A Snowshoe Adventure – Our First!

Chase Looking Like a Seasoned Snowshoer

 

Me, Surviving the Cold

There’s a quiet solitude in the snow covered backcountry. One experiences a feeling of isolation as sound is muffled by a thick white blanket of snow. The only noises to break the silence are the “caw caw” of a ravens silhouette, and the eerie creak of a lodgepole pine bending to the will of an icy wind. On a recent trip to the backcountry however, I was not alone at all. Trekking through the snow with me were my husband, Chase and our dog, Bruce on our first time walking with snowshoes.

These snowshoes were gifted to us – by us – for Christmas. I was very excited about this purchase as it would enable me to explore areas that I wouldn’t be able to get to otherwise (considering I don’t have cross-country skis, nor do I own – or have any wish to own – a snowmobile). My favorite thing about being outside is simply that – being outside. It thrills me just to be looking, observing, walking about or sitting still. There’s lichen spreading out on the surface of a volcanic rock. Sculpins feeding on the bottom of a turbulent creek bed. Bees buzzing around lupine and buckwheat, while sage wrens flush out of a community of sagebrush and greasewood. So much beauty to wonder and be amazed at.

I can’t help that the aforementioned nature occurrences tend towards warmer weather enjoyment. The truth is, I’m not a snow bunny, as it were. The cold has never been my friend, in fact, I think it’d be fair to say that I hate the cold. This is perpetuated by the fact, that if in the cold for a very short time, I am quickly utterly miserable. Let’s use the walk from my front door to my car for instance. This is a short distance, perhaps a whole 12 feet at most. By the time I’ve reached the car door I am frozen, like water into ice. My fingers redden and sting as they transition into numbness, causing me to fumble my keys as I try to get the dang car started and the heater going to thaw me out. Chase attributes this to me just being a wuss (he does work out in the cold after all) and you may think the same. But I stand by what I say – I hate the cold.

I blame the bulk of my wussitis on having lived in Glendale/Phoenix, Arizona from the ages of five to eleven. The bright sun with its warm rays must have seeped into my bloodstream. When I returned to my birthplace of Southern Idaho in 1994, I had only one pair of pants – some blue jeans with a rather large Mickey Mouse on the front of one leg. I was doomed to suffer the cold from the start.

So back to snowshoeing. You’d think that with me being a cold phobic that spending a few hours trudging around in the snow at the height of winter would so not be for me. But as I stated earlier, I love being outside. Snowshoes would allow me free reign out in the South Hills that I cherish – a great opportunity to see the changes that winter has made on a once familiar area. You can see from these past adventures (here and here) that we have been to the hills in their snowy splendor, but without the means to explore further, we weren’t able to venture far from the road. Snowshoes make that possible.

We headed out to the Rock Creek Recreation Area and chose the first trail we spotted, as the roads were covered in a thick sheet of slippery ice. Whalstrom Hollow (topo) was the trail that became the testing grounds for our first snowshoeing adventure. Chase made sure I was bundled up under many layers so as not to get cold. He carried a heavier than necessary backpack that I filled with binoculars, a bird book, a mammal field guide, a tree identifier, my field journal, hand/toe warmers, extra layers, compass, ponchos, snacks, emergency blanket, water, pocket knife, first aid kit, carabiners, pencils, neck warmer, safety whistle, flint, signaling mirror, waterproof matches, GPS, camera, toilet paper, and no doubt more! We only used a few of the items so I suppose I need to learn to pack lighter – the field guides really add weight! We strapped into our snowshoes as Bruce wrapped his leash around our legs attempting to trip us up and pull our arms out of our sockets with his eagerness to get going. Once we headed up the trail a bit, we set him loose to his own devices.

The trail is a nine-mile loop that zig zags uphill. Here’s an excerpt from Ralph Maughan & Jackie Johnson Maughan’s Hiking Idaho to give you an idea of all it has to offer:

Extraordinary desert stream to mountain habitat with volcanic rock formations and beaver ponds. The South Hills were created by volcanic action, and this hike takes you through welded volcanic ash deposit formations (tuff) that have eroded into hoodoos and pinnacles. These ash deposits are capped with black basalt cliffs at the top of the loop. Consequently, there is not only interesting geology but a variety of flora and fauna as you start out in willows and sage, top out in subalpine fir, descend through aspen and beaver ponds, then drop back to the trailhead through red rock and hoodoos.

Of course all of that was covered in about two feet of snow or more, but beautiful all the same.

