I hiked again this week with my son and four of his classmates from the Running River school, along with their teacher. It was a cold day, about 30 degrees. We were all bundled up under many layers, with gloves or mittens, warm hats, snow pants, and snow boots all around. And there was plenty of snow on the ground, eight or ten inches in most places, as much as a foot or more in drifts. The latest snow had just stopped falling an hour before we went out; about four inches of fresh snow had fallen over what was left of last week’s 16 inches or so. Clouds covered the sky, but it was still bright because of the snow on the ground. The brightness of mid-day made reading the track a bit difficult, but the trackers did well. All the old tracks were well-covered, but still visible under the blanket of new snow. The day presented the perfect opportunity to find fresh sign and follow it, and to examine old tracks under the snow.
As soon as we started down the trail I saw a fresh set of snowshoe tracks going out, and not returning, along with the tracks of two dogs. I stopped the group and lined everyone up on one side of the track and asked if anyone could tell me about it. Nicolai and Max answered simultaneously, “snowshoes!” And? Everyone replied, “dogs!” So we knew exactly what we were following.
We began building our tracking picture: we had a larger man on snowshoes (the shoes were large and long, the stride long, the straddle wide), two dogs off leash moving along with him, and we had an accurate time bracket- not out more than an hour (remember the snow had recently stopped falling). The trackers were on the fresh track following their key sign- the snowshoe and dog tracks. We made it another few meters and stopped again, when I heard from a few voices, “he went into the bathroom.” There is a bathroom right at the trailhead, and sure enough, his tracks headed straight in. And then, (many voices) “he came out and kept going.” Down the trail we went. A short time later we ran into the man and his dogs, and the tracking picture we had created was confirmed as accurate.
It was a good walk and everyone remembered the important points, one in particular (Giovanni, again and again, and Harper and Shane, to all of us) “don’t step on the tracks!” They kept well to the side of the track, making sure not to spoil it. Without any prompting they followed and followed. They found places where the dogs had run off to investigate trees and brush, where they stuck their noses in the snow. We spotted Canada geese in one pond, a few of them up on the bank walking around, leaving us perfect tracks in the snow to examine. And we saw a number of red tail hawks, as usual.
We had the chance to talk about the aging of sign, how tracks change in the snow, and how snow can distort the size and shape of tracks. We talked about direction of movement and how it can be deciphered. We examined old tracks under the snow. We saw old boot prints placed before today’s snow and found ski tracks covered by the fresh snow as well, along with old snowshoe tracks.
The trackers are doing a great job and learning the details of following sign. They understand how to follow a track. And most important they are examining the ground and their surroundings and collecting data, advancing theories, and reaching appropriate conclusions on their own and as a group.
You can ready more about our adventures and find direct links to recent tracking blogs at the Desert Explorer website.
For those in Boulder county, not completely unrelated to our topic are recent problems in the area with aggressive coyotes. Read more about those incidents at the Daily Camera website.