Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The End of Snowshoeing Season

. . . at least on the slopes. After the big snowfall last week, I snowshoed back up the ridge behind my cabin and then up some of the de-commissioned Forest Service roads up there. I'd like to say I snowshoed back down the ridge, but that wouldn't be quite accurate. More on that later.

Going uphill was no problem (other than the cardiovascular kind). The snowshoes got good traction on every step. This is looking up the ridge from near the bottom. I held the camera level so you could get a feel for the incline.

Up top, the road still looks like Jack Nicholson could be around the next bend with an axe. I figured I'd get a good workout and walk out for an hour and half and then turn around and come back.

The imprint of my old snow angel is still partially visible.

This is looking across the upper East Fork valley from higher up on the road.

It was all a piece of cake, walking out and then returning to where I left the road to go back down the ridge. But getting back down the ridge would be an adventure of sorts. After all the recent cycles of thaw and re-freeze, there was a thick sheet of ice running down the ridge under all the fresh powder. It wasn't a problem going up, but for some reason the snowshoes couldn't get any traction at all going downhill. My first step from the road onto the slope felt like taking off on a ski jump. I stuck my poles out to try to catch myself, but they didn't get traction either, so I did a faceplant in a small snowdrift. Getting back up, there was nothing I could do but laugh at myself, because it was pretty funny.  My beard was full of snow.  I initially thought "that first step is a doozy," but then I found out all the other steps would be doozies, too.

(Ominous foreshadowing: one of these guys wouldn't make it back, like one of those red-shirted characters on Star Trek that yells "Captain, over here.  I found something!")

I had zero traction on the ice, so my snowshoes became clumsy skis, which are no good in the forest.  I wished for an ice axe and crampons.  I tried taking small steps and trying to dig in, and I tried turning the snowshoes at an angle to get a better bite, but nothing worked.  I had a hard time staying upright.  I even considered trying to sled down part of the way on my butt, but there were far too many trees, standing and otherwise, that were in the way.  Then, stepping over a downed log, I lost it again, fell sideways and snapped one of my poles in half.

I decided I could do better if I took the snowshoes off.  It worked for a little while, sidestepping down the slope, carrying two snowshoes and now three poles.  I slipped a few more times.  Usually, I could feel the traction giving way and be prepared to fall somewhat gracefully.  But then I slipped good, with no warning, and before I knew it, my feet were in the air.  In contrast to the suddenness of the slippage, I felt I hovered horizontally in the air, three feet above the ground, for a long time. My first thought was "Ooh. This time I'm going to land flat on my back." My second thought was "This is gonna hurt." As a testament to my clairvoyance, I came down with a thud and immediately felt like someone walloped my lower back with the flat side of a long 2 x 10.  It has probably been 20 years since I've had the wind knocked out of me, but I can affirmatively say that it doesn't get any better with age. I rolled around on the ground for a little while trying to draw just one short breath and thinking "This will pass shortly," which it did, but not shortly enough.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the presence of mind to get a picture while I was hovering there, but I'm pretty sure if I had, it would've looked something like this:

I got back up with no lasting damage, but I decided that carrying that broken pole, while the responsible thing to do, was not helping me, so I dropped it at the base of a tree, where it can ride out the rest of the winter.  I'll go back in the summertime, when all that ice is gone, and retrieve it then.

I didn't fall anymore after that, although I had a few close calls. I slowly made it to the bottom of the ridge, and then I only had to go about another quarter mile to reach my cabin. I’m sure I made a sorry sight when I emerged out of the trees carrying my snowshoes and one lonely pole.  Luckily no one was around to see me.


  1. That was a joy to read. I am so, so, so glad you got that new computer. None of us want to miss out on these adventures!

  2. That totally reminds me of a few weeks ago when I was trying to tip toe strategically up the walk so as to avoid totally getting my feet soaked. I was on the way home from work and I had the slick bottom shoes on. It wasn't pretty (for me anyway). I'm sure anyone watching got a good laugh out of it. I can't remember whether I did the splits, just fell on my tail or what, but falling like that does not get any better with age either. I never could do the splits. No sense trying now.


  3. i'm sorry Cliff but i laughed hard, great write up, you sounded like a Peter Sellers movie "and now i vill walk down dees steeep slope and....ahhhhhh" "o no...i have broken my pole". glad you're back up on the blog and love the great pics.

  4. Thanks, everybody. I had to tell on myself. If we can't laugh at ourselves after something like that, then we are taking ourselves waaaay too seriously.