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Photo: Ducks in sub-zero

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Although we still have another month or two winter, temps around here are supposed to be inching out of the negative numbers (Fahrenheit, for our international readers). With that, we will leave you with this shot of ducks bathing in a freezing river.

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Photo: Snowshoes

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Snowshoes. (c) J.S. ReinitzSnowshoe rack at local wildlife preserve.

Not that anyone needs snowshoes right now, currently the snow is dense and frozen. You can walk on top of it without breaking through.

 
Snowshoes. (c) J.S. Reinitz

Rescue during Teton snow storm

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Rangers at Grand Teton National Park rescued a group of skiers who became lost in the park over the weekend.

Here’s the National Park Service account of the operation:

 

Lost Skiers Rescued during Major Winter Storm
Date: Feb. 10, 2014

   Three skiers unintentionally ended up in Grand Teton National Park’s Granite Canyon backcountry on Friday, Feb. 7, prompting a search and rescue mission by park rangers the following day during a significant winter storm. Despite a high and rising avalanche danger, park rescuers successfully assisted the three out of the Teton backcountry by 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8.

Tom Barry, 59, of Jackson, Wy., Zoe Tong, 49, and Dave Catero, 52, from San Francisco, Calif., left the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort boundary from Gate 1 at about 11 a.m. on Friday with the intention of skiing an area called Four Pines, adjacent to the ski resort. The three mistakenly skied into Granite Canyon instead, and became lost in Grand Teton’s more remote backcountry.

By 4 p.m. Friday, the three skiers realized they were lost, so they decided to dig a snow cave and stay put for the night. By Saturday morning, the group was out of food and water, and only one of them was carrying an avalanche transceiver. They decided to send a text message to a friend indicating they were lost and needed help.

Teton County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers received the call for help, and notified park rangers at 8:30 a.m. The skiers were able to provide their location by GPS coordinates derived from their cell phone, and through a text message, rangers determined that no one in the party was injured. Due to high winds and low visibility, a helicopter reconnaissance and rescue was not possible, so rangers prepared for a ground-based rescue.

Rangers spent most of the day weighing options to help the trio while analyzing the risk to rescuers. With concerns that the three might not survive a second night in the backcountry, rangers ultimately decided to attempt a rescue. If rescuers had encountered signs of slope instability, or if the avalanche danger had been any higher, rangers would not have attempted the rescue. Ultimately, four park rangers departed the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on skis at 4 p.m. Saturday and reached the party at 7:30 p.m. The group was then escorted out of the backcountry and back to the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

Rangers remind backcountry users and those who leave the ski resort boundary that a rescue is not guaranteed. Pursing these activities requires a high level of personal accountability and responsibility. All members of a backcountry party should have appropriate avalanche gear, including a transceiver, shovel, and probe. Backcountry skiers and snowboarders need to be prepared to spend more time than anticipated by bringing extra clothing, high energy snacks and water. They should also consider their physical limitations and time restrictions when choosing a destination, and bring a map of the area and know how to use it before setting out.

The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center reported the avalanche danger as “considerable” to “high” on Saturday with increasing danger due to strong winds, warming temperatures and abundant new snow. It’s important to note that the avalanche forecast center does not provide reports for extreme terrain.

This was the first major search and rescue in Grand Teton National Park this winter.

Photo: Frozen Lake

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Frozen Lake. January 2014. (C) J.S. Reinitz

A few months ago, we posted a panoramic shot of a lake with fall foliage. This week we returned to the same spot following snow and low temperatures below minus 10 degrees (F).

Photos: Winter paths

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Photos from a winter morning following a fresh snowfall. Shots include a road under a railroad bridge and the gate to an abandoned riverside lot. (C) J.S. Reinitz

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Scraping by winter

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winterAs soon as I heard the noise, I knew what it was.

The sound of something slipping from my Pontiac as I reached 55 mph could have been any number of things, most likely a chunk of frozen something or another dislodging from the snow-covered roof. 

But I knew better.

I knew it was my ice scraper/snow broom. I had placed it on the roof after dusting off the freshly fallen powder from my windshield and starting the engine. It stayed up there as I started shoveling the driveway in the pre-dawn darkness, then carving out a path down the sidewalk. I hacked through the wall of road snow the city plow had shoved across the driveway entrance when it passed. Next, I dug out my wife’s minivan and plowed a small trail back to the house. After that, I hopped in the car and fought through the sort-of-cleared residential streets until I got to the highway and could start making time.

Then whoosh and clatter. And that was the end of the ice scraper.

Later in the day, after work, I doubled back, but there was no sign of it in the chest-high snow banks lining the highway.

