SNOWSHOE MAGAZINE FEATURED ARTICLE:

The Virtues of Wet Snow

Snowshoeing in wet snow is hard work, but it doesn’t have to be a slog. Or even a drag! Following my trip report from a day out in the wet stuff this past Saturday I provide some informational support for those interested in getting out in it at some point, as well.

Trip Report

Several inches of heavy, wet snow began falling in the Berkshires and Taconics in the final hours of March 7 and continued until midday of the 8th. The skies began to clear and temperatures dipped into the lower 20 in the predawn hours of the 9th. I awoke to a clear blue sky and temperatures on their way into the mid-40s. The snow report gave a better base in south Berkshire County and northern Connecticut than in north county and Vermont, so I fixed my destination as Mount Washington State Forest.

Mount Washington State Forest

Three seasons only!

The road accessing Mount Washington State Forest is closed for the winter just the other side of the Connecticut border. I suspect this comes as an annoyance to the residents of the high rent properties nearby, but it makes for a gentle and inviting couple of miles of Nordic ski piste, and there were a half-dozen vehicles parked with tracks laid down from them when I arrived a bit after noon. Rather than step on the skiers’ action, I decided to make tracks of my own in the direction of the South Taconic. I chose my 16 x 30 bearpaws from my snowshoe quiver (OK, it is true that I only own three pairs of snowshoes, but I think that is enough to qualify as a quiver!).

With not even a hint of a breeze, the sun reflecting off the fresh snow made the temperatures feel much warmer than the readings in the mid-40s on the thermometer. Since I knew I was going to be breaking trail uphill for a bit I departed the parking lot in shirtsleeves, a snowshoeing first for me.

The trip started off with a gradual but not-too-stiff climb. Within less than a mile, however, I hit the Taconic Escarpment proper and strapped my snowshoes to my pack and settled in for a sweaty period of kicking steps and pulling myself up by tree limbs and underbrush. When I was finally on the verge of breaking the ridgeline near Round Mountain I heard the sounds of conversation. (I do most of my trekking solo and when I do hit the trails accompanied I usually don’t do much talking, so coming upon conversation in the woods is novel to me.)

It turned out to be three fellows who had been postholing since just after daybreak through two to three-foot drifts because they were expecting the four or so inches of snow we received at lower elevations in central county. I admit to being a bit annoyed at having to deal with the mess they made of the trail for me for the miles to come, but at least I wasn’t going to have to do it in the soaked-past-the-knees blue jeans one member of the party was sporting!

The southern ridge of the Taconics is well-known by area hikers for its viewshed and Saturday did not disappoint. My first big view was across Connecticut into New York State from atop Round Mountain.

Mount Washington State Forest

At the cairn atop Round Mountain.

I dipped into the col between Round Mountain and Mount Frissell and then back up again, crossing into three different states along the way! After a downhill segment with a little bit of glissading—one of the great things about traditional snowshoes is that there are no crampons to put the brakes on a little downhill fun!—I spotted the marker located the Mass/NY/CT tricorner as defined by an 1898 survey.

Where Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut meet.

Where Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut meet.

survey marker

The tricorner.

I began a gradual climb to meet up with the South Taconic Trail and begin my loop back down to my vehicle. My timing was right for catching the sunset across the Harlem Valley and behind the Catskills.

South Taconic Trail

Watching Sun set behind the Catskills.

The sky stayed bright as I began my trip south and passed the cairn atop Brace Mountain. The summit area of Brace is an open grassy area, providing both a wonderful view as a well as a pleasant variation from the second-growth forest which is the norm in the region.

South Taconic Trail

The cairn atop Brace Mountain.

I hooked east for about 45 minutes or so of bushwhacking my way down to the old path connecting up with Mount Washington Road. The stars started peeking out along the way down, and the near moonless sky gave me a wonderful view of the constellations for the final leg of my day’s trek.

Hints for Snowshoeing in Wet Snow

Snow may either fall wet or become so in the course of melting. Or both, as was the case during my Saturday! Snowshoeing in wet snow is always going to be hard work, but if you expect that and come properly equipped it can be quite enjoyable.

Wet snow presents two technical challenges for snowshoes. First, it tends to pile up on decking. I chose my wide-laced bearpaws with this fact in mind. The spaces in the webbing do a good job of allowing clumps of snow to fall through, but there is no magic bullet, as can be seen in the photo below!

Heavy and wet.

The second technical challenge for your snowshoes is dealing with wetting of the frame. Wooden frames become heavier when they absorb water. This can be ameliorated, if not completely eliminated, by liberal preseason applications of spar varnish. With metal frames, sticky wet snow tends to form clumps, especially if the air temperature is hovering around the freezing mark and dips below as altitude increases or as night comes on. Applying a coat of non-stick cooking spray to the frame and crampons can prove useful under these conditions. (Note to dog and cat owners who go this route: I suggest you hang your snowshoes out of reach of your furry friends upon your return home!)

wet snow snowshoeing

Hitchhikers!

Wet snow presents a technical challenge for your body, as well. Simply put, it is hard work. Be kind to yourself and adjust your speed and/or distance expectations accordingly. Hydration and electrolyte replacement is vital, especially if it is an unusually warm day. After months of cold weather exercise your body will yet to have adjusted the electrolyte balance of your sweat to its warm weather settings. Bring energy drinks and fruit to keep the cramps at bay!

Matthew Timothy Bradley

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