It’s December in Portland, Oregon, and there’s finally a chance of snow in the forecast. This means nothing. Meteorologists around here tease like Catholic girls–they talk a good game but there’s only 10% probability of a warm front.
Flurries get me thinking about snowshoeing, though. Last time I cinched up the ol’ Atlas bindings was on the southwest flank of Mt. Hood with a friend who has since
bailed on his hiking buddies moved back to Fresno. He claims he’s only an hour away from Yosemite now but that’s no excuse. We have powdery white volcanoes, Yosemite has a mangy red moustache. Oregon, for the win.
It always surprises me to hear people say, “Snowshoeing? Really? What’s it like?” You’ve gotta be kidding me. It’s like winter Jesus shoes, that’s what it’s like. You can just walk right over the top of everything, it’s the ultimate four wheel drive. Pretty icicles on that tree over there? You can get closer. Bunny rabbit tracks? You can follow them. Trails mean zilch, you’re not restricted to other people’s footprints. (Especially if they end in a circle of broken ice and slushy water, definitely not then.) There’s no lift ticket, special boots, or ski wax. All you need are indomitable optimism and something with lug soles and you’re golden. Now, go find a rental place.
Snowshoeing isn’t hard, you just tense your inner thigh muscles for six hours until your legs tremble, then you drink. Some people use poles, some trust the integrity of their knee cartilage when they tumble down glacial crevasses. There’s no official clothing, you can wear whatever you like. Just remember that snow has one mission and one mission only: to find it’s way inside your pants and snuggle its cold, wet nose up to your warm, pink flesh. As in football, multiple layers of defense are good strategy.
A little trick I picked up in Colorado is leaving the underwear at home. Now, hear me out. Cotton may breathe nice on a warm summer day but this ain’t July. When you finally pause for cocoa and cookies, you’ll be amazed how fast that trickle of sweat down your ass becomes a frozen waterfall. Cotton may be gluten-free and renewable but it wicks for shit. Just because something is all-natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. Rattlesnakes are all-natural. So is carbon dioxide. When it’s cold enough on the trail to freeze sweat into an icy bodysuit of death, say it with me: polypropylene.
Best part about snowshoeing: zero learning curve. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. In fact, it’ll make you a better walker. Snowshoeing works every muscle from your belt down (okay, not that one) and you will be intimately cognizant of the location of every single one of them the morning after. If you bring poles and wear a pack you can
torture tone your upper body, too. Independent studies have shown it burns twice the calories as walking at the same speed. We’re talkin’ guilt-free beer and pizza here, folks. Runners and cyclists use snowshoeing to cross-train and most of them look like they could use a six-pack of Guinness and some cheese, so you know it’s powerful.
I recommend starting slowly with low to moderate pain and working up to moaning to your coworkers for days. Glacier View Trail and all it’s little tangents surrounding Government Camp are a great place to test your thighs. You can wander around the forest, take in frozen Enid Lake or, if you made your coffee with Red Bull that morning, march all the way up to The Shining’s Overlook Hotel (aka Timberline Lodge) 10 miles away. Just remember, that’s where Jack Torrance bought it, so mind your bearing.
It was below freezing when Mark and I hit Glacier View but that was the plan; you gotta get there before the sun can melt your National Geographic moment off the branches. Oregon’s winter wonderland effect often disappears with time lapse dispatch. If you master the skill of hitting the shutter without removing your gloves, you’ll save precious time and regret.
After the first four feet of powder, any forest is transformed. We explored many flocked mysteries and oddities, not the least of which was where the hell the trail actually was. I think I heard a snowshoe hare laughing his ass off at us in the bushes. Word to the wise: The color of icicles does NOT represent their flavor.
That was bear grass, not a spider, calm the fuck down. Enid Lake looked good enough to slide across but frozen lakes are like Hooters waitresses: pretty, but typically unstable. We settled on panoramic photographs, instead. After all, it would have been a long slog back to the car in underwear saturated with green slush. Wait a minute, I’m not wearing underwear….
The drive back to Portland was stunning. I think the Mt. Hood Wilderness area steals fashion secrets from Swiss snow globes. Both Mark and I present a dominant Nature Procrastination gene so we pulled over for tree selfies and animal snow sculptures. Mark called them Snow Turkeys but I had a vision.
If I had had any energy left that day, I would have frolicked for another two hours in the white stuff but my Wine and Dark Chocolate indicator light was flashing EMPTY. Portland, and all the Ghirardelli therein, beckoned. Snowshoeing is a great workout for the abs but I like to maintain a protective cushioning layer, you know, for the cold. Mark, the next time you’re in Portland, just toss your snowshoes in the back of my truck, we’re gonna go play in the snow.