In order to let in the living world, I must be completely vulnerable and learn to be truly defenseless, in a state of utter precariousness, like all of my cells are from moment to moment. I must exist in absolute uncertainty in order to completely perceive reality.  (Andreas Weber, Matter and Desire

Where are they? They were just here and now gone. I mean they were just in my hands and now nowhere to be found. Mom says that it happens to her all the time but that I’m too young for this. 

I’m getting ready for my first try at winter hiking this afternoon in late December and I have Dad’s backpack stuffed for survival with my first aid kit, a pair of socks and emergency blanket. A bag of bars and matches and… But without my Kahoots micro-spikes I’m going nowhere today.  

Dad has an old pair of crampons. Old but workable. They’ll do. I’m out the door and up the road. The most snow I’ve seen around here is at my parent’s retirement community 80 miles to the south. As I drive north I look up at the blue mountains beneath the gray sky. A few lines of white on a few of the higher peaks, some long icicles dripping along the cliffs at the edge of the highway, but otherwise the mountains look barren and brown. More like November than late December northern woods. 

Dad says they usually have their first snowstorm between Christmas and New Years. This year, nothing but 40 degrees and rain. Its been that kind of a late fall now turned to winter. A few inches of snow last week were drained away a week ago in inches of rain. I heard remarks in last summer’s heat that we should enjoy the coolest summer we’ll ever see. Maybe this is the coldest December we’ll see.  

I turn around on 93 at the exit for the Cannon Tramway. The steep lower slopes of Cannon have long patches of manmade snow that is rapidly being encroached on by green grass. I turn off the exit for Lafayette Campground and into the ice rutted road to the trailhead to Lonesome Lake.  

I’m amazed again that I have the privilege of living here, this trail up to the hut is only 20 minutes from my apartment. My nephew and I hiked up here at the end of his workday a few months ago. My neighbor runs it most every night.  

Like the parking lot, the trail is ice. Dad’s crampons however work great. I can walk straight up the trail much more confidently than I do stepping carefully over rocks and roots like the last time I was here.  

Ahead of me a group of five tall young men from Massachusetts. Its disconcerting to see them at a standstill, walking with small slow careful steps and outstretched arms like old men on a trail they would have bounded up and down in no time in the fall.  

We’re obviously not prepared the leader tells me looking down at his boots with no Kahoots, blue jeans and no packs with water and supplies.  

We heard it was a gentle trail through the woods. What’s it like up from there? I tell them I don’t really know, its my first time out here this season. Hopeful myself that the ice will give way to snow on the trail ahead. What I know is that it’s a mile and a half to the shelter and they should watch their time. 

Around the next bend in the trail, I come upon a wide-eyed couple who warn me that it’s a glacier above Lonesome Lake. They look stressed, more than ready to get back to their car. We saw fools in blue jeans out there – totally not prepared.  They look very prepared with slick bright packs and better crampons than mine. I tell them about the guys behind me. They head off to warn them off the trail so they don’t fall and crack their heads open.  

I move on crunching up the chipped ice trail. I will certainly not be alone out here today – all the better for my first solo winter hike in case I crack my head open. The next couple up the trail stop and inquire, Are you with the group up ahead carrying a keg between hockey sticks?  

I don’t know whether to be proud or perplexed that they think I might possibly be in cahoots with what sounds like a college party ahead. Perhaps they’re hoping I’m the responsible adult with the group.  

They shake their heads, declare on passing, We will NEVER stay up there. NEVER.  

I meet the group of young adults with the aforementioned silver keg indeed carried on a stretcher between two hockey sticks. Besides their packs, they have assorted ice skates slung over their shoulders.  They seem to me like a jovial and friendly group albeit a bit naïve to think they might actually be skating on this forty degree afternoon.  

I would love to be a chaplain on the trail and every time I’m out here I get to be one again. Listening to stories, sharing advice, cheering folks on and wishing them a good day.  

Suddenly, I’m here and happy. What sometimes takes me days to rest into – this immersion in the woods, this presence to what is here. I’m feeling like I’m on day five in the woods and I’ve only been out here just under an hour. This is heaven – walking out with sure footing, gorgeous glassy ice over the rocks. Ice crushed like snow cones.  

The trail flattens to snow. I take the long way around the lake, step off the trail for other hikers to pass.  Pause for pictures. I meet again the crew with the keg, a mom who is spending the night at the cabin with three of her children – three of four she calls back to me as she continues past me around the lake.  

As I circle the lake on this most perfect of afternoons (albeit with the right equipment), I think this could be a habit, a new found joy to walk in the woods in the winter. Know again how happy and privileged I am to be living here in these woods at this time. 

At home, my neighbor has posted his tenth lap up to Lonesome Lake in as many days. “Trail conditions are dire.”

One thought on “Cahoots”

  1. I’m drawn to this line –
    I would love to be a chaplain on the trail and every time I’m out here I get to be one again. Listening to stories, sharing advice, cheering folks on and wishing them a good day.


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