Snowshoeing at 9,500 feet

January 28, 2011 § 5 Comments

I’m really starting to like snow.  It’s even better when you can walk on top of it to places you otherwise wouldn’t get to see this time of year.

Today I went snowshoeing for the first time with my friend Katie and a great guide, Jared with Yellow Wood Guiding. He was not only helpful with teaching us snowshoeing, but had lots to share about what we were seeing and even showed me how to use my fancy camera I haven’t taken the time to learn yet.

We went on a 3 1/2 hour trek in the Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park. As you’ll see from the pictures it couldn’t have been a more beautiful day.

I live at 5,000 feet in Boulder and I could still feel the transition to going up to 9,500 feet.  I definitely felt a little out of breath at times, but the good thing about snowshoeing is that you can take lots of breaks and just marvel at the scenery.

The snow had been on the ground for awhile so you could see lots of animal tracks from little mice to snow hares & deer.  There was a pretty well established track, so getting up wasn’t bad.  We snowshoed to a gorgeous lake called Dream Lake.

Yes, the sky is really this blue.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  Against the snow it’s a pretty incredible contrast. It was about 45 degrees out today and I was actually warm snowshoeing.

My favorite part was coming back down.  We went off the track into the forest and I got to enjoy the fun of sliding. The thing I’ve come to love about snow this week is that it can make you feel like a kid again. I had so much fun sliding down the various hills.

It’s going to be hard to decide which winter activity I enjoyed the most this week.  I’m definitely starting to feel it in my legs! In terms of sheer beauty, snowshoeing was such an incredible experience. I would never have been able to see what I saw today had I not given it a shot.  I can’t believe I live here.

It pays to have a snow scientist as a neighbor

January 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

In exchange for feeding my neighbor Noah some of our delicious leftover goulash, he let me pick his brain about snow.  I was interested to see what I might learn that would give me a different perspective about it.

I love the people I meet in Boulder.  Dr. “Snoah” Molotch (pictured left, red jacket) is a snow hydrologist at INSTAAR and professor at CU.  You can think of him as a real life version of Dennis Quaid’s character in The Day After Tomorrow.

Noah’s particular focus is studying the distribution of snow and ice and its impact on natural resources.  He’s currently interested in how forestation & deforestation affect snow melt.  I learned quite a bit in talking with him, not only about the importance of snow but a few fun facts as well.  I’ll be getting back out in the snow tomorrow but thought I’d share what I learned about it in the meantime.

Snow is important because it acts as a natural reservoir. In the West, it accounts for about 75% of the water supply. Snow melt acts like a steady IV drip for when there’s little rainfall. One of the fears of global warming is that higher temperatures may cause it to rain instead of snow in Winter which depletes the resource when it’s needed later in the year.  I expect that Noah will single-handedly make sure that doesn’t happen.

Now onto the more light-hearted stuff…

Why is snow white? Because of it’s composition of hexagonal ice crystals, it bounces and reflects the entire visible light spectrum back to us vs absorbing various wavelengths we see as color. Noah shared something a colleague of his likes to say to students: “if our eyes weren’t meant to just see visible light, snow would be one of the most colorful substances in nature.” I like to imagine what a landscape might look like if we could detect the colors in snow. The photo above is from a NASA scientist, Dr. Peter Wasilewski, who used polarized light sources and filters to show the color of ice. Even though I probably butchered this whole explanation from a scientific standpoint, his photographs are beautiful.

Most everyone has heard the saying “no two snowflakes are alike”. I always assumed that discovery was probably made in a lab somewhere.  However, the story of how it was discovered is as inspiring as the discovery itself.  In 1885, a farmer named Wilson A. Bentley in Jericho Vermont began photographing single crystals with a microscope adapted to a bellows camera. Seriously.
He would go on to photograph more than 5,000 snowflakes, never finding two alike.  What struck me about “Snowflake” Bentley was his philosophy & appreciation for design: “Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others.  Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”

Those that might like to share the story of Snowflake Bentley with their kids can check out the  Caldecott medal winning biography.  Sounds like the makings of a great Disney movie to me!

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