Snowshoe season – There’s still time to try out this all-ages sport
Want to avoid the crowds, catch some breathtaking views and give the kids some memories they will cherish forever? Try snowshoeing near Castle Peak where high altitude forests, natural meadows and tons of snow provide hours of outdoor fun. Foresters predict snow will stick around until mid-May.
“There’s a great snow pack this year,” said Debby Broback, a forester from the Truckee Ranger District.
Snowshoes are inexpensive to rent ($6 to $10 for kids, $15 for adults) and available at two outdoor stores in town. They are easy to use and don’t require any special training. Any waterproof Gore-Tex hiking boot will work with them. Gators are recommended to keep snow from getting into the tops of boots and up pant legs. The folks at Mountain Recreation and Wolf Creek Mountaineering, both located on East Main Street in Grass Valley, can demonstrate how to tighten the shoes correctly.
Adult beginners, it helps to have poles for balance but forget them for the kids; poles tend to get turned into swords. Children as young as 4 are ready for snowshoes and younger ones can ride in a Kelty backpack or sled. For something different, try ‘sweepersa’ a hybrid of a snowshoe and a ski. They resemble a long snowshoe but have a smooth, gliding underbelly. ‘Skins’ can be slipped on for uphill climbing.
Less than an hour’s drive from Grass Valley gets the family to one of the most scenic areas of Tahoe National Forest. Forest Service Road No. 80-50, a land tributary of the Pacific Crest Trail near Donner Summit and Interstate 80 makes easy access to some otherwise remote landscapes.
A short hike on the heavily used trail leads to Castle Valley’s wide, open meadows of untouched snow. This is the perfect location for families to make snowmen, snow angels or have a snowball fight.
Parking at the trailhead is reserved for Search and Rescue vehicles. To avoid a fine, obtain a parking permit from Boreal Inn for $5 and park in their parking lot. One parent might want to drop the other off with the kids and gear at the trailhead. The trailhead is muddy, noisy from the nearby freeway and windy but don’t get discouraged. Just a short distance away there is plenty of beauty and solitude.
The forest service has posted a map at the bottom of the trail but they are also available at any Tahoe National Forest district office. Topographical maps are available at Mountain Recreation in Grass Valley.
“Hike a little bit and play a lot,” says Cathy Anderson-Meyers, a snowshoe guide and owner of the guide company CathyWorks.
The trail begins at 7,200 feet and can cause shortness of breath sooner in people accustomed to living at lower elevations. Also, don’t’ be alarmed if snowshoes sink a little. This is normal when hiking in powder.
Notice the surroundings. High altitude forests of old-growth Red Fir, Western White Pine and the elephant-like legs of Lodge Pole Pines shelter the trail. Look for animal tracks. Marmots, snowshoe hares and American Martens are regulars to this serene environment.
Although there are no documented occurrences there is the possibility that rare Sierra Nevada Red Fox are lurking about. Some swear that Wolverines still exist in these mountains.
At the forest’s edge and above in the sky, look for Raven, Clark’s Nutcrackers and Mountain Chickadees. When the springs begin to thaw the meadows and streams, Golden Eagles have been sighted.
When planning for a day in the snow safety and warmth are crucial. Always be prepared with plenty of warm clothes, food and water. Dress in layers and avoid 100 percent cotton clothing that won’t wick moisture away from the body. Temperatures in the Sierra can change quickly so check the weather report before going out and don’t go if a storm is brewing. Bring extra socks, gloves and clothes. Bring more water than you think you’ll need. “Hydration is crucial,” said Anderson-Meyers.
Pack a hearty lunch and plenty of high protein, high-carbohydrate snacks. Hot cocoa or tea is always nice and warms little hands and tummies. Protect skin with sunblock, snow reflects the sun’s harmful UV rays. And remember to have fun and take plenty of photos!
Laura Brown lives in Nevada County, is a mother of two and enjoys the outdoors.
For more information
Wolf Creek Mountaineering and Mountain Recreation rent snowshoes and poles as well as cross country and telemark skis. Boots, hats, coats, gators, etc. are also available for sale. For further reading Mountain Recreation sells books on snowshoeing and or hiking in the Sierras. For more information call: Wolf Creek at 477-2722 or Mountain Recreation at 477-8006.
How to get there: Take Highway 49 to Interstate 80. Get off on the Castle Peak Area/ Boreal Ridge exit. Swing by the Boreal Ski Area frontage and buy a parking permit at the Boreal Inn. From here it is a short walk under the freeway overpass to the right, where a gated entrance marks the trailhead.
For more information contact the Tahoe National Forest at 530-265-4531 or the Truckee district office at 530-587-3558. Contact Boreal and Soda Springs Winter Resorts by calling 1-530-426-3666. For more information about the Sierra Club’s Peter Grubb Hut call 530-426-3632.
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