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

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Winter Trails Day 2008

Fun in the Snow

Are you ready to play in the snow? Well if you’re new to cross country skiing or snowshoeing, then you’re in luck. Winter Trails Day 2008 is a nationwide event encouraging people new to winter sports to discover the joys of being outside when the ground turns white. Winter sports provide excellent fitness benefits as well as a chance to meet fellow outdoor enthusiasts – and not to mention the chance to see nature in a serene, majestic state. These events will be free and all equipment will be provided. All ages are encouraged to come out and play in the snow!

The official date for the event is January 12th. Some places require pre-registration. Check here to find an event near you.  Dress warm and enjoy the beauty that winter has to offer!

© 2008 Idaho Explorer

Seasons

Autumn leaves on house lined streets – reds, yellows, and oranges swirling on a blacktop pond. Chilly air makes them dance in a whirlwind up towards a grey sky, then floats them back to the turbulent surface, bidding their branches goodbye. Bursts of color share garden space with limp plants who give way to the cold. Though soon, the mums, roses, and Michelmas daisy, will fade into lonely shades of frostbitten black – barely distinguishable from the bleak sky above. The plants will wither into the frozen ground under a bed of white snow; some are eased into a peaceful slumber while others receive a quiet death, never to return or grow. Birch, maples, aspens, and oaks are dropping their lovely cloaks; becoming skeletons for a winter graveyard – forlorn, bitter, and cold.Yet still, the Golden-crowned Kinglet sings, eating red berries off an evergreen. Bulbs underground receive a trickle of water – nursing them for a sunny splendor. Perennials lay low for now, but oh the show they have in store. And the trees again, will don their cloaks with trinkets of flowers and seed pods galore. A time of rebirth comes year after year in a cycle of the seasons. And even in the coldest winter, life beats still and warm – and nature fills the land with beauty in various dazzling forms.

© 2008 Idaho Explorer

Winter Birds

A Welcome Winter Visitor
Dark-eyed Junco

After an unplanned hiatus from writing, I return to talk about our feathered fliers – the birds. Though winter is a couple of months away, I thought it a good time to get ready for the arrival of the wintering birds. I find immense joy in observing and identifying birds for the first time, and each time thereafter. Winter, summer, and migrations make for excellent opportunities to sight birds that aren’t around for the entire year. If you keep a running record of when and where you spotted a bird, then this is especially satisfying. But whether you don’t know a crow from a raven or are able to name the correct body parts for identification purposes, the thrill of seeing birds is equally pleasing, no matter the skill level. Anytime is always a worthy time to discover the intriguing activity of birding. It’s also a great way to learn the flora and fauna of your area, something every human being should strive to become experts on – as we have fallen so out of touch with the land and our immediate surroundings. Below is a list of the birds that winter in Idaho. I encourage you to look up the overwinter-ers in the region you live. Believe me, you’ll find great pleasure in it!

-American Tree Sparrow

-Bald Eagle

-Barrow’s Goldeneye

-Bohemian Waxwing

-Brown Creeper

-Bufflehead

-Common Goldeneye

-Common Merganser

-Dark-eyed Junco

-Evening Grosbeak

-Golden-crowned Kinglet

-Gray-crowned Rosy-finch

-Herring Gull

-Hooded Merganser

-Lapland Longspur

-Lesser Scaup

-Northern Saw-whet Owl

-Northern Shrike

-Red Crossbill

-Ring-necked Duck

-Rough-legged Hawk

-Sharp-shinned Hawk

-Snow Bunting

-Snowy Owl

-Pine Siskin

-Yellow-rumped Warbler

While some of these birds occupy parts of Idaho year-round, other areas of Idaho only get them during the winter months.  Look for them in your area!

Do you keep a bird list? Are you an avid bird watcher? Are you going to be from here on out? Share your bird stories!

*After posting this, I headed to my mom’s house and out the window saw a male and female Dark-eyed Junco at her bird bath! The Dark-eyed Junco is a favorite of mine and is a frequent visitor to bird feeders (as the picture taken out my window shows). For me, they are a symbolic transition into winter and when they arrive, I feel as if old friends have come for an extended visit. Welcome birds of winter!

© 2008 Idaho Explorer