I have snowshoed some 350 miles so far this winter, most of it over 9,000 feet with a 60 pound pack. I’ll probably put in over 600 before the spring snowmelt, since my February Australian lecture tour is going to take a bite out of my training schedule.
So I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. It is definitely a sport of mixed pleasures. The blisters and calluses that cover my feet hurt, but my blood pressure has dropped to 110/70. My knees ache, but my resting heart rate has plunged to 45.
In fact, the heart rate monitor at the local emergency room says that I am already dead. Did I mention that I’m developing bulging muscles in places I didn’t know I had?
For those of you who wish to engage in this strenuous, bracing activity, or who are Mad enough to join me someday, I have included below a list of tips on how to get the most out of it.
1) Layer your close. You’ll want to strip down to your T-shirt hauling a load uphill at 30 degrees. On the way down, you’ll need to add a layer back on, and a second layer when the sun sets.
2) When the temperature drops below 10 degrees, you can’t have any exposed skin. Bring along a knit hat, neck warmer or scarf, and a second pair of silk glove liners. No pair of pants can keep you warm when it’s this cold. So REI makes these great silk long underwear, which are a must have (click here). Don’t worry about changing out in the open. There’s nobody up here.
3) Walking on the snow for six hours will cut through even the heaviest wool socks. So put a heavy neoprene insert into your boots for extra insulation. It will keep those dogs warm and toasty.
4) Bring an old pair of ski goggles in case the wind picks up. That way the tears won’t freeze on your face.
5) Fill your canteens with boiling water right when you leave or they will freeze solid before you get home. Drinking warm water on the slopes will reheat your core.
6) Include an expedition quality four season tent and a -20 degree rated sleeping bag in your pack. If you break your ankle, or trip on your snowshoes and break your arm, it could be a couple of days before Search and Rescue finds you. (Learned the hard way).
7) MSR Lightening Ascent 30’s are to die for, the Rolls Royce of snowshoes (click here). They have a fold up bar which allows you to stair step your way straight up the side of a hill. Buy the extra five-inch floating tails for carrying heavy loads in fresh deep powder. These are highly recommended by Alaskan winter pipeline surveyors. That’s good enough for me. Rental snowshoes tend to be cheap ones that you will regret.
8) Keep anything electronic, like an iPhone, a GPS, or car keys, in an inside pocket where your body heat will keep them warm. Leave them in your pack and they freeze solid, becoming useless. Good luck calling the Auto Club in a snowstorm at a high mountain pass after 10 PM. (Also learned the hard way). If you ignore this advice and your keys freeze, stick them in your armpit. Your car will start right up in 15 minutes.
9) Completely plaster your face with SPF 70 sunscreen. The reflection from snow covered slopes and the high altitude UV will fry you if you don’t especially your nose.
10) Bring an old fashioned compass. You don’t want to bet your life on the fancy electronic gizmos at Best Buy. Otherwise, you’ll walk right off a cliff in the white out conditions of a blizzard. (Again, learned the hard way).
Well, I’m sure you’re all raring to go after this description of my days off. See you on the mountain.