Saturday, January 29, 2011

Des Lacs snowshoe

Last Saturday, January 29, I went snowshoeing at the Des Lacs Wildlife Refuge near Kenmare, ND.

In the following photo you can see Upper Des Lacs Lake and the town of Kemare in the background.  Kenmare is in the trees in the middle background of the photo.

Three of the Refuge's rangers put on a snowshoe program. Many more people signed up than expected and the rangers had to add a second session.  60 to 70 people participated.  This is the first time the Des Lacs Wildlife Refuge has held snowshoeing sessions, and with the success, they plan to now make it a regular event, perhaps more often than annually.

Rod and I, having thought that few people would go snowshoeing in ND, delayed signing up.  By the time we called - a week before the event - we found the session was full and we had to go into the new session.  This worked to our advantage as the second session was held at 10 am while the original session was held at 2 pm.  A cold front had passed through ND Friday night and on Saturday the temperatures remained steady before slowly dropping throughout the afternoon.  Our six degrees Fahrenheit was not so bad after all on a sunny day with light wind.

The program was split into three groups depending on a person's ability.  My friend Rod and I went on the longest walk at 2.8 miles.  2.8 miles is what his GPS unit said though the ranger had earlier estimated the trek at three to four miles.  The route was on the hill above the lake and was quite open, this being North Dakota.  The few trees seen were mainly old shelter-belts or were growing in coulees we passed by or through.  In fact the refuge doesn't encourage trees as the ducks and geese prefer open areas and tall grasses along the lake.

The rangers had a number of wooden snowshoes for people without snowshoes of their own to use. Since my snowshoes are back in Montana I used a pair of wooden snowshoes and decided I didn't like them much.  They had a long tail, not much of a rake, and no "cleats" on the bottom to grip. While the long tail may help keep the snowshoes on track in fluffy snow, they made it harder to go uphill.  A lower rake meant that sometimes the tip of my snowshoe got hung up under the snow especially when the snowshoe sank beneath the snow crust.  The absence of cleats made it tricky when on steep terrain and hard packed snow.  More than a few people slipped.

What I did like was that the wooden snowshoes are quieter than the metal snowshoes that some people had.  I tried not to hike near one woman whose short aluminum snowshoes made loud "Clump! Clump! Clump!" sounds as she walked.

The absence of cleats made the few coulees we crossed a bit tricky on the hard snow.  Here the group is regrouping after have crossed this coulee.  This coulee was difficult because going down the snow was hard and a few people slipped.  Going up this side was hard because we all broke through the snow crust and had to struggle in the deep loose snow up the hill to this point.

A light breeze blew from the NW and we were fortunate that we walked to the east and had the breeze at our back.  We didn't stop for long when we were up on high ground in open areas.  One of the times we stopped was to see a few old wooden fence posts that remained from a fence built by the CCC.   Wow! I wish my fences posts lasted seventy plus years.

Later in our journey, across a large coulee, we saw a herd of deer and later a coyote.  The deer were on the top on the other side and the coyote was seen a few minutes later on a treeless shoulder working its way up from the bottom of the coulee.

To keep hydrated many people brought water along.  Rod had bought a larger sized bottle of water, and several times had to chase after it when it fell out of his coat pocket and slid down a snowy slope.

While the rangers supplied snowshoes to people with no snowshoes, they did not supply ski poles.  A group of women had an extra pair of poles and they lent them to me.  Rod did not want to use the poles as he brought his binoculars and camera along in a bag as he planned on birdwatching along the way.  Since we mainly kept moving Rod didn't get a chance to do much birdwatching.  And the lack of trees also reduced the number of birds nearby.

A few people other than Rod also did not have ski poles.  These people tended to lag at the end of the group when walking.  One of these people was a larger woman who was with her husband or boyfriend.  A few times he walked and talked with the main group and not with her when she fell behind, which didn't go over well with her.  One time I heard her complain bitterly.  Later Rod told me she complained and swore a lot, even when her husband/boyfriend walked with her.  Perhaps that was why her husband/boyfriend didn't always walk with her?

There were eleven people in our group and we had to be shuttled back to the start in two runs of the van.  While waiting, Rod and I, along with six other women, decided to walk up a closed snow packed road to see what was at the top of the hill.  The women wore their snowshoes while Rod and I decided to walk without snowshoes because the snow was hard.  We made the right decision as we passed the women and they never made it to the top.  The view at the top?  More prairie.

One ranger is originally from Michigan and was an expert at snowshoeing.   After our outing was over, back at the headquarters building, the rangers had a large variety of homemade cookies and bars and hot chocolate.  The Michigan ranger explained the differences in snowshoes.  Wooden vs metal.  Long tail vs short.  The reason for the rake in front.  Etc.

The Minot newspaper had a person along to write about the snowshoeing sessions.

A better description with photos can be found at the Kenmare newspaper's article:

On the way home Rod and I stopped at the Country Club golf course west of Minot in order to do more birdwatching.  Here we could have used snowshoes as the snow was deep.  A herd of deer were also at the golf course and several deer had difficulty moving through deep snow.  They moved by jumping, then landing.  Then jumping up, then landing.  Slow going.  We didn't spend too long looking for birds as there weren't too many birds and it was difficult for us to make our way through the deep snow.