“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn.”
― John Muir, The Mountains of California
As America’s foremost mountaineer and naturalist, Muir knew what he was talking about when advising us to climb the mountains such that our cares drop away. He was especially enamored with winter adventure and the joys to be found in snowy backcountry rambles that exercise the body, sharpen the mind and uplift the spirit.
As the fall season turns to winter in earnest, the days are getting cold and the nights are getting long. Holiday time with the family, binge-watching Netflix, and a good book with a warm beverage are all great ways to nestle into the winter months. But what to do on those achingly clear blue days when the sun is shining on the snowy hills around the Valley and cabin fever is starting to get the best of you? Take Muir’s advice, grab some snowshoes and head to mountains!
Snowshoeing is a surprisingly rewarding way to explore the winter wildlands. It gets you out in the mountains, hopefully with friends and loved ones. It’s also a unique way to see familiar landscapes in a new wonderful new light and, depending on the snow conditions, it can also be a heck of a workout.
Snowshoe adventures don’t require much gear other than the shoes themselves and good winter clothing. If the sun is shining you’re going to want sunglasses to cut down on the glare. Stick to defined trails and roads when getting familiar with winter landscapes as familiar hikes that were straightforward and easy during the summer can be far more challenging in winter. Be sure to pay attention to storm systems that may be on the way. By far the best time for a snowshoe adventure is a sunny crisp clear day — snowshoeing through challenging weather can be an exhausting and nerve-wracking chore.
Living in the Rogue Valley, we are fortunate to have easy access to phenomenal winter wildland snowshoe adventures. Here are a few of my favorites:
• A justifiably popular beginning snowshoe is one of the Ranger-led hikes in the Crater Lake National Park. These short jaunts offer unparalleled beauty with helpful public lands stewards who can fill you in on the history and ecology of the park.
• I’m particularly fond of heading into Pilot Rock in the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument when it glistens with ice and snow above the forest canopy. The views of fresh snow blanketing Mt. Shasta from the monument can be breathtaking.
• Further afield, the paved road up to Castle Lake out of the city of Mount Shasta is often plowed in winter and provides access to a wonderful starting spot for both snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
• It’s hard to go wrong on the south side of Mount Ashland with its old-growth Shasta-Red fir forest stands and sweeping vistas into California. Trails, routes and roads abound for easy exploration. Keep in mind that you may need a snow park pass, which can be picked up, along with snowshoe rentals and helpful maps, at the Ashland Outdoor Store.
—George Sexton is conservation director for KS Wild in Ashland, Oregon, and is filling in to cover Joseph Vaile’s Wild Side column while he is on sabbatical.—