After a bitterly cold week the sun broke through the chill for a few hours on a recent Saturday afternoon. I met with some friends to explore a local creek, frozen and snowy, on a pair of trusty snowshoes.
I live in a winter city.
It is cold, bitterly cold, freeze your cheeks frostbite cold for at least three months of the year. Nearly a million people live here. While not all of them savour the dark, chilly winters, most everyone embraces the hard reality of the climate. A hardy few revel in the snow and cold, and seek adventures unique to our northern location.
In this winter city, I live in a suburban neighbourhood framed on three sides by preserved wilderness. Incredibly, the city has made an active planning effort to avoid development (apart from trails and bridges) of the river valley (to my west and north) and the twisting feeder creek bed (to the east).
This means that I can access a vast ribbon of natural area on foot in fifteen. Alternatively, by driving for a mere few minutes I can find a place to park and step in.
As the local pandemic restrictions loosened over the last week, I met some of my running crew for a snowy hike in the aforementioned creek bed.
We wore snowshoes.
Admittedly, these were unneccessary for ninety percent of the hike.
Yet there seemed to be something more interesting about story called “Going Snowshoeing on a Frozen Creek” than a tale merely titled “Winter Hiking!”
The Whitemud Creek feeds into the North Saskatchewan River to the north. This is a broad, shallow river that flows east across multiple Canadian provinces and eventually drains into the Hudson’s Bay, whereas the feeder creek is a half dozen meters wide at best. Though I’ve never actually tested it I would guess I could stand in the centre in springtime and not get my shirt wet.
The creek is frozen nearly solid by January each year, or at least solid enough to safely walk atop it. Thus, after a fresh fall of snow the creek makes for a smooth, flat course, and one boxed in on each side by an alternating combination steep banks as high as twenty or thirty meters, natural boreal forest, and a single track trail that paces through the woods that we often run in spring, summer or fall.
By far the best part of the two hour, seven kilometer hike was time spent with three friends. I had not seen in any of them in person for over two months. Over the holidays we video chatted, texted, and shared pictures and stories. This is not the same as walking beside someone through the snow, even if they are wearing a pandemic mask.
The ice crackled underfoot.
We climbed like giddy kids under and around multiple fallen trees that had not yet been cleared away by municipal maintenance crews.
We skidded across patches of bare ice on snowshoes meant for trudging through deep snow.
The sun warmed the air with a loving apricity as we paused for breath, or conversation, or just to take in the simple natural views. Even the clean, crisp air of a suburban creek bed was a brilliant change from the hour spent hunkered down in our houses simultaneously avoiding the cold and a contagious virus.
A winter city adventure, and a local travel adventure for a strange, frustrating year.
I don’t think I could have traded it for a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.