Do Ya Feel Lucky?  Well, Do Ya, Punk!!

It was a typical overcast day in Seattle, when five women set off on the I-90 in search of snow (This year it seems you can’t throw a rock without hitting some, so chances were good!).  We headed out to Exit 38 and started our ascent up a lonely trail to Dirty Harry’s Peak, roughly 3300 feet in elevation gain in 10 miles round trip.  While the peak seems to have a Hollywood name, it was actually named after a logger who created a lot of old logging roads in Snoqualmie Valley, Harry Gault (not as glamorous of a tale as you thought, huh?).  The trail technically starts at the gate, but the gate was open that day (We drove up to the power shack and parked).  The actual trailhead off the paved road is one that you really have to watch for as it is easy to miss, leading off the road to the right (It’s not at all obvious).  If you miss the trail itself, you are likely to continue walking until you reach the firefighters’ training center at the end of the road (the reason for the gate being open that day).

© Jess Orr

All five of us had different snowshoes.  Jess and Kelly rented snowshoes from different sources.  Jess rented MSR Denalis from REI ($22 for the first day and $11 for each additional day if you are a member; otherwise, it is $44 a day and $22 for each additional day).  Kelly rented MSR Evo Ascents from 2nd Ascent ($12 for the first day or $15 for two days).  Kelly’s snowshoes had ascenders on them; however, they kept snapping off (As it was her first snowshoe of the season, she said that user error was likely the culprit).  Renting snowshoes is a great idea as you get to try out a pair prior to spending a lot of money on them.  In this case, Kelly said that they would not have purchased the shoes she rented while Jess was happy with hers.   Jian and I both had our MSR Lightenings, though Jian has the new version with ascenders on them (the ascenders are a great new feature as they take some of the work out of ascensions).  April borrowed an old pair of mine, Big Foots (I like the brand name; however, the bindings are cumbersome.  If your hands are cold, they are difficult to use.  If the cloth bindings are frozen, tightening the bindings can prove a difficult task; however, they are extremely economical snowshoes).

An important factor is snowshoe size which is proportional to your weight, not foot size as is commonly misunderstood.  Mine are larger than my weight dictates (not because I subscribe to the theory that bigger is better!).  I purposely bought 25s because I have to factor in my pack weight.  My winter pack weight is heavier than my summer pack’s.  It’s not uncommon for me to have an easy 30+ pound pack on my snowshoeing trips.  This is where a lot of people make the mistake of buying/renting snowshoes that are too small, making them largely ineffective (okay maybe ineffective use of energy would be a more correct term, but you catch my drift).  Snowshoeing is a great work out as it is without adding ineffectiveness to the mix (you can burn between 400 to 900 calories an hour depending on your speed and trail conditions).

As there was no new snow that day, the trail started off as a packed snow.  We made the decision not to put on snowshoes immediately as the trail was a well-formed staircase perfect for the size of our feet.   Jian pulled out her Microspikes (possibly my best purchase of 2009) to alleviate the chances of slipping on the ice, to which I quickly became jealous of as I forgot mine in the garage (I always forget something!!).  After helping each other over a snow covered bridge (really just a skinny log) and passing the trail split to Dirty Harry’s Balcony, we finally got off a worn footpath, warranting the donning of our snowshoes (Yea!).  There were a lot of bare spots (and lots of ice too) on the way to the top; however, we muscled through.  I was glad that I recently had sharpened the snowshoe teeth with a dremel (okay, I didn’t do it, but a friend helped me out with it!); I usually do it once a year as the spikes do get worn down over the season.  I highly recommend this practice.

Along our hike, we came across a man (without snowshoes I might add) and his dogs.  Strangely, I had run into this man and his dogs the previous week (small world!!) out on the trails.  We continued on (losing the obvious trail for a bit), crossing snow bridges and negotiating around fallen trees.  We ended up bushwhacking and jumping creeks, but finally came back to the trail.  Another thing that is good technique is to let various people take turns as the lead.  I compare this to a flock of geese flying south for the winter.  The head goose is working the hardest as it is taking the brunt of the air flow.  In the case of snowshoeing, the head snowshoer is working a path through varying depths of snow, exerting the most energy.  If you routinely switch the lead snowshoer, everyone shares the exertion.

© April O’Brien

For the third time that day, I stopped the group for another food break.  While it was too cold to stop for a full lunch, I do need to stop periodically to keep my sugar levels up (I call it feeding the beast!!).  As snowshoeing can exert more energy than hiking alone, it is important to remember to bring lots of food (and prudent as one of your ten essentials to bring extra in case of an emergency).  I always try to bring light, high calorie food as my back-up (nuts are the perfect food for this!).  Another thing to keep in mind is that cold weather also burns more calories.  Your body is working harder to keep warm; thus, you need to be putting more calories in your body to compensate for this.

950 feet short of our summit, we decided to turn around.  As is par for winter hikes, daylight is short.  You need to keep this in mind when deciding on a turnaround time.  Jian suggested at the beginning of our adventure to agree on a turnaround time.  We had decided that 2 pm would be that special hour.  While another mile would have found us at the summit with partial views of McClellan Butte (Big Mac for short), Mt. Washington, and Bandera Mountain, finding (and staying!) on the trail in the dark just didn’t sound very appetizing (even with our headlamps).  Plus, at this point in the snowshoe (as with all hikes), the conversation topic had turned abruptly to food (FYI, I learned that Monsoon in Bellevue apparently has an amazing happy hour!  Jian and I did go check it out another day and fully agree!!).   We agreed to a post-snowshoe dinner destination (North Bend Bar & Grill, the endpoint for many dirty hikers,  for a steaming hot bowl of Pozole; the thought of which almost has me headed off to my car to go get some right now!!) and set off down the mountain.

As twilight set in, one at a time, we popped over the snow bank and out of the trail on to the road (much to the surprise of the two firefighters coming down from the training center).  I like to think that we were an apparition, but we probably were a bit disheveled looking at that point in the game to be compared to a vision (a girl can dream)!!  Alas, it was a wonderful day for a snowshoe.  A day that leaves you planning your next one…

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