Saturday, October 27, 2012

Top Ten Reasons To Snowshoe

Snowshoes help a person to walk when there is snow on the ground. Snowshoes work by distributing the weight of the person over a larger area so that the person's foot does not sink completely into the snow. 

Perhaps the first people to develop snowshoes looked to nature for inspiration. Several animals, most notably the Snowshoe Hare and the Ptarmigan, have oversized feet enabling them to move more quickly through deep snow.

Walking with snowshoes is not a new idea. In 1991 the frozen body of Otzi the Iceman was found on the Austrian Italian border at 3,210m/10,531 feet. He lived 5,300 years ago and recent analysis suggests that what was previously thought to be part of a backpack, is in fact a snowshoe. The first Europeans to explore North America in the 17th Century found that the Native Americans that lived there wore snowshoes when there was snow on the ground.

The Snowshoe Dance, performed at the first snowfall by the Ojibwa. By George Catlin 1835.

Snowshoes became essential tools for fur traders, trappers and anyone whose life or living depended on the ability to get around in areas of deep and frequent snowfall. Since the 1980's there has been a large growth in the use of snowshoes for recreation.

What's all the fuss about? Here are my Top 10 Reasons to Snowshoe:
1. It's Easy.  The learning curve for skiing and snow boarding is much longer. Anyone who can walk can snowshoe. It is as simple as that. From day 1 you can be enjoying moving about on snow and travelling to your favourite spot to see it in its winter coat.

2. It's Cheap. Compared to skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing is cheaper. The snowshoes are less expensive than skis or a snowboard and with snowshoes you do not have to pay for a ski pass or uplifts.

3. It's Calm and Peaceful. Snowshoeing means you can escape the noise and bustle of the ski resorts. You will be able to enjoy the mountain environment far away from the noisy crowds. Able to hear only natural sounds - the wind in the pine trees, a babbling brook, the call of a bird of prey overhead, the croak of a Ptarmigan. Sometimes, there is no sound -  total silence. The serenity and tranquility will help even the most highly stressed person to relax and unwind.

4. It's Safe. You will snowshoe at a much slower pace than you ski so the chance of collision damage (whether with the ground or another person) is much smaller than on a ski slope. Having said this, if you are without winter experience, it is best to stay on the resort prepared snowshoeing pistes. If you are looking for more of an adventure, hire a mountain professional like an International Mountain Leader to look after you. They will bring the mountain environment alive and show you places you wouldn't find yourself.

5. It's Healthy.  Snowshoeing offers low-impact, aerobic exercise and is a great way to burn calories during the winter and stay healthy.

6. It's Better for Seeing Wildlife. It is much more difficult to identify wildlife or their tracks, while hurtling down a ski slope. Slowing the pace of travel down with snowshoes means you have more time to pay attention to what is around you. What's more, the busy ski resorts will scare wildlife away. Snowshoeing away from the prepared pistes will increase your chances of seeing actual wildlife and the tracks they have made.

Isard (Pyrenean Chamois)

Animal tracks like these left by a squirrel are easy to spot in the snow.

7. It's fun.  Moving at a slower pace than a skier or snowboarder you have time to play in the snow and interact with the people you are with. Making fresh tracks in new powder and the sound of your snowshoes on the snow is great. Feeling the need for speed? It's easy to set up a polybag snow run.

8. It's Gentler on the Environment. You can enjoy the winter lanscape without the need for a ski resort and its prepared pistes, snow canons and uplifts.

9. It's Better for Photographs. Ever tried taking sharp photos of the fantastic mountain scenery as you ski down a hill?

10. It's Great To Help Live the Dream. If you have ever imagined yourself as a trapper like Geremiah Johnson  or The Last Trapper - snowshoeing is a must!

Pyrenees Mountain Adventure offers guided snowshoeing adventures from day walks, through 2 day walks with a night in a staffed mountain refuge to a week long, lodge based holiday.

Friday, October 19, 2012

12/21/12 - Apocalypse Soon

On 21st December this year the doom mongers predict the end of the world (again). What is the prediction based on? The end of the long count Mayan calendar. The current long count ends on 20th December which the Maya  record as On December 21st a new long count begins

The world as we know it is going to end but there is some good news - a small part of the world will escape the death and destruction.  Where? 38km/23 miles south west of Carcassonne in the Aude département (county) you will find the village of Bugarach (200 inhabitants).  The village is dominated by highest peak in the area - Pic Bugarach (1,230 m /4,035 ft). Only here will there be a safe haven.

Pic Bugarach

In many respects the peak is out of the ordinary. It is made up of limestone. Nothing unusual in that except that the highest part of the mountain, where it would be expected to find the youngest rock is where in fact the oldest rock is situated. Geologically the mountain is upside down. The peak is covered in large areas of forest. Again not unusual but  the forest is made of ancient box trees. The trees are very slow growing and the wood so dense it will actually sink rather than float in water.

Rams head in the tree roots

As with many other limestone areas there are numerous caves but Pic Bugarach includes over 30 with the system having been explored to a length of 5.5 km. The system includes an underground river and lake. The lake is dry at the present time. On the summit and elsewhere there are esoteric carvings found on certain rocks. For many reasons the peak is both unusual and remarkable but whether it will offer shelter from the coming storm no one is certain.

One of the esoteric geometric designs found at several sites on the mountain

The French authorities  believe enough people are convinced and are already preparing for a massive influx of those wanting shelter from the Apocalypse. There is talk of access to the peak being denied during the month of December with roads blocked by police and cave entrances sealed with concrete 'plugs' positioned by helicopters - a huge over reaction according to some.

View from the summit of Pic Bugarach