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Happy 10th Anniversary of snowshoeing adventures to me.
Or maybe it’s only the 9th winter I’ve been going on adventures, using High Camp in the Chiwaukum Mountains as a jumping off point.
Doesn’t really matter, because time stands still for me one precious weekend a year in a lovely little woodstove heated A-frame cabin charmingly named Huckleberry.
The weather gods seemed to have taken note of the fact that I was celebrating a decade of snowshoeing adventures at High Camp, bestowing blue skies and warmish (20-30F daytime) weather with a recent dump of crystalline snow for my Friday afternoon arrival. Longer daylight hours allowed for a quick snowshoe jaunt in the sunshine, prior to night fall – a luxury I’ve never experienced before on a snowshoeing adventure, and will not count on for next year (you would do well to not rely upon weather gods for anything in the mountains, especially sunshine in March).
Next morning, sunlight streaming into the cabin (2 days in a row!!), made it much easier to get out of bed than on a work day back in Seattle!
Because I knew that I’d be spending all day – literally, every daylight hour- on yet another glorious snowshoeing adventure, visiting my favorite places on McCue Ridge and all points in between, and in the process, gaining 2000 feet in brisk air while breaking trail through untouched snow (no Cascade cement this weekend), soaking in views of mountains (Hi, Glacier Peak!) all around, snacking on pine-infused icicles during rest breaks, enjoying the antics of hairy woodpeckers lunch-buffeting on tree bark, identifying the repetitive high pitched alarm call of a nuthatch, counting the number of pine cones on a straight-as-an-arrow tree, following fresh coyote and rabbit tracks looping around trees and rocks (an age old dance, and I had a front row seat), marveling at the brilliantly green lichen dangling from tree limbs, sensing the breezes whisper across my face as I tilted upward to the sun…
Are you there with me yet?
Paradise, if I’m not mistaken. And not the one on Mt. Rainier - I had this one all to myself and my husband, with the aforementioned elusive critters and birds for company. Solitude AND sunshine. Happy Anniversary, indeed!
Sunday morning brought more sunshine (pinch me, was I dreaming?) after a delicate dusting of snow during the night. Quick, strap on the snowshoes to make the most of perfect animal tracking conditions! (There are credible reports of wolverines in these mountains, although I’ve never had the privilege of seeing a track. My entertainment came from measuring the distance between rabbit prints bounding across an open slope, or piecing together the frantic predator-evasive scramble of a squirrel into the lower branches of a tree.)
I am always amazed by the different versions of High Camp visitors carry away with them on Sunday afternoon. During the Suburban leg of our journey down the mountain, a snowboarder thirty years younger than me lamented that his friends who “just snowshoed” had missed out on the glory of High Camp! I held my tongue, but I could have assured him that I too had soaked up the essence of High Camp into my marrow, hopefully enough to last for another 365 days until I return.
In no particular order, a few notes of special interest to women snowshoers:
High Camp has a well marked trail system. An easy-to-carry-in-a-pocket map is provided in your cabin, and has proven accurate in the 10 years I’ve used it to explore every destination on it.
If you’re new to snowshoeing, rest assured that you can pick from a variety of destinations even though you’re in mountainous terrain: view points, lakes, gentle rolling hills, forests, or more challenging vertical gains. Making it out to High Point on McCue Ridge on an unmarked route shouldn’t be your first adventure (especially in dicey weather), but it makes a great goal to work up to as your endurance and skills increase.
Over the decade that I’ve been visiting High Camp, I’ve conquered achingly cold conditions, double digit distances in poor quality snow, sudden snow squalls, hours of sharing the grueling work of breaking trail in deep snow, as well as slogging through zero visibility Cascade gloom – all of which built the strong set of backcountry skills I can rely on wherever I snowshoe. And that’s a big part of snowshoeing adventures! You never know what Mother Nature is going to toss your way at High Camp.
Trails are signed at junctions. Every route is marked with colored triangles affixed to trees, each within sight distance of the next. If you can’t see the next triangle ahead of you, it may have been obscured by snow. You and your trail buddies should fan out in an arc from the last triangle until someone finds the next one, tapping out the most likely directions first (Straight uphill? Probably not!). There might also be a ribbon of colored flagging (usually blue, sometimes bright orange) dangling from a tree limb, which can give you a sense of confidence as you hunt for the next triangle.
I find these “Where’s the next marker?” episodes very entertaining. My husband, who has a moderate degree of color blindness, finds it almost impossible to see the blue triangles and flagging in the dimly lit forest. So be sure you’re with someone who can spot those vital navigational clues, or you may buy yourself more snowshoeing adventure than you wanted!
Dress warmly for the snowmobile leg of your ascent/descent of the mountain. Wear ear plugs and a scarf under your hood, thick mittens and socks, and waterproof pants. I always wear gaiters as an extra layer of wind/snow proofing.
Pay attention to your feet. Two layers of socks, loosely fitted waterproof boots with liners you can dry by the woodstove, and those gaiters I mentioned will keep your feet warm and dry, and therefore happy.
If you’re coming from temperate Puget Sound, be aware that you’ll feel surprisingly chilled until you acclimate (usually within a few hours), so pack in order to peel off/pile on layers as needed. I always bring a fleece scarf and a variety of headwear: thick head band, woolen cap with ear flaps, woolen cap without ear flap, ball cap with brim in case it’s sunny and warmish…
Saturday night there is a potluck gathering in the lodge, where you can meet likeminded folks and perhaps strike up trail friendships. If you’re more on the reclusive side, you can gracefully bow out (I’ve never attended a potluck, being too wiped out after all day on snowshoes to stay up past 7P, in addition to having food allergies which make potlucks a bit scary for me).
High Camp has 9 cabins which can accommodate as few as two, as many as a small herd of people with kitchen supplies and beds. The names are perfect: Lupine, Trillium – “pick” your favorite wildflower!
You will be visiting the facilities out of doors, just to drive home the fact that you’re in the mountains. The camp hosts make sure to have lighted candles in each outhouse when night falls, making for a semi-romantic but bracing atmosphere. And if you’re into hot tubs, there’s one waiting for you each evening by the light of tiki torches.
Just thinking out loud here, but High Camp would make a great destination for a woman’s reunion or retreat (snowshoeing adventure skills, anyone)? If you sign up for the monthly newsletter, you can see what they’ve got booked. I’ve heard wonderful stories of High Camp weddings, too.
And it’s not just a destination for winter snowshoeing adventures. I’ve spent a few gloriously warm and sunny September days in the hills above camp, roaming from lake to mountain top to meadow until I thought I would burst with happiness.
I’ll let High Country Adventures give you the logistics of transporting yourself up to High Camp for a snowshoeing adventure, although it’s really straightforward: via email, select a convenient pickup time in a parking lot off U.S.2 at a point between Stevens Pass and Leavenworth, spend twenty minutes in a Suburban up to mid-mountain, then half an hour or so on a snowmobile - we’re talking well-coordinated timing to get you and your gear up to camp.
So who besides me deserves an anniversary trip to High Camp?
Families with kids (access to free snowshoes and sleds; some weekends no charge for kids).
And “just” snowshoers.
High Camp will scratch whatever outdoor itch you have, even when the itch lasts TEN YEARS!
As they say, see you in the High Country (on your next snowshoeing adventure)…
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