After a late start yesterday morning I arrived at the trail head at Mohican Sate Park. We received another inch or two of fresh snow overnight bringing the total up to eight inches or more so I was excited for some adventure. After spending several amazing hours out in the snowy woods with my new snow shoes I am certain I made the right decision in trying out this new to me form of winter recreation.
The equestrian trail network is where I spend most of my time when I come to Mohican in the wintertime. Lots of hills, miles of wide well marked trails and of course no horses this time of year makes it a perfect place to ski or snowshoe and enjoy the peacefulness and tranquility of the winter woods. The picture above is looking back through the staging area towards the entrance. The only park users so far are a lone hiker, me and a couple cross country skiers.
The temperature was a perfect 29 degrees F. so a poly base layer, thermal top and my Polartec fleece regulated my body heat perfectly. I only worked up excessive temperature on a couple of the longer climbs. I had along my ski gloves but they spent most of the trip hanging off my belt. Like most cold weather activities perfecting the kit takes a little trial and error but I think I got pretty close for the conditions on this trip.
I hiked the 4.6 mile red trail which crosses the Pine Run in a couple places. I was a bit surprised to find the creek full of water and rushing along nicely. It's early in the winter season and not that long ago we got days of rain so I should have expected to find the creek in this condition.
Typically later in the season the flow rate slows down and the creek freezes over at the trail crossings making getting across a breeze on skis which is usually how I encounter the waterway. Today Pine Run offered up a bit more of a challenge. Luckily I was wearing my waterproof pac boots and I found a spot just upstream where I could make my crossing. I removed the snow shoes and gripping them at the front with the tails down I used them like hiking poles to help steady myself as I stepped carefully through the icy water.
Safely on the other side and back up to the trail I took a short a break and ate a snack while I had my snow shoes off. By the time I ate my rice noodles, squirted an espresso Gu pack and plenty of water from the Camelback I was already cooling down so I got back on the move.
I like this trail system because it traverses all the features of the surrounding land from valley bottoms to ridge tops. There is plenty of climbing and descending to keep things interesting and make it a workout. I'm happy to report that even on the steepest terrain I encountered traction was not a problem; the snow shoes gripping much like mountain bike tires on dry dirt.
The cross country skiers never made it further than the Pine Run so from then on the only tracks I saw were whitetail dear, rabbits and other small critters.
I did take a few off trail excursions to test the snowshoes in the rough stuff. My shoes are huge by modern standards as they are the traditional shape and nearly four feet long. I expected them to cumbersome in close quarters but actually I found it very easy to maneuver through the forest. I like to get off the trail and do so often with my cross country skis but I have discovered that snow shoes really work well for this type of work. The wide shape of the shoe acts much like a big fender and allowed me to squash flat tiny saplings and thorny brambles before they got caught up in my pants. Unlike long skis the snowshoes are much easier to turn and don't seem to snag on branches and vegetation near as easy.
Like I mentioned in my last post from my first trip out I'm blown away by the floatation and stability provided by the snowshoe and the ease at which I can move through the woods. You're not going to twist an ankle with these things strapped to your feet.
Making my way westward through a large stand of Eastern Hemlock the canopy suddenly opened up and I noticed something strange was going on with the big pines. In an area of about a hundred yards in diameter many of the trees had their branches stripped off and many trunks were snapped off cleanly at various heights. I surmise that a tornado touched down in this very spot and shredded the forest. I stood in awe for long time marveling at the destructive power of nature. It must have been quite an event.
Continuing on my trek I descended back into the valley and met up with the Pine Run again. At this crossing the water was shallow and the bottom seemed covered with flat rocks so I took a chance and simply crossed through the water with the snow shoes on. In this picture I'm balanced on a snow covered log or something and thought it would make a neat photograph.
I love the tracks left behind in the snow. They remind me of a sea turtle track left in beach sand. I was always curious about snowshoeing and thought a constant effort had to be made to keep the feet apart and walk slightly bow legged. I must have a natural wide stance because I don't feel like my stride is any different and only rarely do I hear the metallic clack of the frames hitting each other in passing if my feet do come too close together.
I timed myself just right and was making the final climb out the valley as dusk settled in bathing the forest in that peculiar shade of blue that slowly deepens as night falls.
For the sake of curiosity I unstrapped the shoes and walked the last hundred yards through the staging area with just the pac boots. I wanted to see if my enthusiasm was just a result of the newness and novelty of this winter sport I'm just discovering or do snow shoes really make that much difference? That 100 yard slog in the pac boots was awful. With out the stability of the big flat platforms each step was unsteady and it felt like most of my effort was wasted as the boot simply slid around in the snow. With each step my foot sunk all the way down requiring the exaggerated marching like step that gets old real fast. The snowshoes allow a much more normal walking like pace.
My final verdict: Snowshoes Rock!
One last thing I'd like to comment about after a good nights rest following this three and a half hour hike is any soreness or lack thereof experienced from the exercise. I read that snowshoeing takes some getting used to and some soreness especially around the hips could be experienced. I'm happy to report that I feel great with just an overall dull tightness in my legs like all I need is a few minutes of stretching throughout the day today. I've got a theory that my regular sessions on the elliptical trainer the past few months have conditioned my lower body perfectly for motion of snowshoeing. The mechanics of both activities are very similar.