I love hot chocolate on a cold, cold day. Iím generally not a fan of cold weather, but the monochromatic beauty and hot beverages make it acceptable from time to time.

Despite the discomfort, I appreciate winter aesthetics over than any other season.

I admit that autumn is breathtaking. It also has the most perfect temperatures, but itís too showy. There are too many colors, too much activity, too many rabid leafers and too much anticipation and preparation for that inevitable crash into the holidays.

Last winter, I went on a long winter hike over 22 waterfalls.

That evening, the snow was falling heavily and my car wouldnít make it over the steep inclines. My passengers had to get out and push it over the hills. On the way, I acquired a stranded friend, headed to the same place, whose car was having even more difficulty in the snow.

Using my super-human snow driving abilities (I lived in Wisconsin and Minnesota, remember) and nerves of steel, I made it as far as the gates of the park. Inside the park, the snow had drifted so high that there was no hope of getting to the cabins.

We parked, the boys hiked in, and we waited. The snow was still falling heavily and I did not want to leave the car running because of the possibility carbon monoxide poisoning. We wriggled into our sleeping bags for warmth.

After a couple of eternities, I heard a car, and then doors slamming. Of course it occurred to me that this is how just about every bloody horror movie starts. In a flash, I was out of my sleeping bag and outside of the car ready to take on whoever might be out there with a chainsaw/machete/ax. It turns out that it was the boys with another friend, who had the foresight to put chains on his tires.

It had taken them so long because they had gotten lost in the blizzard. Our chain-tired friend came looking for us, and happened upon them on the road.

People and gear were piled into the car. Warm cabins are especially gratifying after having been lost under a heap of snow for awhile.

Did I write about this before? I probably did.

The next day, we hiked over the waterfalls. They were half frozen and buried in the snow that fell the day before. We used cramp-ons and snowshoes over treacherous trails.

Is there anything prettier than fresh snow?

This fresh snow was only interrupted by the rest of nature. Rivers and streams used clear water to carve smooth, feminine curves fringed with lacy ice overhangs. The waterfalls created gargantuan ice formations that only the most ingenious sculptors can only aspire to duplicate in their own work.

That is the kind of beauty that people dream about when they think about how they might like to take up winter hiking or ice climbing. In reality, most of the time, youíre thinking about numb toes, and ďoh-my-god, I have to climb over another one of these?!Ē and wondering exactly on which side of the fine line between insane and adventurous that you reside.

That didnít happen this time. This time, it didnít matter how cold youíd gotten, how numb some body part had gotten, what hole the damn cramp-on tore in what item of clothing or what kind of crazy soreness was happening from the snowshoes.

It didnít matter because that is the kind of beauty that makes a person know that when she dies, sheíll be a little more satisfied and content with the world from having seen it.

We are going again next year, but I know that in all likelihood, there will not be another snowstorm before we arrive. I donít know if I could take another snowy evening outside of cell-phone range and a car that can barely struggle forward in the weather.

Obviously, Iíd like to go back to the kind place that is usually only experienced in imagination, but I know that even if itís different this year, that doesnít mean it will be less beautiful. I do think that the chances slim that it will be as beautiful, but thatís ok, too. I do reside somewhere between adventurous and insane and so it will be satisfying, anyway.

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Monday, Dec. 08, 2008 at 7:07 PM