Monday, February 11, 2008

More Northern Bullshit

Shoveling roofs gets old long before it gets finished. Structurally ours don't need it yet, but Twelve Days of Hell starts Wednesday. If we get a big storm we could be in trouble. Even if we just get six inches over and over we could be screwed*. I won't have a day off to do anything about it until February 25.

When I shovel a roof I borrow a bit of mountaineering technology to belay myself against a nasty fall. I know that makes me less manly than legendary New England snow removers like Stumpy Edwards, Gimpy Coleman and Wheelchair McWilliams, but I have my own style.

Tying off my old climbing rope to convenient trees, I run it over the ridge of either of the roofs I might need to clear, and pull a loop through a Sticht plate hooked to my harness. I can pull tight whichever half of the rope I want for the side of the roof I'm on.

I warmed up with a spot of unbelayed soloing on the relatively flat top of the woodshed. It has the weakest roof support, so it really needs to be cleared. With the driveway glaciers as big as they are, I can step right onto the woodshed roof, which isn't more than about seven feet high at the high side anyway.

The real work began on the North Face of the Garage. Layers of crust held up to hard jabs with the shovel. The whole layer cake was about two feet thick anyway. I carved out a small square at the top of the ladder, snugged the belay line and dug in.

Once a clearing is established, I snug up the belay line so it will stop me from going all the way off the edge of the roof, but allow me to slide freely when I cut a big block loose from the main mass and ride it down to shove it off into the abyss. With the Sticht plate tied off and the loop of the half hitch clipped into the carabiner that holds the bight going through the belay, I have both hands free.

Things went faster on the South Face. You can learn a lot about mountain snows by looking at how snow acts on a roof. You have different pitches and exposures, combined with the different storms themselves and the temperature swings that may have modified the snowpack. Clearing a roof you try to start a controlled avalanche. On the 45-degree pitch of the steeper roof I have not had to intervene. Above 30 degree angles slopes get increasingly unstable, but the real action starts at 45 and above. Enough comes off the high roof by itself to keep me from having to scale it. Without crampons it would be dicey, even with a belay.

The whole thing feels a lot like ice climbing. I get hot and sweaty while working, but chill rapidly when stopping to deal with the belay. At least I don't have to stop for as long as it would take a partner to follow the pitch and lead the next one.

Strong winds blew snow bombs out of the trees overhead. In milder weather I could wear just a light shirt while shoveling and have a jacket handy to throw on while I did rope tricks. With wind gusts and spindrift it was a better idea to stew inside the shell gear today.

After I clambered down from the garage roof I still had to tidy up stray chunks and shovel a trench to the garage door so we can get in.

In big winters we live in a snow fort.

Tomorrow morning I'll tackle the lower house roof. Snow this deep starts to make this house feel like a small boat going onto big water. The swells of white don't lap at the windowsills yet, but not far from the house they crest higher.

*I know, six inches over and over is the definition of screwed. My words are always carefully chosen, except when they aren't.

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