By Scott Crossen
When did you last spend time in the high-country? Maybe you headed up to engage in Alpine or cross-country skiing. But have you ever tried snowshoeing?
“Snowshoeing doesn’t sound like it would be that hard. After all, it’s just walking on top of the snow with planks under your feet.” These words were spoken by an associate of mine who had obviously never snowshoed before. Yes, the concept is simple enough. An individual straps webbed platforms under their feet which theoretically allows the person to walk above deep snow. But, theory is theory for a reason. Snow shoeing can be one of the most demanding cardio conditioning exercises available.
Last weekend, a group of Berthoud friends and I snowshoed down the Snake River valley from Arapahoe Basin to Keystone. The road distance is a little more than five miles, but the snowshoeing distance, including north and south diversions is closer to six miles. Each step we would sink past knees and thighs in waist high snow. Of course, the snow would fall in on top of each step and one would have to lift the weight of snow up and forward to move. That’s where it gets challenging.
Most of our journey involved traversing back and forth over the partially frozen Snake River, which was buried under waves of snow. Occasionally, the crunch of ice and shifting slabs of snow provided warning to choose a different route. Navigating fallen trees and rocks buried beneath the snow frequently resulted in someone falling over in slow motion while yelling, as the rest of us watched in amusement. (Avalanche danger was non-existent due to the heavily forested hill sides and grades, but snow conditions were otherwise ideal for an avalanche in the right location).
After a heavy snowfall in the high-country when pine tree limbs are ladled with folds of cotton and the wind is resting, there’s a feeling that almost can’t be described. In parts of the mountains where few people venture it’s as though a part of nature hides that which is shared only with those who apply effort to venture off the usual path.
A breeze stirs the trees and vapors of white dust sprinkle from the limbs. There’s a quiet unlike any other stillness found in any building of any kind. It’s as though God’s breath drifts through the trees touching all that is fortunate enough to be found. Nature and the expansiveness of mountains have a way of subtly reminding us of our insignificance.
Nature can be a trickster, though. While sitting at the edge of a meadow in a grove of trees eating lunch, one of the pine branches decided to dump its load of snow on top of the head of the least suspecting lunch mate. The rest of us laughed hard as we all quickly stood up and moved, while poking our ski poles in to the tree limbs previously above our heads to avoid a similar prank.
At the end of our jaunt everyone experienced some stiffness, but none were cold. Along the way there were repeated comments about how beautiful it all seemed, and all agreed. There is little in life that compares to stepping through waist high snow fields snuggled in the arms of pine tree forests in the high-country. Especially, when that time is spent with friends who make each mile all the more enjoyable.