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Snowshoeing provides unparalleled opportunities

by: SCOTT STAATS/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The author pauses on a snowshoeing trip near the Three Sisters.

A brisk, cloudless winter morning awaited. A three-quarter moon hung low in the western sky as I strapped on my snowshoes and climbed steadily through mountain hemlock and fir. Tracks of fox, squirrels and birds covered the freshly fallen snow.
   With the trees shrouded in snow, resembling powdered sugar or cotton candy, the forest looked like something out of a fairy tale. The natural openings, hit by the filtering sunlight, glistened like a million diamonds. Except for the rhythmic crunch of my snowshoes and the occasional chirping of a bird, pure silence surrounded me. I was having one of the ultimate natural experiences -- walking across several feet of snow and having the winter splendor as my partner.
   This trek would take me up Tumalo Mountain in the heart of the Central Oregon Cascades. Skirting the northwest slope of the mountain, I stared in awe at the first views of Mount Bachelor, Broken Top and the Three Sisters. Just before the summit, the slope became windblown, icy and steep. Without the metal claws on my snowshoes, the going would have been more difficult. The stunted trees, covered with a layer of ice and snow, looked like an artist's sculptures.
   At the summit I was rewarded with an unobstructed 360-degree view. To the west stood snowy Mount Bachelor with tiny ant-like figures skiing down its slopes. To the northwest the rugged peaks of Broken Top and the Three Sisters jutted up from the winter landscape. Newberry Volcano dominated the view to the southeast and far on the skyline to the south I could see Mount Thielson and the Crater Lake area. Everything in the landscape seemed to be magnified in the clear air and a covering of snow.
   On the way back down the mountain I slid through some big drifts, once catching a tip and tumbling in the soft powder - laughing all the way.
   Glancing back up the slope, it looked like the elusive Bigfoot passed through. Just before reaching the bottom, I noticed my right foot got surprisingly light as I brought it forward. The next thing I knew my right leg was completely buried. I looked back to see my snowshoe on top of the snow. My foot wasn't even touching solid ground and I realized how impossible it would be to walk through the woods without snowshoes.
   Snowshoeing provides freedom to make your own trails and not worry about damaging any of the fragile alpine vegetation under the protection of the snow. Any slight impact to the area will simply melt away. There is no need for trails or signs. However if you leave a trail, be sure you are experienced enough to find your way back to your rig.
    The last few winters, I've chosen snowshoes over cross-country skis. Snowshoes can take me to places where skiers and snowmobilers usually can't go. Besides that, there's no worry about the constantly changing snow conditions or waxing the skis. Those who opt for snowshoes will be rewarded with some great exercise and the chance to see some stunning views.
   Snowshoeing is one of the easiest winter activities to learn. As a matter of fact, the learning curve is very small; if you know how to walk, you know how to snowshoe.
   On a winter outing, it's very important to carry water, high-energy food, warm clothes and matches. Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan on returning. A map, compass and GPS can also be helpful. For those who easily get lost, it's best to follow your tracks back or stick to the main trails. Bring along a pair of ski poles to help with balance.
   Call the Forest Service or check out their Web sites to find the nearest place to go snowshoeing. A good place to start is at one of the many Sno-Parks on the way to Mount Bachelor. A few of these now have designated snowshoe trails. On established trails, be sure to follow proper etiquette: Do not snowshoe over a ski trail; keep to the right of all trails; and pack out all your litter.
   Scott Staats is a freelance outdoors writer. His column can be read every Tuesday in the Central Oregonian. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.