Venturing south for a snowshoe
December 21st, the official start of winter, has just only recently passed. Though it may be only a calendar date to some, in Washingtonâ€™s Cascades, winterâ€™s arrival is obvious, its long stay welcomed.
The white flakes so indicative of this new season are enticing. In these coldest and darkest of months, I get outside, purposefully, to engage with this landscape in yet another new and enlightening way – through snowshoeing.
To see the natural world cloaked all in white takes some skill. In western Washington, snow has not quite reached the lowlands except for short, sporadic bursts. Most of this precipitation has collected up in the higher parts of the mountain valleys. When snow does not come to me, I come to it, and snowshoeing allows me to see places in winter that many only dream of.
Winter is here to stay as evidenced by this snow loading on evergreen trees
As most of the staff and graduate students of North Cascades Institute have taken their winter leave for the month of December, I, too, was situated visiting my family down in the western Washington lowlands. The call of the Environmental Learning Center was great, and I ached to see snow again, but decided to venture to an area closer to home – Snoqualmie Pass, in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Gold Creek Pond Trail, situated at about 3000-ft. in elevation, is a 1.0 mile-long trail that encircles a small pond with ample opportunities for naturalizing. In the summer months, this trail is easily accessible from a picnic area, but in winter, the snow adds an additional 0.3 miles one-way along Gold Creek Road where the trailhead begins.
Twig tracking is a fun activity to take part in on a short snowshoe
Shelf fungus on this stump curl in the chill winds
This snowshoe venture may not sound the most rigorous, but in winter, I find that the silence and small beauties that I encounter on a shorter route is as rewarding as any high summit. Evidence of squirrel activity through tracks, the tiny cones of a Mountain hemlock dangling like icicles, a water ouzel on the icy shoreline of the pond searching for food. These trails give you time for meditation on matters of the heart and of learning to love a landscape that isnâ€™t always cloaked in the familiar green hue.
Life abounds, as shown by these tracks, even in the winter climate
Mountain hemlock cones dangle from its snow-loaded branches
The author at Gold Creek Pond’s northeastern edge
Trails such as Gold Creek Pond can be found nearer to your home than you might think. Any trail as short and simple as this opens up ample opportunities for adventure in the winter mountain landscape, such as twig tracking, bird watching, and identifying different forms of snow.
Before escaping to the mountains on your adventure, be sure to check weather and avalanche conditions on the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center (NWAC) website to ensure a safe and successful snowshoe trip.
What are some closer, more accessible trails that we can snowshoe in your neck of the woods? Let us at Chattermarks know.