Extreme Backcountry (Drum Roll, Please…) Snowshoeing!

Creede Backcountry on Snowshoes, courtesy of Gin Getz
Creede Backcountry on Snowshoes, courtesy of Gin Getz

The Rant

Dammit all to heck! I hate it when snowshoers ruin a perfectly good skin-track, plodding their thick and clumsy way uphill in their gall dang, clompy snowshoes. Don’t those big, fat, plastic platforms offer enough weight distribution to carry your galumphing arse across the snow without the necessity of poaching a skier’s up-track? Can you not put in your very own route? Isn’t that why they are called snowshoes, why you buy ’em, why you strap ’em on?

And why must you take a perfectly pristine backcountry run and scar it with your pathetic, pointless frolicking? There you go again, back and forth across the virgin snow, hither and freaking thither. The snow sets up later and your big honkin’ track-holes are indelibly Etch-A-Sketch’d into the new-fallen snow until the next big storm. Thanks for nothing, ’shoers.

Heavy sigh.

Shoeing Along the Rio Grande, courtesy of Gin Getz
Shoeing Along the Rio Grande, courtesy of Gin Getz

The Set-up

I recently invited a few friends over for Sunday brunch to be followed up with some outdoor fun (more on the alleged fun later). In attendance were seven smiling people, four big dogs, two freaked-out cats … and a woodpecker in a pine tree. The dogs romped outside in the old snow. We ate an abundance of savory foods and sweet rum balls. Caffeine was heavily involved. My two anti-social and freaked-out cats hid under my bed way up in the loft. All the while, the woodpecker continued to peck contentedly away on his pine tree.

After the meal, we faced a known dilemma for the desired outdoor fun: Not all of us were skiers. Sharp intake of breath! Besides that, the snow conditions were far under par: Here we are in the midst of a blessed La Niña, with the glorious promise of colder, wetter weather conditions in our neck o’ the woods — more snow for us, hurray! — and, sadly, instead it has been nothing but blue skies for much more than a month. Blue skies. Just awful! The snow is old and crusty, especially beneath the trees.

As a group, we elected to go snowshoeing. Another sharp intake of breath! Know this people; I do have my own pair of snowshoes. I resort to snowshoeing at least once every year or two. But snowshoeing is not my winter activity of choice. Ever since I began to AT (alpine tour), or as the French say, randonnée, or as I say, “Lock your heel. Ski for real!” my snowshoes have pretty much collected cobwebs. AT is the best of both: you climb as on snowshoes, and then you have the pleasure of making alpine turns on the way back down. ’Shoes don’t really offer much glide on the way down. If you try, it’s more like ass over teakettle. I know. I’ve tried.

The Author Shamelessly Partaking, courtesy of Gin Getz
The Author Shamelessly Partaking, courtesy of Gin Getz

The Admission

We took two vehicles to where the scenic mountain highway is closed for the season, having been buried by snowfall and avalanche. We parked among the 4WDs pulling snowmo trailers and transporting backcountry skiers to the gate. I recognized most of the trucks, vans and Subarus, but the parking area was now sans skiers and sledders. Thankfully, we were left alone to strap on our ’shoes and begin the climb up Silver Star.

It really was very pretty. We stayed to the far, creek-side edge on an old, considerate snowshoe route, and off an old, hard-earned skiers’ up-track. Evidently no one had been up there for a while. The snow was a manky crust through the trees, but easily navigable on snowshoes. It was punchy outside of the trees, but damn, if I wasn’t having a good time! The company was excellent, the scenery gorgeous, and we could listen to the calming sound of water flowing generously underneath the thick layer of ice atop Silver Star Creek … when we stopped for a break. You can’t sneak up on anything in snowshoes.

The pitch was a healthy one and my breathing took on the same cadence it does when I am skinning. I love that. My snowshoes’ crampons bit happily and heartily into the crust and detritus that would have been a challenge on skis and would have fouled my skins. Did I mention I was having fun? On snowshoes?

On the way downhill, after topping out beyond the first accessible bowl and through more tall trees that transitioned to a fairyland of snowy granite slabs and secret passageways, we took perfectly pristine backcountry runs and scarred them with pointless frolicking. It did not seem pathetic in the least. Back and forth across the virgin snow we ran and jumped, hither and freaking thither. We even ’shoed over skiers’ up-tracks and linked turns. We made a mess of things for sure.

I’m reasonably certain that, later on, after the snow set up even more, our big honkin’ track-holes were indelibly Etch-A-Sketch’d into the snow. At least until the next big storm. But I’ll swear on a stack of bibles, or I at the very least I’ll swear, that it was crazy fun.

Come to think of it, whenever I have been on snowshoes, I have had a surprising amount of fun. Yes, far more fun than I would have bargained for.

The Last Laugh

At the end of the afternoon, after we poked our heads out of the trees at the bottom, our cheeks all rosy and lips all a’grin, we joined in with the skiers who were slogging exhaustedly across the snow and toward their parked vehicles. I wouldn’t say that their cheeks were rosy, but their faces were indeed red. Come to think of it, they weren’t really smiling either.

I picked out Dave from the group as he shuffled along on his splitboard. “How was it up Delancy?” I queried cheerfully. “Breakable. Nothing but breakable,” said Dave, shaking his stocking-capped head. Eyeing my snowshoes, almost enviously I would say, Dave looked away as he added, “I’m sure you had more fun today than we did.”

Whoda thunk?

Tsu and Arrow, Tired Puppies
Tsu and Arrow, Tired Puppies

Two Very Good Sites

Check out these beautiful images and words found in my new friend Gin’s blog, who’s Snowshoe Action Shots graced this post.

And Hobie’s amazing images, Wild Hare Photos, from the wilds of greater Yellowstone, the Northern US and Canadian Rockies, Alaska, the US Desert Southwest, and more.