- Arts & Entertainment
- Health & Lifestyle
- Bits & Bytes
- Events calendar
We’re halfway up the snowshoe trail on Castle Mountain and I’m certain I’m wearing more layers than I need. Long johns, sweatpants, wool sweater, jacket; I feel like the Michelin Man tromping around in a pair of duck feet. I am not a practiced snowshoer, and lack the smooth style of the others—friends who speed ahead with expertise. They aren’t fidgeting with their snowshoe straps and tripping over their own feet in the snow.
Still, I’m determined to make snowshoeing my new winter sport. It is a great alternative to running on a treadmill in a climate-controlled gym. There is fresh air, the sounds of trees creaking, and countless trails to be explored.
We clamber up Hyperventilation through a clear-cut region of forest, past some moose tracks and towards a steep hillside, finally making it to the first bench below the summit of Castle Mountain. I’m sweating and out of breath. Then, as we approach the lookout and take in the valley below, I realize why people snowshoe—because it’s kind of fun.
Snowshoeing isn’t a winter sport that requires a great amount of skill, other than some conditioned muscles and some basic backcountry knowledge. There are no black diamond runs and tree collisions. It’s you, the crunching snow and witches hair blowing in the trees.
A few weeks later I’m on a trail to Fairy Creek Falls. After my mother and I failed to reach the falls, got lost, and then gave up to go for lunch, I’ve come back with better bearings and a bit more determination. As I near the falls, I can’t help but notice stories of the forest; an old carved heart with initials on the side of a poplar tree, bear claw marks in the tree bark, a carving that dates back to 1966. The only sound is the water crashing from the rocks at the falls; everything else is silent.
And then there is snowshoeing at night.
The next week, Mike Tomney invites me for another snowshoe, except we don’t leave until after six pm when the sun’s gone down. As I follow his lead through Sherwoody Forest at the provincial park, the snow and the surrounding wilds darken and blur simultaneously. Mike, a local musician and teacher, goes out for a snowshoe every second night, and usually breaks away from the main trail to create his own.
So why does he go at night? I ask him as we start off. The trees around us have transformed into black pillars that shadow the snow.
“It’s peaceful,” he says. “And it’s different. An envelope surrounds you and you can get turned around, not knowing where you are… that’s the thing about snowshoeing; you don’t have to stay on the trail.”
We meander through the trees up a small ridge when, ahead of us in the woods, red eyes peer out from a bush. I’m kidding. But Mike keeps talking about red eyes and monsters in the snow and the idea has infiltrated my rational thoughts. Suddenly a mound of snow appears like an abominable snowman standing in our tracks.
“It can get very scary because things can pop out of the snow,” he says. A picture of one such snow monster was how Mike convinced me to come snowshoeing with him in the first place.
A while later we turn off our headlamps. After my eyes adjust, the forest conveys a maroon and orange haze, similar to the city lights that glow above the trees. We say nothing and listen to the silence.
Further on past a deep gully and some big overhanging snow mounds we encounter a rather challenging bridge crossing, where we unstrap our shoes and then precariously balance across. At this point, falling into the creek would be rather unfortunate. I say to Mike that this nighttime snowshoe has turned out to be quite the adventure.
“It always does,” he replies.
After arriving home and taking a few moments to recover from the last three hours of snowshoeing, it dawns on me that I really enjoy this winter sport. I plan on going again next week. And every week until there is no more snow to shoe.