Keep on trekkin'
Snow doesn't have to stop you from hiking your favorite trails. Strap on a pair of snowshoes and you can travel virtually anywhere you can hike.
"I'll snowshoe any place that's a little too steep for skiing. Snowshoes give you the maneuverability to go pretty much any place you can walk, without having to worry about breaking through the crust of the snow," says Ashland snowshoer Marian Crumme.
Forested areas are particularly suited for snowshoes, where tight turns, buried logs and bent-over saplings can easily catch a ski tip and cause an unexpected and cold face-plant.
Crumme especially enjoys snowshoeing on the Pacific Crest Trail. She recommends a short trek to Pilot Rock.
"You take the Mount Ashland exit off I-5. Instead of turning to go up the mountain, go another mile or two where the PCT crosses the road and head north. The views are beautiful," Crumme adds.
Another popular starting point for snowshoe hikes on the PCT is the parking lot on Highway 66 at Greensprings Summit, east of Ashland. A six-mile hike to the North takes you to Hyatt Lake. Three miles to the south is Hobart Bluff, another area for spectacular views on a clear day.
For snowshoers of all abilities, the back side of Mount Ashland is popular.
"For a winter backcountry experience, you can't beat Mt. A," says Laurel Sutherlin, grassroots organizer for Ashland's Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, KS Wild.
On Jan. 29, KS Wild will lead a three- to five-mile trek beginning on Forest Service Road 20 at the Mount Ashland parking area. The hike is part of the group's effort to promote the Siskiyou Crest National Monument.
"We want people to be aware of how spectacular it is, a hotspot of biodiversity. On this trip you can see the Marble and Scott mountains to the south, the Siskiyou Crest, the Klamath River and Mount McLoughlin," Sutherlin says.
Skiers and snowshoers are more likely to share a road than a trail. If you see parallel ski tracks during your snowshoe outing, there's an implied etiquette.
"Snowshoes do damage the tracks that skiers use. That's a mistake that's made by a lot of beginning showshoers. Stay clear of the ski tracks," Crumme explains.
The design of snowshoes that use groomed trails is different from those made for backcountry outings.
"A backcountry snowshoe has a binding that's solidly attached to the snowshoe platform — the binding can't slide or rotate with respect to the snowshoe. You can stand on the side of a hill any which way and you won't have to worry about losing your balance," says Mike Reinert, who works at the Ashland Outdoor Store.
A recreational snowshoe — one designed for groomed trails and roads — is more rounded and its binding allows for more lateral movement. According to Reinert, the backcountry model is better able to slough off the loose snow from the decking while you're breaking trail. The recreational model, however, is easier to maneuver on groomed trails.
If you're looking for a real workout, head for the backcountry.
"Snowshoeing is a very aerobic activity. If you're breaking trail you might want to switch off who's leading and who's following because the follower is working a lot less than the leader," Reinert advises.
While in the backcountry, safety takes on an extra dimension.
"It would be wise to have an avalanche kit with you or at least you should follow standard backcountry practices: have shovel, probe, beacon, and never travel alone. And part of carrying that equipment is knowing how to use it," says Reinert.
Bring extra food and water, as well as extra warm clothes, and dress in layers of wool or synthetics. Leave cotton clothes behind. Reinert recommends bringing an emergency bivvy sack and a foam pad to sit on so you won't lose body heat when you rest, especially if you get lost.
"Carry a map and compass, because if you do get in fog or snow you can lose sight of landmarks. You should know generally the direction you're traveling in at all times. GPS is no substitute for map and compass," Reinert warns.
Once you're prepared for the backcountry, one of the most unique day treks in the area is Brown Mountain, off Highway 140 near Fish Lake.
"The Brown Mountain area has cinder cones that in the summer are treacherous and hard to move around on — you wouldn't want to go hiking there. But when the lava fields are filled in and covered up (with snow), it makes it a pretty easy snowshoe," says Reinert.
A round trip will take five to six hours, so if you're unsure of your abilities, you may want to go with friends who have more snow time under their belts.
"It's like a winter-wonderland experience," says Reinert. "The trees at the top are covered with snow. There's a little bit of a bowl on top so you can often find a natural snow cave or room right next to a tree."
For more information about snowshoeing on Brown Mountain, visit: http://outdoorstore.com/activities/backcountry/mtbrown.php.
For information on the KS Wild Mount Ashland hike on Jan. 29, call 541-488-5789.
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.