I hadn’t been snowshoeing in a couple of years, so when my friend John called after a recent late-season snowfall to ask if I wanted to join him and a few buddies for a night-time hike, I jumped at the opportunity.
As I prepared for the adventure, it occurred to me that snowshoeing is very accessible. Basically, all you need is a pair of snowshoes and snow. Of course, some of us like to be ready for any unexpected situation.
I checked my list of additional accessories. Gaiters, gloves, adjustable poles, water, snacks, hand and toe warmers, first aid kit, multi-tool, matches, compass, spare socks and avalanche probe. By the time I got all of these items in my backpack, I looked more like a Mount Everest Sherpa than a person about to go out for a short snowshoe hike. But you can never be too prepared.
The holy grail of a night-time snowshoeing excursion is a good headlamp. A few years back I purchased the brightest, most powerful headlamp available — The Lighthouse Beam Master 2000. I don’t even have a joke to illustrate the power of this accessory. Suffice it to say, it is the best headlamp you can buy.
When I arrived at the designated starting point, everyone stopped what they were doing to take in the sight of a well-prepared snowshoe hiker. And then the comments started.
“Looks like you forgot to pack the microwave oven,” said the first guy.
I made a mental note to deprive him of food if we get lost.
“And the tent,” said the second hiker. No first aid for him should he get mauled by a bobcat.
“Did you happen to pack the chess set?” asked the third.
Hope this smart aleck’s feet stay nice and toasty. No toe warmers for him.
When I turned on my headlamp the comments stopped, and they were all duly impressed.
“Oh, man, Mark! You could knock a bird out of a tree at 400 yards with that light!”
“Hey, John, this is my column. How about you leave the jokes to me,” I requested.
“Got it. OK, let’s start. We’ll go single file. Mark, you take up the back. Let us know if you need to stop for a break.”
I had no desire to tell these guys that I was a weekend warrior athlete, and stopping on my behalf was not going to be an issue. No little snowshoe hike was going to tire me out.
A short time later, I was dying; sweating profusely, out of breath, and my leg muscles burned. I was pretty sure I couldn’t go on.
“OK, guys, I need a break,” I begged.
“Shouldn’t we get out of the parking lot first?” John asked.
I turned around and saw my car just a couple hundred feet behind us.
“Oh, yeah, just kidding,” I said. This weekend warrior needed to toughen up a bit; and once I did, the hike was very enjoyable.
At one point I requested that we stop for a snack. As they guys munched on their trail mix, I reached into my pack and found my crispy caramelized pork ramen noodle soup with curry roasted acorn squash, a side dish of grilled Portobellos sautéed in wine, and a dessert of homemade Sicilian Ricotta cheesecake.
The highlight of the evening occurred when we heard a bear in the woods. We all stopped literally in our tracks.
“Listen,” John said. “You hear that?”
“Bear!” I hissed in a stage whisper, and immediately sprang into action. “Everyone stay calm, no one panic!”
I ripped off my backpack and started digging for the bear spray. “Play dead! Or climb a tree! I’ll handle this!”
I ran like a banshee into the woods spraying the aerosol wildly. A few minutes later I returned to find the three of them looking up into a tree.
“There’s your bear, Mark,” John said.
I looked up to see a Barred Owl high up on a branch overhead.
“I’m pretty sure there was a bear, too,” I said. “I scared it away. The Barred Owl is still here because Barred Owls aren’t afraid of bears.”
For the rest of the hike I kept the bear spray in my pocket, just in case. Several hours later we returned to our cars.
As I was bending over to unclasp my snowshoes, I told the guys how much fun I had. “Let’s go again tomorrow night,” I suggested.
When I stood up and looked around I saw the taillights of their three cars leaving the parking lot. I’m sure it was just that they were really tired and wanted to get home in a hurry so they could rest. Snowshoeing can be exhausting.
Mark Albury lives in Northfield Falls.