The hike proved to be quite a workout for the both of us (especially for out-of-shape me), but the snowshoes were very easy to use. They felt like a normal extension to the feet and I could hardly even tell I was wearing them. We both got tripped up once or twice though, by getting our own shoes crossed or stepping on each others (totally unintentional :). The worst fall was of my own doing. On the way back down, with momentum set to work, I somehow just barely crossed my shoes and ended up laid out flat against the snow without even knowing what was coming to me. I laid there, head at a lower angle than my feet, surprised that I wasn’t upright – it happened that fast. We had a good laugh at my expense. Indeed, we shared many laughs as we romped around in the snow like children – throwing snowballs and sliding down hills. We only ended up going a half mile up and then again back down (the descent being a lot quicker of course). We were getting pretty close to spent endurance-wise (terrible I know) and we needed to get home to our little one.

It was so great to be out of doors in such an amazingly beautiful setting. Snowshoeing is the perfect activity and I can’t wait to go again! I plan on completing that loop and getting to many other places as well. And if you’re wondering how I fared in the cold – you might be surprised to know that I was actually warm, in fact, even hot at times. Though a bit of snow blown onto my cheeks quickly reminded me how cold it truly was. But I can handle it.

More from the South Hills

© 2008 Idaho Explorer

Southern Idaho Outdoors in Picture Form – In the South Hills Once Again













See how snowy the roads were.
On this trip, it was my Husband, our Little Boy, and me. It was the same route as my last outing, but in the reverse (in on G-5, out on Oakley-Rogerson). There was a lot more snow than last time and the roads were completely covered in it. I was glad not to be driving. Of course my Husband drove with ease and confidence.
It was absolutely gorgeous up there and the chill air was rejuvenating and refreshing. We had a lot of fun kicking about in the snow. Didn’t see any wildlife aside from a few unidentified birds. Our dog came along too, and I’m sure he made all animals aware of our presence way before we could have spotted them.
I just love the South Hills and it’s a great pleasure to experience them throughout the changing seasons.
More from the South Hills

© 2008 Idaho Explorer

Southern Idaho Outdoors in Picture Form – Another Foray into the South Hills

Adventurers: Myself, my Mother, and Collin (20 months as of two days ago!)
Location: South Hills/Shoshone Basin/Cottonwood Basin/Buckskin Ridge/Rock Creek Recreation Area/Sawtooth National Forest
Intended Destination: Eagle Hiking Trail (#243) by Petit Campground
Route There (Back-country Adventure): From Twin Falls on Blue Lakes, down Nat Soo Pah road, on Oakley-Rogerson road, into Sawtooth National Forest, along FS-500 to Magic Mountain
Route Back (Paved Assurance): FS-515 – turns into Rock Creek Road (also known as G-5), to Hansen, to Kimberly, to Twin Falls
Highest Elevation: ~ 7,000 ft (~2134 m)
Temperature: Hand-Numbingly Cold
Time: Left at 2:30 PM, returned at 6:30 PM (gets dark about 5/5:30)
Mode of Travel: Subaru Outback

Here is the familiar sagebrush and willow scene that I displayed on my last trip.

Further in, trees break up the horizon line.

Like a forest of skeletons – aspens leafless in the bitter cold.

My companions heading toward the creek – which creek exactly, I’m not sure. I can’t quite remember where we are at this point on the map (a USGS topo map – and if you’ve ever tried to use one, you’d see how easy it is to wonder where the heck you are). The thing is, we weren’t looking at the map as we were driving. I figured I had a pretty good idea where I was. As a member of the 2005 B.U.R.P Crew for the Department of Environmental Quality, we spent a good portion of the summer driving around this area. But still, there are a lot of roads out here and a lot of creeks. My best guess is Shoshone Creek up by Bear Gulch and I’m pretty certain that I am right. Look how well the two blend in with their surroundings.

 

The colors are so beautiful and the water so glassy.

That’s because it has froze over. My Little Boy thought this concept was quite amazing. “Ice!”



See that snowy hill in the background…that’s where we’re headed.

Good ol’ Shoshone Basin.
Look at this gnarled tree – what an interesting silhouette it has.

