Winter Wonderland or Wonderhell?


I remember standing in my sunny kitchen in Pasadena last month, thinking to myself that once you pass the freezing point, you probably can’t really tell how cold it is anymore. This has turned out to be partly correct. Every day that I’ve been here, I’ve told myself it’s the coldest day I’ve ever felt. Gloveless in Brussels yesterday I thought minus 2 Celsius was pretty darn brutal–but it wasn’t any more or less painful than the day in Aachen or Breendonk when the weather was off by a couple of degrees or so.  However, I’m here to tell you that hiking in minus 12 weather with winds howling at 20 mph changes everything.


Sure, when I arrive at the Nature Center in Botrange ( in the Hautes Fagnes region of Belgium, I am a kid in the proverbial candy store. Thoughts of snow angels and snowmen dance in my head as I soak up the winter wonderland snowscape.  The 13 km eco-walk will be fantastic on this sunny day. Map in hand, I can’t wait to walk through the first gate:


In fact, I’m skipping down the path:


It’s not long before I see my first cross-country skier:



It’s as if  this winter wonderland was created especially for me:


Everything amuses me, from this little sign…


to these trails…


to this crossroad especially that poetically sums up how it is be a nomad at heart…always at a crossing and never quite at peace in either direction.  Hence the need to roam.


Ok, so that’s the first hour of the hike. Around this time my toes feel like tater tots when you’ve just taken them out of the freezer. Sortof icy and crunchy, and not soft. I can still wiggle my fingers inside my gloves inside my pockets though. And the rest of me is relatively warm.  But it is getting less amusing to pull out the camera, even if the scenery is still incredible. I keep saying my head is my camera. And who wants to look at more pictures of snow anyway? We follow the path and come upon a freeway. Don’t let the sun fool you–it doesn’t look cold, but I’m squirming to fight the urge to hitchhike my way back to the Center, which has a nice open fireplace in its lobby.


Around 1.5 hours into the hike, we arrive at one of the hotspots but we’re so cold it’s all we can do to take a few quick pictures and a video and then move on:




The signs become more scarce as the snow builds up on some of the paths. We know all of the trails lead back to the Center eventually, so the fear is not in getting lost but in making the wrong turns that further extend our time out on the hike. Near the 3 hour mark, my fingers don’t wiggle anymore. My face is numb, and I find it hard to speak clearly. Lips and tongue fail me. As we get farther into the reserve and on to higher grounds, I see large patches of logging and wish there were signs to tell me this is all part of the plan. I know I can’t think straight right now from the early onset of hypothermia, but I get nervous anytime I see logging anywhere:


Around the 4-hour mark, we take this picture of me: 


The forest is as enormous as I feel cowed at this point. I think about the long hike I took to the highest point of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam in 37 degrees Celsius and wonder which is crazier…heat exhaustion or hypothermia. I can’t decide; discomfort is discomfort. But I wish I were a guy right now when I pass by someone who’s relieving himself standing up. Manneken-pis is everywhere in Belgium.

Just when I’m starting to wonder if this is a winter wonderland or wonderhell, the sun hits this cluster of trees in just the right spot…


and I remember why some of us feel the need to be challenged by nature in order to appreciate it. I guess it’s why people climb mountains or sail around the world. Me, I just want to finish the hike and not lose any digits to frostbite. A random act of violence on this poor snowman helps me get some feeling back in my legs and break the ice from the tension everyone is feeling from being out in the cold too long. But it hurts to laugh.


We finally make it back to the Center at 3.30pm, about 4.5 hours after we set off. My fingers have turned to claws and I find it impossible to even unzip my jacket. It takes some 5-10 minutes in front of the fire to get any sensation back. A strong cup of lemon tea is perfect before a late lunch. I can’t wait to come back here again. Next time, I’ll try skiing. Tomorrow I’ll share the second half of today’s adventure.


  1. Catherine

    Yes. Ms. L, you do have such an amazing CC rtw collection. I did get one from steph last year. It is my first one. Now, I put it in my closet, and afraid to wear it during the hot weather too… you know the sweats sometimes destroy it…

  2. larkie

    i put his head back after i kicked it off. i promise!

  3. Anonymous

    What did the snowman ever do to you?

  4. larkie

    hi C, boy do i miss tshirt weather! you know, i kept telling myself that being in colder climate would allow me to wear all the fab jackets, but the truth is, in snow and rain, the last thing you want to do is pull out your best cc rtw! wahh!

  5. Catherine

    Ha, we are having 85 degree here in Corona, I think Pasadena is about the same… wearing T-shirt is perfect at noon time..are you missing home? Well, enjoy the snow Ms. L!

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