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Winter is the perfect time to prepare for portage season

Frozen lakes and snowshoes make it much easier to clear trails for the summer

Mostly I just want to be outside. 

The big living room window overlooks the lake. The view I see each morning beckons. Most of the time. Sometimes I’m just happy to sit here and think about the paddling I did out there last summer, the skating one December when the whole lake froze before the snow and we could go everywhere, and the great snowshoe hikes along the ridge on the far side of the lake.

On stormy days, I remember the exhilaration of walking in the forest, protected from the fierce winds, listening to and watching the trees sway with the gusts. The freshness of the air, the big flakes of snow drifting down. The memories inspire me to get off the couch, to stop being an observer and to feel it all again.

The only problem is that, in winter, it takes so long to get dressed. So many layers, and uncomfortably hot as I finally get to the boots and mitts.

It’s not easy getting out in winter. Where to go? What to do? As long as I don’t have to drive.

Mostly, we snowshoe. Mostly, we don’t have to go very far at all – the forest around it is riddled with snowshoe paths from our wanderings.

This year, we are getting farther afield. The wet, heavy snows of November brought down lots of trees. Not just in our driveway and on the long road out to the highway, but along the trails we use all through the year. So, our mission for January is to clear those trails.

Clearing the snowshoe trails is easy. The “trails” have no set path that has to be followed. Snowshoe trails can go anywhere, around any obstacle. They are infinitely variable from year to year. Not so with the portages.

It’s way easier in winter to carry a chainsaw across the portages. We can get to the trailhead by snowmachine in no time at all.  Even the portage that’s a three-day paddle from home – we were able to get there, clear the trail, cook lunch over an open fire and be home again long before dark. By clearing the fallen trees now, our summer journeys will be so much better.

Some of the trails have been easy, with just a dozen small spruces to clear away and perhaps one or two bigger trees. Others have groups of big pines that fell in a massive mess right across the trail. Some of these we decided will wait until spring after all. It could be easier to reroute the trail than to cut through so many trees.

On portage trails, we will be carrying our canoe and a couple packs with our gear from lake to lake. The shortest route is always preferred. Yet, over time, portage trails end up winding around obstacles like fallen trees. 

So, this year, with so many newly fallen trees, it could be time to reassess where the trail should go. We are already planning our first canoe trip of the year.

Viki Mather has been commenting for Northern Life on the natural world and life in Greater Sudbury since the spring of 1984.