Elk Island, Snowshoes, and the Magic Forest. Trail

10:29 a.m. on November 11, 2012 (EST)
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Over a foot of snow (35 cm) in just the past couple of days changed a planned hike in Elk Island National Park to a snowshoe walk! The highway conditions to get there made for some slow, scary, white-knuckle driving, and many people dropped out, but ten people made it to the trailhead.

Because of temperatures of about -18°, I broke the day up into two separate hikes. The first one was the Beaver Pond Trail, an easy 3.5 km loop through the bush. No wind, and the fresh snow and deep powder made for some spectacular scenery.


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Back at the trailhead, we did a little comparison of the various snowshoes in use;

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A couple of pairs of MSR Lightnings and lots of MRS Evos and Denalis.
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Atlas. Spring-loaded snowshoes made for running don't work very well for walking.
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I like a fresh snowfall. It lets you see what's been going on for the last few days on the trail. We were the first people to go through and there were animal tracks everywhere. Bison, elk, deer, snowshoe hare, fox and coyote, as well as the smaller mammals.


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More tracks when we were coming back than when we were going out.
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Back to the cars and we warmed up for a bit, had a snack, then drove to the Lakeview Trail TH. This one starts in more open terrain, following the shores of Astotin Lake around into the forest.


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Bison tracks
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Looking down at a beaver pond...
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From the frozen ponds, the trail drops down behind a ridge into a small hidden valley.
I call the Lakeview Trail my 'Magic Forest' walk. In winter, it never disappoints.


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Fallen tree roots...
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Bushwhacking a bit...
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and Jeff knocked down a bit of snow on himself. 'Taking one for the team'.
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Snowshoe hare
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I didn't want the day to end, so we took a little detour through the woods following a well-trodden elk trail.
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...then back to the lake shore...
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...around the lake...
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...and back out again.

There's something magical about the first heavy snowfall. It changes a familiar trail into something new and different.

It was a very, very good day.

7:18 p.m. on November 12, 2012 (EST)
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Looks like big fun!

I didn't know spring loaded snow shoes existed...interesting. Though it seems reasonable that you get enough of a workout just walking in deep snow. To each his own of course....

 

9:56 a.m. on November 13, 2012 (EST)
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The 'spring' piece on Atlas snowshoes is just an double elastic strap. It snaps the snowshoe up as you walk, which I assume makes running in them easier. Not good for regular hiking, though.

As for exercise, for snowshoeing I use the 'half as far, half as fast' rule. Even in the best snowshoes you'll still sink into the snow a few centimetres, so you have to lift your foot more than usual - kind of like using a stair-climber at the gym.  And the extra weight on each foot adds to the fatigue.

However, in deep snow, snowshoes are WAY better than trying to plow through it. I got fooled a couple of years ago. We set out on a 12 km hike in late spring, and the first part of the trail was packed down and fairly easy to walk on. A few of us had snowshoes, but we left them in the car thinking we wouldn't need them.  About 8 km in, we encountered snow that was 60 cm (2 ft) deep with drifts up to 100 cm (3.3 ft) deep. The trail disappeared, it was starting to get late, and I was doing a mental inventory of the emergency gear in my pack to see if I had enough to keep a group of people alive overnight in the snow.

For three long kilometres we took turns breaking trail through the bush on a compass heading until we found the return route. Very exhausting and very slow.

10:46 a.m. on November 13, 2012 (EST)
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Indeed,

 

I have little experience with deep snow but a couple weekends ago I got a refresher course in just how exhasting it is. I wound up going about 6 miles in knee deep snow and afterward it felt like I had hiked about 15 (in normal conditions).

 

I also couldn't decide if it was easier to break a new path or use the frozen footsteps of others. Trying to hit those existing tracks was tiring in itself.

 

I like the "half as far half as fast" rule. That seems right.

2:10 p.m. on November 13, 2012 (EST)
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I saw that on your TR, Patman. I wondered how you managed.

If you're walking on a trail where others have gone through leaving frozen footprints, the footing can be really nasty. I find that using snowshoes tends to level off the path - what you're walking on is the level platform of the snowshoe, not the ankle twisting footprint.

7:31 p.m. on November 13, 2012 (EST)
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Snowshoes can be a lifesaver here in Canada, literally! It's always fun with the learning curve of how far you can travel on shoes. I remember early on booking a site in Algonquin Park and ended up a least 5 km short of the site by nightfall. Sometimes feels like your moving in quick sand.

August 22, 2014
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