My Year in Books: the 2018 Edition
Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

An Ode to Winter Hiking

One early morning late this fall, a Saturday, Kendell, Jake, and I decided to take a hike. It was a grey day, threatening to drizzle, and a little bit cold. And we almost never hike on Saturday (as there are just too many people and dogs on the trails on Saturdays). But we went.

Snow hiking 01

The valley was dry, and no snow had fallen there yet. We didn’t know it had fallen overnight in the mountains. But as we hiked up the canyon, we started seeing it: a little skiff of snow, just on the edges of the trail. Then more on the cold side of boulders and, as we got higher, more snow. Beginning to fill in the meadows, to weigh down the trees, to cover the trail. Not yet deep, no more than five or six inches at the highest elevation. But snow.

I’ve snowshoed before. I’ve attempted downhill skiing (not my finest experiences). I’ve hiked muddy trails, wet trails, trails in a downpour. Even, a few times, trails that were almost streams as the spring melt used the hiking path as a way down the mountain.

But I’d never hiked it snow before.

And I fell in love with it. The way the snow silences the voices of the stones on the trail, so your feet are hushed. The way the familiar trail is transformed, made into a place at once familiar and unknown. My breath in the cold air.

Since that first accidental snow hike, Kendell and I (and sometimes Jake, too) have taken up snow hiking. We’ve gotten equipment, spikes and gaiters and better gloves. Kendell actually bought a pair of exercise tights. And another pair. And some warm long sleeves. At least once a week, through the end of fall and right into winter, we’ve hiked. Depending on the weather, sometimes there has been snow, and sometimes just mud and damp.


But winter hiking has become something we both love. My only regret is that I didn’t discover it sooner. All of those winters I stayed home in the warm house while the snow was making the world into a new place!

Last weekend, we hiked in the afternoon on snow that had fallen that morning. The freshest snow you can find. Pure, fluffy powder, marked only by a few sled trails and boot prints. There wasn’t any color there, as even the pine trees were covered in white, and the sky was still grey; even the water in the creek gathered into silent black pools. Everything was quiet, even my feet in the deep snow. It was like moving through a black-and-white movie, and it was deeply peaceful, almost holy.

This weekend, when we hiked the same trail, some of the trees had shed their snow, so there was some color again, pine green, and a few nightshade berries here and there, and that sky! A bright blue sky, and when we got out of the shade of the deepest canyon, the sunlight made diamonds on the snow. It was icier, less powder, and crystals lay on the top of the open, unbroken snow expanses. The snow under my boots squeaked, and my hiking poles in the piles made a sound like a hawk’s cry.

I thought, as I hiked, of the other snowy trails we’ve done so far this winter, and I realized: every single one has felt different. Even when we were on the same trail. The color of the light, the texture of the snow, the temperature, the wind. The shapes the snow made, the sounds our feet made.

At my favorite part of this trail, which comes when there is only about a half mile left, you hike up along a ridge that first gives you a view down the whole canyon you’ve hiked so far, with an inverted triangle of cliffs framing a part of the valley below. Then, a bit further on, you come to an overlook, which gives a view of the next valley, which has no trail in it. Across it there is a ravine where water sometimes flows. Not quite steep enough to be called a waterfall, but usually loud enough that the sound of water fills your ears as your breath slows.

Snow hiking 02

I’ve stood at that overlook perhaps twenty times in my life (as this is a trail we’ve hiked often). It is one of my favorite places in the world. This time was my first time of seeing the peak across the valley entirely covered in heavy snow, while the creek still ran down the ravine with its happy voice. I thought about my mom—back in the hospital this weekend—and how she’s never seen this place, and never will. About a friend whose handicapped son couldn’t reach that peak on his own. About the friends I have who aren’t hikers and don’t understand why I love it. About my own knees, which someday might keep me from tramping in the woods. About global climate change and my descendants in the future: will they even have snow? Or mountains filled with pine trees and naked oak and aspens still deeply sleeping in coldness?

Every moment of life is a gift.

But the moments of standing on mountains, looking at beautiful landscapes I have brought myself to with sweat and aching quads and quivering glutes: these moments are some of my favorites. I love them in autumn and summer and spring, and I am feeling blessed to have discovered they are also here for me in winter.



Beautiful photos!! I am discovering winter hiking this year as well, and it has been a pleasure! I'm excited to have come across your website. I will definitely be checking back to get more ideas of places to go in the Utah County area (where I live) :D

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