Monday, January 18, 2016

Snowshoe Backpacking: A love/hate relationship




Halfway up the Hill of Death, I paused. "Why did I think this was a good idea?" I asked. After all, for J's birthday, I had taken him to Hawaii. For mine, I was slogging up a mountain with a backpack, on snow that was alternately crusty and caused my snowshoes to slide out of control, or so deep that I could barely move. Why did I keep doing such hard things?

When we had arrived at the place where we would start our climb to 8.000 feet, sixty mile an hour winds lashed the truck. A wet snow fell horizontally, stinging my face. As I hoisted my backpack, I was glad we were going to a hut instead of trying to put up a tent (I doubt a tent would have held up in those conditions). Even though we were going to a hut, we still were carrying most of our supplies, so I am going to call it backpacking!

Would you get out?
J was on skis, the better choice. This was definitely not snowshoeing on packed trails. The route went straight up, often with a slippery sidehill. Even the dog looked a little put out. After two hours I felt a meltdown coming on. It was the infamous trifecta:  not enough food, intense conditions, and an irrational disappointment in myself for not performing better. "I hate backpacking on snowshoes," I growled. I might have thrown my trekking poles. But as with all meltdowns, once I had it I felt better. I resumed the one mile an hour slog and finally reached the hut.

Spartan yet welcoming, the hut provided much needed shelter. We set a pan of snow on the stove to use for drinking water. I shoveled out the outhouse (a tarp with a pit toilet). J bravely went for a quick ski run but I decided enough was enough. The wind howled ferociously all night.



This is looking up at the Hill of Death which doesn't look as bad as it really is.
The next morning dawned clear and cold. I headed downhill through a powdery, sunlit world. There was nobody in sight, and it was warm enough to linger reading my book at the base of the Hill of Death while I waited for J to catch up (he stayed later to finish up chores). "I love snowshoe backpacking," I enthused.


Tips: Eat. Drink. Snowshoeing with a pack is HARD. Embrace the slow pace. Also, I carried a Luci solar lantern for the hut. I probably wouldn't carry one on a normal backpacking trip but if you are going a more luxurious, base camp route, these little things are great! You can get the normal white color or one that has many colors. Great for a dark hut or a campsite with picnic tables.

18 comments:

  1. I did a lot of cabin trips when we lived in Fairbanks. Having a warm and dry place to sleep makes pretty much any winter trip doable no matter the conditions (we did a few where temps didn't rise above -35). I miss having all those cabin options here.

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    1. That is really cold. I don't know if I could drag myself outside at those temps. Cabins definitely can extend the season for me. I'd like to say I'm tough enough to camp out all winter, but I'm really not.

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  2. You are such a BA! I don't think I would have gotten out of the truck. Following you for a few years now, I wouldn't consider you a whimp so if you say it's hard, for us mere mortals, I'd say it's harder than hard. I'm concerned since I have a trip around Crater Lake planned . . . on snowshoes . . . with a pack . . . with tent . . . I need to test and see if I have what it takes. I could even run up to Crater Lake for a quick overnighter, but more likely will test at Shasta or Lassen. I plan to carry significantly more weight than my summer kit. I even got a bigger pack. More weight on snowshoes could be more slug. Hmmmmm . . . Food for thought :( Appreciate your candor!

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    1. I was thinking about you, Jan, but I'm not sure how much climbing that trip has. That's what killed me. Also, I think it's likely you will find some beaten track. Don't you? This was really fresh, dense snow mixed with icy crust. Also, you will have others to help break trail. I say go for it. Food...food...eat food. I wasn't eating enough.

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  3. Hi Mary, Winter hiking and camping is one of my favorite things to do. In my younger days, we would snowshoe pulling sleds loaded with tents and supplies. We carried candles for light. Mostly, we stayed in tents but, if we came upon a trappers cabin, we used it. I would still do it but, hard to find anyone to do it with. Thanks for sharing. Your trips bring back memories.

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    1. That sounds hardcore, John. I'd love to hear more about it. A blog post perhaps?

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  4. I LOVE my Luci lanterns! I started with the multi-colored one, a gift, and went on to get the small backpacking version and the soft-white version as well. Having a solar-powered light has been fantastic. I would definitely take one on a regular backpacking trip and use it in place of my headlamp for reading in the dark. I use the multicolored one because I read by Red light so as not to mess up my night vision, and rhythms as well. It also came in very handy last summer in the field when the nights were really black and R was functioning on a single eye. I would turn on the red light and he could find his way back to the tent by the glow.
    They have been great all year since then, saving me from buying lamp oil and candles (though I love those).
    You and J are quite the duo, R wouldn't have gotten out the truck and I think I would have quickly agreed with him!

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    1. Those lanterns would be great in your wall tent! I didn't even think of the advantages of the red light or that I could use instead of a headlamp but they are bright enough. I love the solar aspect of them.

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  5. And after the storm - beauty. Happy birthday.

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    1. Thank you. It would be hard for me to live in a place with constant same weather. I guess I did though--Florida. Because I appreciate the sun so much when it comes out. Wait--Alaska was like that, rain every day pretty much.

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  6. I think that's a great way to spend a B-day. But yes, I have a love/hate relationship with backcountry skiing so I know what you mean.

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    1. It was way better than sitting around and eating too much cake (though I did pack in two cupcakes!)

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  7. We have a hut trip planned this weekend. Three of us are XC skiing, but J wants to snowshoe to practice hauling his sled for Denali. I am intrigued how he was like carrying a pack & sled with snowshoes on. I'm just thinking now I'll be able to keep up!!!

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    1. That sounds like a lot of work. I have skied with a sled and a backpack with humorous and terrifying results. Never snowshoed with one.

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  9. I've stayed at Appalachian Mountain Club huts in the winter. In the summer they're staffed by a group of college kids and for a large sum of money give you a bunk and two meals. In the winter most are boarded up, but some are open for a lot less money, with a single caretaker and no meals. However, they let you use the kitchen, including the oven. (Propane is helicoptered in.) Some people bring up very elaborate meals on those winter trips. The bunk houses are unheated, but the main room has a wood stove. If it's really cold, and the hut isn't crowded, the caretakers have been known to let guests sleep on the floor beside the stove.

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    1. That sounds like fun...maybe not elaborate meals because that's a lot to carry...but as an alternative to bringing a ton of camping gear.

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