Strappin' on the Snowshoes
Let a pair of area afficianados offer you some tips and tricks
by Jim and Sandii Mellen
My first experience with snowshoes was in 1977 after I’d moved to this state of Idaho. I was living at that time in a ghost/mining area called Deadwood, which operated in the 1930s. Located in central Idaho just southeast of Cascade, south of Warm Lake where the Deadwood River enters the reservoir. I leased and ran the old Deadwood Lodge, 11 miles north of the reservoir. Quite a happening place in the summer, but winters were extremely serene; the nearest neighbor was Warm Lake. Weekends often would bring in large snowmobile groups that would venture the great distance.
This was a snow belt and the major snowfalls were measured in feet—not inches—just overnight. Not having a snowmobile or any other means of winter travel, post-holing was the way I got around. I found a pair of old snowshoe frames in one of the many old cabins that were still on the place. The many pack rats that inhabited the buildings had long ago eaten the rawhide, so I decided to try and make new rawhide strips for these out of some deer hide from the last hunting season. This was a very long, difficult process, which took countless hours. But I did succeed in making some very crude workable snowshoes. Wish I had a photo of these because they worked rather well, although it took several tries to get the laces just right.
They were somewhat large for me and awkward to walk with at first. I would spend hours snowshoeing around the many buildings that had survived the fire that had gone through there years before. I traveled up and down the river following tracks from the many animals that wintered there too. It was certainly a winter wonderland and I loved it so much. With the exception of snowmobiles on some weekends, it was very peaceful and so quiet with no civilization to be heard. I am still there in my own mind, it had that big of an impact on me.
Now, after all these years, I still have a great passion for the outdoors year round. Sandpoint has been my playground for almost 25 years, with hundreds of square miles surrounding me to explore. Snowshoes have greatly improved with modern technology. My journeys into the wild places during the winter months are so much easier and to my relief, safer with these superior snowshoes. I prefer to cross-country ski, but there are many times when snowshoes are much safer for extreme terrain. I generally carry the snowshoes on my pack while cross-country skiing, so I can switch when I get out of my comfort zone.
You can snowshoe just about anywhere around Sandpoint; lots of areas are accessible with many levels from easy to difficult. Pend Oreille Bay trail, Round Lake, Trout Creek Reserve, Dover Bay trails, Farragut State Park, Gold Hill, Mickinnick trail, and Schweitzer Mountain are some of the possibilities. Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness has many winter hikes that you can sign up for on their website.
Snowshoeing is a great way for families to enjoy some outdoor activity with their children, and a very good way to get some exercise without feeling like drudgery. It is fun to make a game out of identifying tracks, trees, birds, etc. Many times this is so peaceful and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous. Be sure to take a camera along on your hikes.
Snowshoes, poles and cross country skis can be purchased at many places inexpensively; check at the local second hand stores, Craigslist, or Sandpoint Online. Snowshoeing is a great way to introduce children to the outdoors and help them gain an appreciation for this wonderful area we are so lucky to live in.
Venturing out into the high country is much more challenging. One should always check for avalanche conditions. Wise folks don’t venture out alone, but if you do, let someone know where you are going. I carry a pack with a lot of extra gear; emergency blanket, bivvy, fire starting kit, extra clothing, food, emergency medical kit, and a Spot 2 for letting my husband know of my whereabouts. Having an enjoyable experience is as simple as being prepared, with proper clothing, in layers for comfort. It is fun to go out with friends or the companionship of our dogs. They love going out to play in the snow as much as I do. Our daily adventures are the highlight of their routine.
I purchased my first pair of snowshoes from a friend in 1978. They were a gorgeous pair of wooden bear paws laced with rawhide. I was so excited to try these babies out. I just knew I was going to love it. However, after going only about 200 feet, this experience definitely did not live up to my expectations. I tried adjusting the bindings to no avail. So I took them off, only to sink up to my waist! So I put them back on and returned to the car. They now look great hanging on our wall.
Since then, I have purchased several pairs and in my opinion, the modern snowshoes are vastly superior to the traditional shoes. My favorites now are the MSR Lightning Ascents. It is difficult to find something that works in all situations since differing snow conditions may require more floatation. Some models have extensions that can be added to help with flotation, and others have heel risers for use when the going gets really steep.
Speaking of steep, check an avalanche report when venturing out into the mountains. The Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center issues regular reports and free avalanche awareness classes are also available. (Visit http://tinyurl.com/4hgej82 for more information.)
I highly recommend hiking poles with baskets to provide stability and uphill assist. When descending steep, slick portions, leaning back will sometimes turn your snowshoes into skis, which can be exciting but dangerous. If the descent is powdery, I find it best to make new tracks instead of following the old tracks since the soft snow will cushion your steps. Running with snowshoes is fun, especially downhill. Our small Crescent Moon shoes are excellent for this.
No discussion about snowshoeing in this region would be complete without mentioning Jim and Betsy Fulling. This couple are out on snowshoes every week when there is snow to be found. Seeing them out there doing hard-core adventures in their 70s is a real inspiration. Betsy writes reports of each of their weekly hikes: you can read them at the River Journal’s website by choosing, from the home page, outdoors, then hiking, then Mountain Walkers.
Please always be considerate of landowners and ask before parking on plowed roads, as some private property owners will have your vehicle towed if parked illegally.
Thirty-five years ago, I used to cope with winter. Now it is four-way tie for favorite season. Don’t just cope with winter, get out and enjoy it.