Here, I believe, are the Shoshone Wildlife Ponds. This, again, I can’t say with complete certainty, but there were a lot of ponds. There are also a lot of beavers and, incidentally, beaver dams. A beautiful place! The sun was setting so wonderfully and lighting up the sky with an array of sunset colors – unfortunately, my camera does not capture an array of sunset colors… (Update: This is not Shoshone Wildlife Pond. It turns out that the actual Shosone Wildlife Pond is some other thing in the vicinity that is just one pond and is fenced off. We (my husband and I) are calling them The Beaver Ponds, which certainly suits them.)


As you can see, there are patches of snow.

Further up, and there is more snow and more conifers.

What a perfect Christmas-like scene! Collin was SO excited about the snow. I gave him some to hold in his hand. After it would melt into a cold puddle, he would say, “More.” The whole trip he was very happy and never got upset about being strapped into the carseat with only occasional journeys out onto solid ground. He loved looking out the windows at all of the beauty around him. Plus, he had a couple of rocks, a stick, and a pinecone – bits of nature we had collected along the way – to keep him satisfied. He really looks forward to these sort of outings – especially when he can explore. He enjoys looking at maps with me and repeats “South Hills! South Hills!” whenever I mention them. He’s truly a Nature Boy!

 



OK, this is where we got a bit lost. Well not lost, per say; it was more that we were second-guessing ourselves. We knew we didn’t want to go on Buckskin Road…

…and we weren’t sure about this one either. But we headed down it any way, even with the name…

The road got skinnier, snowier, and bumpier as we traversed along it. This certainly helped in the decision making process – we only went so far before we decided to reverse.

But look at the view the road led to! Once again, my camera does not do the justice my eyes saw! I stood out in the freezing cold for quite some time wanting to take in every bit of this scene and experience the feelings it filled me up with. Mountains…I love mountains!!

 

Do you know what mountains these are? I’m quite sure they’re in Nevada, but I’m having a hard time finding out just which ones they are.

Waiting in the car ready to go – so I said goodbye to that mesmerizing view. We drove the three miles (but a very long three miles backcountry) to the Rock Creek Ranger Station (as indicated on the sign) and if we would have looked at the topo, we would have seen that this lead us right to our destination. But instead, we were looking at the South Hills Trail Map, which for some crazy reason, does not have the Ranger Station on it. Admittedly, we were getting a bit nervous. We weren’t 100% sure where we were and it was getting late. Even more nerve-wracking was that we were still gaining elevation and the roads were getting snowier. There were some spots completely glazed over with a sheet of snow. To many, this is no big deal, for me…it equated to driving slower than necessary and clenching the steering wheel a bit to tightly. Needless to say, when I finally arrived home, my shoulders were stiff from the tension. I hate snowy/icy roads! And these roads were curvy and had sheer drop offs. I could have let my more experienced Mother drive, but instead, I made up my mind to do it myself and get the practice (and confidence) I lacked. Obviously I made it out just fine, but I couldn’t know that until I did. (Does that make sense?)

After the long, anxiety-ridden drive, we landed right at the Ranger Station and Magic Mountain Ski Area. This is where we were headed – well not actually here. We meant to go hike the Eagle trail, but being that it is three miles we decided against it. At this point we were ready to head home.

You can see it’s fairly dark out, but because Ross Falls trail (#244) is only .4 miles round trip, we decided to do it. I had been there before with my husband in warmer temperatures and it is really very pretty. It was pretty this time too (even while lugging my sleepy bundled up toddler).




The following are pictures of the falls and the creek. It’s so dark, I had to brighten the pics just so they can be viewed. Use your imagination – it’s a refreshing and delightful sight. I think that these pictures, though dark, are interesting all the same.





Icicles, brrr. Mine and my mom’s camera batteries both died after we snapped a few pictures of the falls. Time to head home. Little did I know that my poor husband was at that very moment looking up Deadline Ridge on Google in order to come and find us and rescue us if need be. (He had just so happened to call me at that very spot we stopped to get our whereabouts and I mentioned to him the names – luckily we were at a high enough point to get service.) He figured we must have gotten stuck or something. He called numerous times when I had no service and my phone never showed any missed calls (but it did show voicemails later). The drive home (on paved roads!) was curvy and dark and my adrenaline was still a little high. I was just intent on getting home and kept thinking I would call my husband at such and such point, but didn’t ever release my death-grip from the steering wheel. Eventually he made one last call before heading out as a search party and it went through. We were just leaving Kimberly and I felt so sorry for not calling him! If it were me and I was the one waiting at home I would have been angry, but he was more relieved than anything and just a bit annoyed. He was glad to have us arrive safely at home and so was I!
More from the South Hills

© 2008 Idaho Explorer