Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. The sound of the snowshoes landing on feet of snow echoes through the empty forest. It’s serene and almost meditative in the way that only the woods in winter can be.
And then our Labrador-Cattle Dog mix breaks the silence by yodeling again at a squirrel.
This weekend, Ryan and I tried backcountry snowshoeing with both of our dogs, Charlie the puggle and Ollie the Labrador-Cattle Dog (Labraheeler). This was our third snowshoe outing of the season and our first one in the actual backcountry. We both love winter hiking – the quiet woods, the fun of being out in the snow, and the indulgence to our endurance-sport cravings.
For someone who used to hate snow (winter was one of the reasons we moved from Northwest Indiana to Seattle), I’ve fallen quite in love with snowshoeing and winter in the mountains. Something about snowshoeing is just so fun and relaxing. Maybe it appeals to the same part of my brain (and body) that long distance running does: that almost ineffable enjoyment of moving at a steady rate for a long period of time.
Pratt Lake completely kicked our butts back in November, but the first few miles of the trail offered smooth trails with steady climbing and a low risk of avalanches, so we couldn’t resist attempting to snowshoe this trail. We didn’t attempt the whole thing, both because of the distance (11+ mile round trip) and the steep boulder field near the lake. Instead, we just went out there to have fun and try off-trail snowshoeing.
Enough foot traffic had compressed most of the snow on the trail itself, as the Pratt Lake Trail is part of a system of trails through the Alpine Lake Wilderness. Instead of wearing our snowshoes on the trail itself, we wore our microspikes for over half of the hike. But once we did strap on our snowshoes and head off trail, we were creating our own paths!
Snowshoeing uphill in soft powder is both hard and easy: you are working hard to propel yourself up the hill, but the soft snow feels gentle and forgiving underneath your feet. Snowshoeing downhill is aerobically easy but a bit trickier, as you try to place your shoes without wiping out (and at some points, sledding down seems easier).
At one point, Ollie realized that the trail connected to where we had snowshoed from – so as Ryan and I descended off trail, he ran back and forth along the longer switchback from where we were to where we would finish – with breaks to eat snow in between. I think he’s outpaced me as the endurance junkie of the family. Although he was pretty tired by the end of the day…
We only trekked about 4 miles and 1000 feet, as snowshoeing is slower than hiking on snow-free terrain. But some days, it’s not about pace or distance – what matters is enjoying the present moment, companionship, and the scenery around you.
Do you love or hate the snow?