Snowshoeing - Part 1
Snowshoes are an ingenious invention. They allow a person to walk on top of deep soft snow without sinking down into it and make snow travel pleasantly possible instead of impossible. I don’t know who invented them, I think I’ve heard it was the Indians of the Hudson Bay region, particularly the Ojibway people. I suppose it could be, they are also attributed with having invented the birch bark canoe, which is also an amazing invention. At any rate, snowshoes have been around for hundreds of years, and are still a necessity in many parts of the United States and especially Canada. As advanced as society is, and also technologically sophisticated, all of that technology and scientific advancement doesn’t have much use, nor does it mean much in the back woods and wilderness, when it comes to survival and the day to day life of the hunter, the trapper, and those that call the wilderness home or who spend time in it. The essentials are pretty much the same now as they have always been and the high tech guy would quickly find himself in a world of hurt if he didn’t have the basics and know how to use them. The wilderness is the common denominator of men. Nobody is “special” in the woods, mother nature plays no favorites, you either know what you’re doing or you don’t, you’re either prepared or you’re not—and if you’re not, and you don’t know what you’re doing, things get mighty tough mighty quick and it won’t be long at all till you’re dead or in desperate need of help.
A person who is prepared to be in the woods can enjoy his existence there for even an extended length of time. What does a person need? Not all that much. This is my list: fire starter flint and steel, matches, a knife and a sharpener, a rifle and ammunition, good boots, socks and adequate clothes, a hat, and if you’re in deep snow a good pair of snowshoes. That’s it. Anything else would be frosting on the cake but you could get by with just the items I mentioned. For how long? All winter if you had to! As long as you could find wild game and shoot straight enough to kill it, you could make it. Many trappers and mountain men did it, and it is still done today. OF course it’s nice to have more, like a tent, a sleeping bag, food, a flashlight, cooking utensils, and on and on. But….you can get by without all that if you have the basics I mentioned and the skill to use them. One thing for sure—you can’t go far in deep snow without snowshoes! Skis can work, but in many situations they don’t, only snowshoes work all the time under any condition.
The first time I can remember using snowshoes was when I was 12 years old. Bishop Brunt and the priesthood leaders of our ward (the old 4th ward) in Idaho Falls planned a two-night adventure up in Island Park, Idaho at the Mack’s Inn area on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. The bishop owned a beautiful log cabin up there, on the banks of the river. The cabin was located about a mile to a mile and a ½ upstream from the bridge at Mack’s Inn. It was December or January as I recall, the snow was probably four or five feet deep on the level. All the boys were required to have snowshoes or skies. I don’t remember snowmobiles. I think they may have been invented then, but I’m not sure. Anyway, it was travel by snowshoe for most of us, or skies.
I had borrowed a pair of long narrow snowshoes, I can’t remember from whom, but they were beautiful, so well made, all varnished or lacquered to keep the wood and the rawhide netting from getting wet. I was very anxious to use them. I had been shown how to strap them on and walk in them, which is a little trickier than one might think, but once you get the hang of it, you can walk pretty fast if you want, even run slow if you’re good enough and don’t trip up and take a tumble—it is hard to get back up in deep soft snow.
We arrived at the Henry’s Fork or also called the North Fork of the Snake River, about noon, maybe earlier. It was a perfectly “sparkling” day, so so beautiful, it took your breath away it was that beautiful. The river was perfectly smooth, no riffles or rapids, it flowed slowly along, so serene. It was wide and so clean. I think it was maybe 150 yards wide, maybe more. The tall lodge pole pine trees were laden with piles of smooth deep white snow. The sky was a rich robin egg blue no clouds, the sun shining so brightly. The deep virgin snow sparkled in the sunlight. Canadian geese, and trumpeter swans and hundreds of gorgeous ducks, greenhead mallards and black and white golden eyes could be seen gliding in the water, feeding on moss etc. under the waters. They would dunk their heads under and come up again eating something making ripples in the clear cold river. I could hear the waterfowls calling and honking and quacking, you could tell they were happy in their peaceful winter home. It was magical to me.
Read the rest of Clark's snowshoe experience and incredible artistic descriptions of his winter memories in "Snowshoeing - Part 2"