The Winter Queen is imperious and aloof, demanding and notoriously fickle. This year she opted to remain far to the north, leaving us in the gentle arms of Lady Autumn until late in January. Then Her Majesty swept in on howling winds of ice, and buried us in feet of snow.
She is beautiful, and her passage leaves a photographer is eager to get outside to admire the winter wonderland. But first her demands must be met: two days of shoveling, and the passage of enough time for the roads to clear.
Many are the photos I have of the lowlands wreathed in snow: Heinz Refuge, Valley Forge, Ridley Creek. Lacking are any images of snowy scenes from on high. Nearly a week after the blizzard, I set forth on a journey to visit the Winter Queen in her mountain fastness.
Cardinals kept me company as I hiked up the narrow channel of compacted snow where others had walked before me. The soft sigh of the wind in the trees whispered above the rhythm of the wet crunch of my footfalls and squishy creak of my trekking poles.
I wondered what I would find when I reached the Pinnacle. How would the Susquehanna River below be dressed? Open dark water? Or would it be garbed in Her Majesty’s mantle of white?
The wind quickened as I neared the Pinnacle. The first glimpse through the trees made me gasp.
My heart soared and I hurried to the overlook.
Yes! The Winter Queen has indeed been here!
The evidence of her frigid touch is everywhere, frosting the hills rising above the river…
…and tracing the surface of the ice in intricate swirls and waves.
On previous visits to the Holtwood Gorge Pinnacle, we discovered a wondrous place just down the trail.
It’s a place where pine trees and rhodendrons stand guard over a garden of rocks.
In dry weather, it is a fun boulder scramble to the farthest of the rocks to look straight down to the water. When the Winter Queen is in residence, it requires much more caution. I clambered carefully down the rocks, often on my butt, very tentative when on my feet. Sometimes my foot plunged through the snow to my knee.
There was the point beyond which I would not go. The Winter Queen cares nothing for the safety of her admirers.
But, oh, what there was to admire! I sat on a dry boulder for a long time, soaking in the sights and sounds of the Gorge in snow. The wind howled through the trees, a whisper no longer. I felt it stinging my face, as the cold seeped into my legs from the rough rock below me.
Boulders loomed above me, their surfaces braided in stripes of dark grey, white and rust, dusted with lichens and puddles of snow. Three Bald Eagles circled past, and a kettle of Turkey Vultures.
A flock of Robins passed through, flitting noisily through the shrubs. Did the Winter Queen take offense at the cheery presence of these harbingers of spring in her frozen domain?
Slowly I made my way back up the boulders.
The climb was tricky; I had learned the hard way not to trust that there would be solid ground beneath every patch of snow.
I used my hands and knees more than my feet.
Walking the trail was easier.
At the top, I turned once again to drink in the wonder of the Her Majesty’s creation, the pearly white ribbon winding through dark hills and twisting out of sight.
As if to remind me of the Winter Queen’s capricious temperament, when I reached my car, it began to snow.