the assaulting rains of spring and the insurgent swelter of summer before we begin to fortify ourselves for another coming cold war -- with its insidious sleet, lethal icicles and villainous black ice.
…Everyone talks about the weather, Mark Twain said, and nobody does anything about it.
[But]…Bad weather can be good: Treacherous winds drive windmills. There are upsides to downpours: Torrential rains fill rivers and water tables. Heat can be cool: Intense sun splashes on solar panels.
John Balzar, for one, sees the elegance in extreme elements. He muses about the ways many of us respond to heat and cold.
A former wilderness guide and newspaper reporter, Balzar has thought a lot about weather -- the good, the bad and the ugly. And, when it comes to dwelling in the elements, he is a weathered veteran. He is the author of Yukon Alone: The World's Toughest Adventure Race, a firsthand account of a thousand-mile dogsled competition in subfreezing temperatures across the Yukon and Alaska wilderness.
"The enemy for many people," says Balzar, now a spokesman for the Humane Society in Washington, "is not just weather but all of nature. Ticks cause disease; cancer comes from sunlight -- don't risk it! Don't go outside. Deer attack our precious gardens. Weeds grow in our lawns -- get the Roundup!"
He says, "I live in Maryland these days, and right now, stink bugs are said to be 'invading.' "
All of this hysteria over storm alerts and weather warnings, Balzar says, stems from "an impoverished sense of wonder about nature ... and an exaggerated sense of self-pity."
When we speak of weather "events," Balzar says, "the jargon of sports, war, economics have all blended into one, and weather has been dragged into the fray. Last winter along the Eastern Seaboard, we had a heavy snowstorm. I don't know if anyone actually died, but many a thesaurus was given a workout before the weather reporters settled on, 'Snowmageddon.' "
-- Linton Weeks, from “Everybody Talks Smack About The Weather; Why?” (NPR, 10/7/10)
* * * * *
Trails conditions can occasionally be slippery -- during or after rain, after autumn leaves fall, after it snows, and whenever temps are below freezing and ice forms.
During most winters there are times when the ground is bare and free of snow and ice, and other times when we’re hiking in snow and there may be patches of ice.
If there’s major ice on the trails, especially after freezing rain or an “ice storm” (rare around here), it may be wise to stay home, and our hikes may be cancelled.
But we can usually hike most weekends without a problem. If lots of snow materializes, hikes are usually changed to snowshoeing or cross-country ski trips.
Sometimes snow on the trails can be slippery, and other times there’s a crunchy crust that offers great traction. Ice, of course, can potentially be hazardous. It’s common to encounter small patches of ice that are easy to get around.
Some winters during the past couple of decades we’ve had recurring warm spells, when the ground is bare and conditions for hiking are like they are in spring or fall.
Fortunately we now have additional equipment options to deal with slippery conditions, when they do occur -- namely some relatively new “traction devices.”
Several companies are making these devices, which currently sell for $20-70, with names like Microspikes, Stabilicers, and Yaktrax. The ones with small “teeth” work best (they’re much smaller than the long spikes of old-style “crampons”).
Lately they’ve become popular among many hikers. A number of our “regulars” (and I) bought and tried them out for the first time several years ago.
Based on our experiences, they do indeed provide superb traction. They’re available at REI, EMS, and other stores that sell hiking gear. Most of us gave the highest ratings to Microspikes and the lowest to Yaktrax, which sometimes broke.
These traction devices are reasonably lightweight (well under a pound), can be carried in one’s pack on any hike, and can be put on or taken off in less than a minute – they stretch across the bottom of your hiking boots.
Lately I’ve come to believe that traction devices should be considered essential gear for winter hikes, since they make hiking in snow or on ice so much safer.
If you expect to hike with us from December through March – and don’t already own them – I’d suggest purchasing a pair this month. When in doubt, carry them in your pack when it’s been cold and there could be ice or snow in the mountains.
Sometimes during a winter hike on bare ground we suddenly encounter “serious” ice or snow, especially at higher elevations, at which time we “put on our spikes.”
Be sure to avoid the inexpensive ones that either have tiny spikes or coils on the bottom. The best products have 1/4 inch spikes that grip ice or snow beautifully.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to slip in snow or on ice while wearing them, and your footing will feel a lot safer and more secure whenever conditions are slippery.
You’ll also find them useful in getting around safely in your neighborhood after a snowstorm or ice storm, or anytime there’s much ice or snow on the sidewalk. They work best when attached to hiking boots with stiff soles, not street shoes.
-- Charlie Cook