Last Friday, we got up at 5 am, out the door by 7, at the trailhead to Folding Mountain by about 10 am.
Thus began my first-ever snowshoe trip up the side of a mountain. It was difficult, to say the least, but it was an wonderful experience. The four of us humans got along very well and though I’m used to–and most comfotable with–hiking alone, my companions made the trip way better than it would have been alone.
There’s not much to say about the way up except that it was really difficult, especially because my snowshoes don’t have much grip on them so walking up a stepp, icy incline was frustrating at best.
Luckily, Luke offered to switch. I agreed, which is a pretty big testament to how angry and frustrated I was–I’d was literally doing the ‘one step forward, two steps back’ dance. And since I was so frustrated, it was shamefully gratifying to watch as Luke took the first steps in my snowshoes and slid all over the place, too. With his pair on, I didn’t feel like there was something terribly wrong with me, like the clumsiest person alive I didn’t know enough about snowshoes to know that there are different levels of grip on them and that my three companions had MSRs, the ones with metal teeth both under the foot and along the edges of the shoes for added grip. Mine don’t and are obviously meant for snowshoeing on flat trails.
So Luke took the difficult ones, which I thought maybe added a level of challenge for him so he wasn’t bored on the trail, as he often is with me (I’m a lot slower than he is).
I enjoyed hiking with other people because there was always someone hiking with me, even if Luke felt like putting on a burst of speed; he could do that and I didn’t feel left behind. Nikita was always at the front, too, spending part of the time off the trail in snow that was chest-deep on her, and the rest of the time just behind whomever was breaking trail. We figure Nikita did about three times the length that we did.
We stopped for lunch on the trail. They found a cozy little spot for a fire. A tree had fallen, lifting a big root system out of the rocky ground on the side of the mountain, creating a cozy little cave. We built a small fire in the mouth of it and huddled around it for a delicious lunch.
I made the mistake of sitting on my backpack, which didn’t seem like a bad idea until I realized that my water bladder hadn’t appreciated the pressure and had leaked, soaking about 70% of my backpack. I was pretty distressed, since it meant I’d have to carry a soaking wet pack up the rest of the hill and along the ridge, which I knew would be windy. I also had no idea how much longer we’d be hiking for, since I was unfamiliar with the trail. Luke suggested I leave it at the ‘cave’ since we would come back down the same path and pass it. I only had to think about it for maybe thirty seconds, then the decision was made. However, I wanted to bring my down jacket plus a few more items, so I put everything inside of my rain jacket, cinched it up tight and then tied over my back like a one-strapped pack. It worked perfectly, though I didn’t look all spiffy and backpacky like the other three did. Oh well, I’ve never said I have any sort of fashion.
So on we went. We reached a sort of clearing near the top of the ridge where I snapped a few photos but it was windy as hell without the protection of the trees. We decided to carry on but we lost the trail under the snow, so Luke suggested we just hike over the ridge and see what was on the other side of the mountain (he’s never heard that kids’ song, either, which I find hilarious and strange).
We pushed our way into a tightly knit forest. I took the lead and made my own trail through the snow, which was pretty close to waist deep as we went over the ridge onto the less windy side. I could see a bit of a view through the treetops and it was also beautiful, so I pushed on in hopes of finding a clear spot.
When you are in a forest, you can often ‘read’ it and see a trail through the trees. It’s not necessarily a real trail, simply a consistent winding path of least resistance. Sometimes you are presented with multiple paths and make a choice. The path I chose took me across a bunch of felled dead trees. I was no longer snowshoeing on a few feet of snow packed onto the ground. I was balanced, snowshoeing across trees trunks that were two or three feet off the ground. The cool thing was that there was a kind of trail of trunks that took me quite a ways. Everyone else stopped, but I carried along across the first, second and third trunks until I got to a spot where I could stop. I was perched on the butt of an old branch a few feet up the trunk of a live tree and it was pretty obvious that finding another great view would be another hour or two–but sunset would be in another hour or two and we had to get back to the car before dark. So I hung out part way up the tree for a bit, contemplated trying the jump down the hill into snow of an unknown depth, then let it go. The sliver of view between the treetops was very tempting but then my hikemates reminded me that we should start heading back.
Reversing my path across the tree trunks was a bit more challenging (seems like this happens a lot in the wild…easier to get there than it is to get back). I’d been heading a bit down hill, stepping down off logs onto other logs. Now I had to balance and step uphill. It was a bit of a challenge but I made it without a problem, not even losing my balance. Okay, maybe once or twice, but that’s all.
We reconvened and then headed back, stopping at the great but windy vista to do the tourist thing and take some photos of the beautiful scenery.
I used my phone camera, which explains the lack of photo quality. I love taking photos but I don’t like carry my heavy, awkward, professional-quality camera with me on trips. It weighs a lot and I’m worried about breaking it or getting it dirty. So for now I will make do with my phone camera, although writing this makes me realize I could get a different one. What I’d really like to do is get a helmet cam so I can take videos of the trips I do. I even have one but I don’t know how hard it would be to mount, or where I could mount it. We’ve even thought about mounting it on Nikita to see where she goes and what she sees, but not sure how to protect it from all the smashing about she does.
So the way back down was fast, a lot faster than up. I even sat down on my (Lukes, actually) snow shoes and did a bit of sliding, which was pretty fun when it worked. It wasn’t quite slippery enough for most of the trail, though. I jammed my knee a bit coming down, which I was worried about. My knees have been bad since I was a teenager and it seems the coming down hills is much worse for them than going up, so it is often painful. This time, though, I took an Ibuprofen and then the knee became totally pain-free and no side effects.
We made it down fast, but just before we finished the trail we stopped for a bit of reflection and celebration. It’s hard to describe how nice it is to share that sense of accomplishment with friends who just experienced the same thing, but it was and we did.
We finished the trail just as the moon came up, so I figure we were on the trail from 10 am to 6 pm, with about an hour or two for our lunch stop. Makes for a good six-hour snowshoe trip up the side of the mountain.
We made it back to the car, stuffed the gear in the trunk and then headed off for dinner at Gus’ Pizza in Hinton. By the time we left the restaurant it was 8 pm, so we didn’t get back to town until 11, then I went to the airport to pick up a friend. I got home close to 1 am and everyone else was in bed asleep. Even Nikita didn’t wake up and bark like she normally does.
The following day (Sat) Luke and I did a 90-min yoga class, then we met my brother for another ski trip at Blackfoot. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) Luke forgot one of his skis at home, so Forrest and I took Forrest’s daughter out with us and skiied for an hour or so.
When I finally got home in the afternoon, I realized that between Friday and Saturday, I’d spent more time exercising than I had sleeping and eating. That thought made me feel great. It’s not something I could do every day, but once a week sounds good to me! In two days I’d guess I burned about 4000 calories, and one pound of fat is 3200, so I figure I burned off a pound last weekend. Might have gained it all back Sunday at my niece’s birthday party with three pieces of cake, but that’s besides the point!
Whether or not I burned calories, this weekend was a blast. I pushed myself beyond my limits and it felt great, with no lasting physical pain or side effects. I hope I can continue to push myself like this every week so that I can get healthy, feel great and also grow spiritually. There is something truly wonderful about standing on top of a high ridge know that you’ve gone farther into the wilderness than most other weekend enthusiasts do.
There is also something wonderful about pushing yourself beyond your limits and gaining success.
Another Friday down, and it was wild.