For the past several years, I have ushered in the New Year on January 1st, with a celebratory paddle in my kayak on Bellingham Bay with my ever-faithful paddling partner, Pat. But this year, Pat was away visiting family, temperatures had dropped to below freezing and I had welcomed the New Year until after 2 a.m. Consequently, I was less motivated to get out on the water this year although I did feel a little guilty when, later in the day while out walking with a neighbor, I note how flat and alluring the water was.
Instead, I answered the call from another buddy to go snowshoeing on the second day of the New Year. I had already been out the day after Christmas and was anxious to go again. So it wasn’t a hard sell for her to get me to agree.
We rounded up a couple other friends and by 9 a.m. were headed up to our local mountain, Mount Baker, only about a 90 minute drive away. We decided not to go all the way up to the ski area which we knew would be crowded on this sunny, but bone-chilling day. Instead, we opted to stop at the Hannegan Pass picnic area where you can follow the road, now covered in snow and groomed for snowshoers and cross-country skiers.
It’s not as high in elevation and comes just before you begin to make the twisting turns up to the ski area. And when we pulled into the parking, there were still plenty of places open. Also, the trail is relatively flat, which made it appealing to another of our party who had recently recovered from a rotator cuff surgery and wasn’t sure how much of a challenge he could handle.
One of the biggest challenges of snowshoeing is simply putting on and fastening the darn things before you can set out. Sure, the clips and snaps and latches make it a lot easier than having to lace up anything in frigid temps, but it still is a bit cumbersome when you’re layered with warm clothing.
I’ve learned that it’s best not to overdress for snowshoeing. During my outing the weekend before, I finally had to shed the sweater I was wearing on top of my long underwear and beneath my sub-zero rated down coat because I was overheating. This time, I economized and started out with only the underwear top and bottoms, my ski pants and my coat. That turned out to be just the right combination even though the thermometer said 20 degrees. I also switched out the bulky, but warm, fingered gloves I had worn the previous time for the warm, lined mittens with a top half that could be buttoned back to expose my bare fingertips so that I could more easily handle my camera.
Thus attired, we struck out on the trail. This particular trail, or road, follows along the scenic, winding North Fork of the Nooksack River. The snow glistened, just like in the song, in the late morning sunshine. The river sparkled. It was truly like walking in a ‘winter wonderland.’
As we rounded one of the first turns, someone had even built a snow couple and just across the trail was another, larger snowman who could have been, I suppose, Parson Brown.
We continued on, talking, laughing and stopping every so often so that one of our friends who was having some equipment issues could rebuckle his snowshoes. But it didn’t matter, we were in no particular hurry to get anywhere and didn’t really care whether or not we reached a destination, although our intention was to go to where the trail, or road, stopped, a little more than two miles from where we had parked.
The trail had been fairly compacted but was still good for snowshoeing overall. There were some places where the dirt and gravel beneath were exposed but by and large, it was fine.
Along the way, we marveled at the long icicles that clung to the cliff beside us or on the rocks where water still trickled down the gully. We’d stop to gaze at the snow-covered treetops and thickets of trees while catching our breath or take a swig of water. Very important to always carry water with you when you snowshoe as you work up quite a thirst and sweat as you push along. Hydration is essential.
One in our group, Maria, had brought along a beautiful new leather-covered flask filled with an apple liqueur that a friend of hers had brewed for the holidays. We each had a taste and agreed that it was far superior to water although probably not as good for us.
Finally, we arrived at the trail’s end, another parking lot where, during the summer the hike up to Hannegan’s Pass actually begins. It was ‘snack time’, always something to look forward to when snowshoeing. Out came the trail mix, the thermos’ full of hot soup, the energy bars, and sandwiches. Funny how the treats you eat everyday at home taste so much more delicious on a hike or snowshoe adventure.
After a short rest and the consuming of snacks, we turned around and headed back out the way we came. As a photographer, I’m always aware how even the same path can look very different coming from the opposite direction and how you’ll often see things that you missed the first time simple because looking at it from a another perspective. I suppose that same thing could be said of the things we encounter in our daily lives.
On the way back, we encountered many more people along the trail, after being somewhat surprised earlier at how few people we had met. I even saw a couple of other friends who had come up to enjoy the day in the snow and we stopped for a few minutes to chat and wish each other a “Happy New Year.”
The parking lot, when we returned, was now full to literally overflowing with cars. Families were out along the river and on the trail with children and sleds in tow. Despite the cold, everyone seemed to savoring the brisk, cold sunny day. Or perhaps they were just destressing.
In the January issue of National Geographic Magazine, writer Florence Williams describes how some researchers believe that we ‘do our brains a favor’ when we get closer to nature. I believe it.
As we rode back down the mountain, about six hours from the time we had initially departed, I felt tired but refreshed, relaxed and renewed. A hot shower would certainly be welcomed but it had ‘been thrillin’ to go ‘walking in a winter wonderland.’
You can view a few more of my images from this adventure in my Portfolio by simply clicking here.