An arctic blast had been freezing the Eastern Sierra the week I was to enjoy my first full moon snowshoe tour at Tamarack Lodge in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. On the Wednesday prior to my Saturday tour, temperatures hovered around 2F in town and with the wind chill factored in, well below zero at the top of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. While the area is used to receiving an average of 400 inches of snow each winter, this type of bitter cold was unusual. I figured I would have to double up on layers for the nighttime tour, especially if the sky was as clear as I hoped it would be.
By the time Saturday rolled around, however, the California weather gods had resumed control and temperatures had risen back to the 20s and 30s. The evening was so mild I found I didn’t even need to wear gloves.
A girlfriend and I made our way to Tamarack Lodge, enjoying the glow of the full moon gleaming on Upper and Lower Twin Lakes along the way. Tamarack Lodge is situated on the backside of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and if you looked closely enough that night you could make out Hole in the Wall in the moonlight. We had been asked to show up a half hour early to pick up our rental gear and get ourselves situated. The yurt that houses the cross-country ski and snowshoe center at Tamarack was humming with excitement. A group of 25 was getting ready to head out on snowshoes while a smaller group of five would take the cross-country route.
We got our gear and opted to go without poles since the snow was pretty packed and not deep. As I examined my snowshoes, I noticed that the back-heel strap looked like it was beginning to tear in half. I didn’t want to be responsible for breaking the strap so I told one of the guides and she swapped them out for a new, sportier pair. My friend and I then headed outside.
The group, a heavily bundled mix of young and old snowshoe enthusiasts, was mostly assembled and ready to go. Soon after my friend and I had strapped into our snowshoes, our guide for the evening, Rosanne, appeared and got our attention. She explained that we would begin snowshoeing along the groomed cross-country ski trails and therefore would need to stay in a single file line until we reached the wider, more open road ahead. Since we were such a large group she said she would stop along the way and wait for everyone to gather up together before talking about what we were seeing along the trail. After that, we were off. The snow crunched beneath our weight as we marched along the path illuminated in silvery-white moonlight.
Our pack moved swiftly through the forest. It seemed everyone was experienced enough on snowshoes to move efficiently and without struggle. You did have to pay attention to the path because even in the moonlight it was hard to make out stumps and rocks in the shadowy spots.
Rosanne halted the group a few minutes into our walk to point out animal tracks. There were some that she was quite sure belonged to a bobcat that must have made its way along the trail no more than 20 minutes prior to our arrival.
“They just groomed this trail 20 minutes ago,” Rosanne explained. The animal tracks had squashed the freshly manicured corduroy.
Along the way we also saw rabbit tracks and others that could have been coyote. In addition to talking about the wildlife, Rosanne discussed geology and the early days at Mammoth Mountain. It was a nighttime naturalist tour.
We made our way through the trees for a while and then popped out onto Lake Mary Road, which is covered in snow and groomed for cross-country skiing, skate skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, but is open to vehicles in the summer when visitors are looking to access the lakes in the Lakes Basin.
As we walked up Lake Mary Road, my right snowshoe began to feel extremely loose. When I stopped and took a look my foot had almost completely fallen out of the shoe. The back strap had come loose so I wiggled my foot forward and tried to tighten it. The ratchet didn’t seem to be grabbing so I tried to continue walking without it completely tightened down. That didn’t last long and soon I was forced to take off the snowshoe. Rosanne’s assistant guide, Kyle, who was bringing up the rear to make sure no one got lost or left behind took the snowshoe from me and began to examine it.
“The ratchet is broken,” he said after a few minutes. Luckily for the path, as I mentioned before, was covered in packed snow since there hadn’t been a storm in a few weeks, so I removed my left snowshoe as well and was able to walk along with the group without any trouble.
We made it to the knoll above Old Mammoth Road and had a great view of the lights in the town of Mammoth Lakes. A large water tank stood at our summit and we talked about the town’s water supply. We gazed at the stars and determined that one very bright, orange-colored star was actually a planet, most likely Jupiter according to a member of the group’s iPhone app.
After a few more minutes at the top we turned around and began our descent. When we had made it about halfway down Lake Mary Road, Rosanne had us stop and gather once again. She asked how our time snowshoeing in the moonlight was going and how we would describe it.
“Peaceful,” “serene,” “not as cold as I expected,” were several of the responses. After that she asked us to all be silent for just a few moments and soak up the tranquility of being out in the snowy woods after dark. It was magical.
Following that short repose we made our way back to the yurt, this time winding our way through the quaint cabins at Tamarack Lodge.
After dropping off our gear we headed over to the lodge for some warm drinks and dessert. Hot apple cider and mulled wine awaited us, paired with chocolate brownies drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauces. The lodge was cozy and warm with a roaring fire and live music. A true mountain snowshoe experience under the light of the moon.
The Full Moon Tours take place once a month during full moon weekends. The next available tours are Feb. 1-3, 2015 and then March 4-6, 2015. The cost of the tour is $55 and includes your snowshoe rental and your dessert and drink at the end.
Reservations are required: Tamarack Lodge.