Got my first real miles in with snowshoes this week — around seven miles out to Dewey Point at Yosemite and back to Badger Pass. Took a nice up-and-down route along the Ridge Trail on the way in and came back on the gentle Summit Meadows route. First-glance summation: Snowshoeing is interesting, but it’s not fun.
The unfun parts:
The noise: The crunch-crunching of snowshoeing on hard-packed snow is borderline intolerable compared to the near silence of walking on dirt. Forget about hearing any wildlife — it’ll hear you coming a quarter mile away and flee long before you’re in earshot. Walking on untracked powder is quieter, but it exposes you to …
The risk: The margin for error is way, way tighter in the winter. Much easier to get lost, much harder to get found. Natural-born klutzes like me appreciate all the margin we can get; what we appreciate less is …
The mess: Snowshoe tracks are a blot on the snow-covered landscape. Heavily traveled snow trails are several times more visually disturbing than dirt trails. And most of all, you have to deal with …
The struggle: Trying to walk with those things strapped to your feet is not as ungainly as you might think, but it’s a lot heavier — which means more exertion, more sweat and more time wishing you were done hiking for the day.
The interesting parts:
The mental challenge: People who stay indoors look at a hill and see an obstacle. People who go outdoors see a hill and hear a dare. If you’ve never been snowshoeing, you need to be prepared for the unfun factor, but if you climb hills for no other reason than the satisfaction of getting up there, you’re not apt to be daunted by snowshoeing’s inherent difficulties.
The wildness: You can get way, way out into the woods and never see anybody you don’t want to see. Knowing how to get back — even in a blinding snowstorm — is a daunting prerequisite, but it’s the kind of knowledge you should have all year anyway.
The view: Winter shows you things you’ll never see in the summer: The curve of a snow drift; layers piled atop a rock; footprints of little critters foraging for food. I grew up with enough blizzards, car wrecks and snowshovel-induced back pain to have very little warmth in my heart for snow-flocked landscapes. But I can’t help feeling the magic of being in the wilderness in winter.
So, those are the pluses and minuses. Walking on dirt at your natural pace comes naturally, especially compared to trudging through snow wearing heavy, webbed devices strapped to your feet. The charms and the challenges of the winter environment are pretty-good compensation.