The loss was both practical and sentimental. My wife bought the scraper during our first winter back in the frozen Midwest after several years in the warm South. It took some looking, and ultimately shopping online, but she found exactly what I needed. The eggshell white high-impact plastic stock was a about two feet long with a hard bristle brush. It was the perfect gaffi stick to wield in the brutal six-month battle that is winter. The long handle gave needed leverage, but the ultimate source of its power was the metal blade at the business end. Where plastic scrapers do little more than massage the ice, the metal blasts through in a single pass.

Sure, I’ve used plastic blades in the past, but they’re futile tools when it comes to freeing cars that are encased in ice.

Since moving back to the Midwest, I’ve occasionally glanced at snow tool assortments in stores and noticed the lack of metal. So, the day after my scraper slid from the roof into frozen oblivion, I found myself at a national chain auto parts store looking for a replacement, hoping to find something beyond the big box discount store offerings. The place specialized in car parts and accessories, so it seemed the logical choice.

The stand near the door had nothing but plastic — small fit-in-your-pocket scrapers with plastic blades, long snow brooms with plastic blades. It had a nice assortment of colors.

“Do you have anything with aluminum tips?” I asked.

The clerk said he didn’t and went on to guess the government had banned them because he hadn’t seen any in a long time. It had something to do with people scratching up their windshields, he continued.

I explained that I had been using metal for more than 10 years and never had a scratch. He said the government was overstepping its bounds.

I left with a plastic scraper, price about $8, as a stop-gap until I could find something better. If nothing else, I could drive by the scene in spring when the highway snow banks melt.

That night, I searched the internet for any sign of the government meddling in metal scrapers and found none. Big Brother wasn’t behind it, just lazy retailers. What I did learn was the metal scraper blades are brass, not aluminum, according to several online hardware stores selling them. Asking price was $8 with another $10 for shipping.

Blizzard

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Photo: Snowed-in bikes at the university. (c) J.S. Reinitz

We survived the “Great Blizzard of 2011,” although in our part of the woods it was more like the “Above Average Snowfall of 2011.”

Some of the rural highways were blocked by drifts, and there was a lot of snow. But we didn’t see the apocalyptic stuff they had in Chicago and the East Coast.

The storm hit Tuesday night, and when I got up the next morning, there wasn’t too much on my car. The city plows hadn’t yet made it to our block, so I spent a few minutes spinning my wheels trying to get down the street — go a few feet forward, back up a little bit, go forward a few more feet, back up. I drive a Pontiac Vibe, which sucks in the winter, and leaving for work before 7 a.m. probably doesn’t help matters.

Finally I made it to a plowed cross street, and it was easy traveling from there.

By the time I returned home from work, our street was plowed, minus a snow bank in front of our curb shaped like a run-down Taurus our neighbor drives.

Schools were closed Wednesday — the following day — for a “snow day,” which was a good idea. But the day before the blizzard they were closed for a “going to snow day.” And then on Thursday — two days after the storm — schools started two hours late for a “roads are all plowed but we still can’t believe how much snow we got delay.” Earlier this winter, schools were closed for an “average snowfall snow day,” and in the past they’ve had “cold days” and “fog days.”

Anyway, there’s so much more to write, but it’s snowing again, and I have to keep up with the shoveling.

The Icicle

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Only another foot or two.

That’s all we need before the giant icicle growing from the southeast corner of our house reaches the ground and becomes a column. Kylie is fascinated by its size, but we keep her back because we don’t want it crushing her, should it fall.

Yeah, there isn’t a whole lot to do around here when it’s below freezing (I guess I could shovel snow from the sidewalks, but that would only make me look responsible). So watching the icicle has become the regular activity.

The dormer on our roof creates a nice valley, and when there’s enough snow we get a good-sized glacier in the crevasse. As the snow and ice being to slide and melt and freeze again, the drippings can really add up.

Frozen Lake

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We finally bagged the Brinker Lake geocache.

Julie and I used to paddle our aluminum canoe out to this island before the cache was placed here (before someone swiped the canoe and likely sold it for scrap). After the cache was hidden, I tried to walk out to it a few times in winter. But I never could get the time and temperature lined up right.

Then today we drove past while trying to figure out what to do with our day and spotted a half dozen ice fishing tents on the lake. Someone even parked an SUV out there. I figured the ice would hold us.

Kaden and I set out for the quarter mile trek to the island via the NW passage. It wasn’t difficult to find, and you have to admire a cache built to survive flooding. People who found it in January described a stench it has taken on, and the smell is still there. The wooden cross inside wasn’t enough to fend it off.

“Is that smell rabbit poop? You might want to avert your nose,” Kaden said, using vocabulary impressive for a second grader.

I thought it was more of a good-cheese-gone-bad type thing. It stuck to our gloves (I stashed them in the trunk on the ride home). Left nothing, didn’t dare take anything.

We explored the rest of the island.

“This area here covered by snow and ice is were your mom and I would land the canoe and have a picinic,” I told Kaden.

There was a pause.

“Yeah, you really have to see it when there isn’t any snow,” I explained.